601. Circular Telegram From the Department of State to Certain Posts1

1838. Re Dept’s CA-8425.2 Following summary of conversation is uncleared, FYI, Noforn and subject to revision.

In meeting with Secretary March 23 delegation from “Conference on South African Crisis and American Action” urged economic measures against South Africa. Conference had resolved in favor full economic [Page 1020] sanctions but delegation stressed definite policy of discouraging loans and investment would be major forward step in lessening US involvement, bringing pressure to bear on South African whites, and improving US relations with other countries.

Secretary pointed out UN membership not ready use sanctions to enforce human rights. US did not have much influence on major trading countries’ policies. Unilateral action might only cause South Africa to shift trading patterns. He was not sure that economic pressures would induce South Africans to change their policies. Discouragement of investment would depend to large extent on developments in South Africa and on outcome of Court case regarding South West Africa. However, with respect to President’s balance of payments message, US investment in highly developed SA economy should be slowed down

(Under heading “US Delaying Any Move on South Africa” AP item in Evening Star, Washington, March 24, page 20, said Houser told reporters after delegation’s talk with Secretary that its minimum request had been for curb on investment and trade but Secretary had indicated Administration wanted to wait for Court judgment expected in autumn.)

Secretary stressed objective was change in South Africa, not warm glow of feeling at home or approval from other countries. Court judgment on South West Africa, he said, might provide handle for influencing South Africa situation since solid international stake existed and US had obligations derived from World War I and mandate system. US might have to consider sanctions in UN, he said, depending on nature of judgment and South Africa’s response. George Houser, organizer of conference said delaying tactics might draw out proceedings so long that issue might be before UN bodies for years with little result. Secretary replied USG had warned SAG it should cooperate and not stall.


About 400 persons from 38 organizations—churches, unions, students, civil rights—attended conference organized by American Committee on African and Consultative Council on Africa. Main aim was to do what is “right” rather than be restrained by UN Charter limitations and concern about effectiveness or consequences of actions. Congressman Fraser of Minnesota’s speech effectively expressed conference attitude: US should oppose apartheid forcefully because it was wrong, by restraints on investment and trade, even unilaterally if need be.

Conference was another manifestation of growing ties between apartheid and American civil rights issues. Leaders of CORE and other civil right organizations were prominent. Day before conference opening American Negro Leadership Conference members met with 25 African ambassadors. CORE member of delegation told Secretary American Negroes and civil rights movement would insist on identifying Sharpeville [Page 1021] with Selma and demand forceful action, whether or not it was successful. Labor and civil rights spokesmen, however, disagreed among themselves about ability of leaders to arouse rapidly mass interest of unions and civil rights organizations in remote South African situation.

Sidelight was tribute Victor Reuther paid courageous unionists who were struggling for genuine labor principles in South Africa. AFL–CIO, he said, favored increasing ties with them.

Demonstrations were held March 19 in New York City, Boston and San Francisco against US firms in business with South Africa. Main demonstration was by students and CORE against Chase Manhattan’s Wall Street office, where 49 were arrested. On March 23 conferees demonstrated at Commerce Department and were received by Commerce officials.

Embassy authorized use background on conference and demonstrations in its discretion in informal conversations with South African officials to impress them with growing concern American interest groups over racial discrimination Southern Africa and with seriousness USG views Court issue. Remarks of Secretary to delegation, however, are FYI.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14–1 S AFR. Confidential. Drafted by Officer in Charge of Republic of South Africa Affairs W.B. Campbell on March 25; cleared by AFE Special Assistant for Southern Africa Economic Affairs Peter H. Delaney, Sarich in Commerce, and Hooper; and approved by Williams. Sent to Cape Town, Pretoria, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, and Durban, and repeated to all other Africa posts, London, and USUN by pouch.
  2. Dated February 16. (Ibid.)