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Sanctions on South Africa Could Harm Its Black Neighbors

July 11, 1986

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ Business quarters in Zimbabwe are voicing concern about what could happen to this region’s black-governed countries if South Africa cuts economic links with them in reprisal for international sanctions.

The South African government has threatened to take such measures.

Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, Swaziland, Lesotho and Malawi all depend heavily on South Africa for trade and transport links to overseas markets. The businessmen, including industrialists and farmers, maintain the black-governed nations would need massive Western aid if the South African government rings down an economic blockade on them.

The problem is greater for some countries, such as landlocked Botswana which sends nearly all of its trade through South Africa. But there is a general agreement that without some kind of aid, most of southern Africa’s black states would face disaster if South Africa imposed reprisal sanctions.

Businessman Bud Whittaker told several hundred mostly white commercial farmers at a recent meeting in Zimbabwe that South Africa could deliver a severe financial blow to the entire region if the international community does not help make non-South African trade routes viable.

Whittaker, former chairman of Zimbabwe’s Commercial Grain Producers’ Association, said that if Western nations are serious about sanctions against South Africa they give ″positive support for actively constructing and cooperating on an alternative outlet to the sea.″

The outlet Whittaker referred to is the 186-mile road, rail and oil pipeline corridor running from the eastern Zimbabwean town of Mutare to Mozambique’s Indian Ocean port of Beira.

The Beira corridor does not run through South Africa but it could be disrupted by attacks by guerrillas of the South African-backed Mozambique National Resistance. Zimbabwean troops now provide security for the corridor, which handles the 10 percent of Zimbabwe’s trade that does not go to or through South Africa.

International aid is helping improve the corridor’s rail line and the port at Beira but sources familiar with the effort say the total handling capacity will at most be increased by only three times its current small capacity during the next few years.

Prime Minister Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean leader who has called for international sanctions against South Africa, told a recent congress of industrialists they should begin using the Beira corridor against the possibility of a closing off of routes through South Africa.

″Surely it is wiser, too, for you the businessmen to change your transport routes voluntarily rather that wait for the day when you will do so because you have no alternative,″ he said.

Economic considerations keep some from doing that.

Harare bankers, for example, say the South African routes, although longer, are cheaper and more dependable.

Others, such as Bill Irvine, leader of a group of pro-government white Zimbabwe Parliament members, say they oppose international sanctions against South Africa because Zimbabwe would need more than the Beira corridor to remain economically healthy.

″I don’t think we should let the Western powers and America go ahead and impose the sanctions,″ Irvine told Parliament.

He said more trade routes are needed, among them the war-damaged Chicualacuala rail link to Mozambique’s port of Maputo, about 500 miles south of Beira and near the border of South Africa.

That railway has been out of action for more than a year because of Mozambique National Resistance attacks. Irvine said rebuilding it would require a tremendous effort.

Speaking at the same meeting as Whittaker, British High Commissioner Ramsay Melhuish said Britain is committed to improving Mozambique’s trade and communications routes to Zimbabwe and Malawi, but those routes would still not be an adequate alternative.

″If sanctions led to a closure of the South African borders, the knockout effect on South Africa’s landlocked neighbors would be extremely damaging,″ Melhuish said.

″In practice, sanctions are more easily evaded than enforced. The reason being that businessmen who make money from sanctions-busting are better at doing so than civil servants are at stopping them.″

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