American attitudes towards South Africa: Constructive engagement and the divestment debate

This background briefing describes American attitudes toward South Africa. The importance for the Reagan Administration of the policy of constructive engagement was emphasised in an address of the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Mr. Lawrence Eagleburger, on 23 June, 1983. He indicated that the Administration was concerned with its role in shaping the region. The Administration had committed itself to defining a regional strategy, of which several aspects are directed at encouraging enhanced regional security, economic development, and peaceful change. Constructive engagement thus applies to Southern Africa, not only South Africa. The Administration is opposed to the current political system in South Africa and assumes that its domestic racial system will change, believing that South African and US interests are best served by encouraging change, although the Administration is opposed to revolutionary change. The American business community plays an important role in South Africa, but Mr. Eagleburger criticised those promoting disinvestment. While there has been success in achieving legislation in a number of States, the effect on corporations has so far been minimal. Nevertheless, the campaign not to be dismissed as unimportant, and five States have so far passed legislation on this matter.