Nelson Mandela’s moral shoe is too big for the Republican Greek god, Ronald Reagan!

The regime of apartheid in South Africa, under which nonwhites were systematically oppressed and deprived of their rights, is remembered as one of the worst crimes against humanity of the 20th century.

Despite the then growing international movement to topple apartheid in the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan maintained a close alliance with a South African government that was showing no signs of serious reform.

The Reagan administration demonized opponents of apartheid, most notably the African National Congress, as dangerous and pro-communist. Reagan even vetoed a bill to impose sanctions on South Africa, only to be overruled by Congress. 

In 1985, Ronald Reagan said “They have eliminated the segregation that we once had in our own country — the type of thing where hotels and restaurants and places of entertainment and so forth were segregated — that has all been eliminated.” Of course, that was simply not true, and Reagan later walked the statement back. 

President Jimmy Carter had imposed sanctions and restrictions on South Africa and also had publicly criticized the South African government many times. When Reagan became President he went back to supporting the South African Government under a “sham disguise.”

Reagan gave a lot of public support to the South African Prime Minister, P.W. Botha and his government, portraying Botha as a moderate who was willing to start political reforms and would stay on the side of the United States and help us block Soviet influence in southern Africa.


Pressure was building up in the United States, and Congress was threatening to pass legislation that would put sanctions on South Africa and restrict the flow of American aid to South Africa. Reagan always said he would veto the bill and he did.



Prime Minister Botha gave the “Rubicon Speech on Aug. 15, 1985, in the face of increasing unrest in South Africa. Botha said that South Africa would never accept one man, one vote in a unitary system. Real democracy, he said, would lead to chaos. Despite Reagan saying he was disappointed with Botha’s speech, Reagan stuck with Botha. Pressure built both inside of South Africa and outside, and the protest inside of South Africa led to the imposition of martial law. Congress then voted sanctions.


Republican Senator Sen. Nancy Kassebaum took the lead.  She said that the situation in South Africa was virtually beyond hope and that constructive engagement was irrelevant. This regime was not going to change unless forced to. The United States was just party to this continued oppression.


That broke the Republican unity behind Reagan on this policy. The larger context was that Reagan had just failed in the Philippines in trying to back [Ferdinand] Marcos to the end. The Reagan doctrine was collapsing in Central America as well, with opposition growing to his interventions there. So that was also now happening in South Africa. The House vote wasn’t even recorded; it was so overwhelming in favor of imposing sanctions. The Senate vote was more than enough to override the veto, which it did.


Reagan’s attitudes hadn’t changed, but the policy changed because Congress changed it and voted sanctions. That cut off a lot of the flow of American capital.  Bishop Desmond Tutu who came to the United States in 1984 after being awarded the Nobel Prize and spoke in the House of Representatives, said that constructive engagement is a farce, and that it just entrenched the existing order. He said Reagan’s policy was “immoral, evil and totally un-Christian.”


Reagan met with Desmond Tutu and at a press conference Reagan was asked to talk about their meeting. Reagan said, “It is counterproductive for one country to splash itself all over the headlines, demanding that another government do something.” Then he claimed that black tribal leaders had expressed their support for American investment. He was trying to discredit Tutu’s argument that U.S. policy had hurt blacks.

Reagan’s support of Botha’s fictional “constructive engagement,” gave Botha’s Government life and gave it hope that the United States would continue to stick with it. It gave it continued flow of aid as well as ideological support. It delayed the changes that were going to come. The big crackdowns came in ’86 and ’87 and proved that there was harm in the lengthening and there was harm in the violence that continued.

After all of Reagan’s pernicious involvement with Botha’s South African egregious Government, Regan’s lame excuse was, “If we’re willing to talk to the Russians, why aren’t we willing to talk to the South African government?” We’re going to encourage them to moderate and reform — it sounded reasonable, but it was all talk and it was exposed as that.

“Article is the result of material used from various researches.”


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