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Tuesday, June 18, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Ending Apartheid -- Bush Team Moves To Lift Sanctions On South Africa

Knight-Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON - Over the objections of some anti-apartheid groups, the Bush administration is moving toward lifting U.S. sanctions against white-ruled South Africa in hopes that the repeal will encourage democracy and economic growth.

Although a formal decision by President Bush is not expected before July, administration officials said the State Department is in the final stages of certifying that the conditions to remove the economic sanctions have been fulfilled.

"There's some urgency about settling this," said an administration official, who described the administration as eager to follow the lead of the European Community and several African nations in improving relations with South Africa.

The move would represent an important victory for the white government of President F.W. de Klerk, who is trying to end South Africa's status as an international outcast by dismantling the legal system of racial segregation and disenfranchisement.

One of the last pillars of apartheid fell yesterday when the South African Parliament repealed the Population Registration Act, which classifies citizens by race.

As much as the South African government wants the sanctions lifted, some groups that oppose apartheid, including the African National Congress and the Congressional Black Caucus, want them kept in place until South African blacks obtain more rights.

Bush, already under fire for opposing civil-rights legislation in Congress, could be criticized as racially insensitive if he removes sanctions without more progress.

At issue are distinctly different visions of the nature of change taking place in South Africa and the 1986 law that restricted investments in and imports from South Africa.

Bush administration officials, heartened by recent reforms, want to shift U.S. policy to cooperation and re-establish commercial ties that will help South Africa raise the standard of living for all residents.

Some anti-apartheid activists, however, remain unconvinced that the South African government is on an irreversible path toward racial equality and worry that the United States will lose its power to push for reform if it removes the club of sanctions.

"There's a real danger here that we could relax sanctions prematurely and send a message to the majority of the South African population that they're essentially being abandoned," said Rep. Howard Wolpe, D-Mich.

The landmark 1986 anti-apartheid law, enacted over President Ronald Reagan's veto, restricted U.S. investment in South Africa and barred imports of some South African products, including coal, steel, uranium and gold coins.

Legally, Bush will not need Congress' approval if he determines the five conditions to lift sanctions have been fulfilled. But the administration has pledged to consult with Congress, hoping to avoid the divisive rift that marked the Reagan administration's dealings with Congress.

Even if the federal sanctions are lifted, few experts expect U.S. companies to move quickly to do business with South Africa. Deterrents include the unstable political situation there and scores of state and local laws restricting business ties with South Africa.

DISMANTLING SOUTH AFRICAN APARTHEID

South Africa's Parliament yesterday repealed the law that required racial classification of its citizens. Below are changes in apartheid laws and other reforms since 1989 when President F.W. de Klerk assumed power:

What's new - Citizens will no longer be classified by race at birth; those already classified will remain so until a non-racial constitution is passed

- Public facilities, such as hospitals, public transportation, beaches have been desegregated

- Blacks, previously restricted to land ownership in 13 percent of the country, may legally buy property anywhere

- Whites-only public schools may be integrated, if 72% of students' parents vote for desegregation

- Black-led opposition groups, including the African National Congress (ANC), have been legalized

- More than 1,000 political prisoners have been released since January 1990; ANC says more than 1,000 remain jailed

What's left to be changed - Blacks (68% of population) may not vote in national elections

- Only white males are drafted to military service

- Whites receive larger government pensions than blacks

- Many institutions remain segregated

- Wide economic differences between 5 million whites, 30 million blacks

SOURCE: AP KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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