19. Telegram From the Embassy in South Africa to the Department of State1

3471. Subj: Ashe Visa. Ref: State 206809.2

I met last evening upon my return with Foreign Minister to urge issuance of visa to Arthur Ashe. I explained personal interest of President and Secretary and effects denial of visa could have.
Foreign Minister was obviously impressed by what I said. While making clear he not repeat not purporting give me reply at this junc [Page 56] ture, he spoke at length about problems confronting government re visa issue. Coming as it does at critical time in election campaign, government’s treatment of matter might become very important domestic issue. Moreover, problem increased by highly inflammatory statements made earlier by Ashe and widely reported by SA press. Particularly damaging were alleged statements that Ashe would like to drop bomb on Johannesburg, and that if he should come to SA it would be for purpose of breaking crack in wall of SA racial policies. Foreign Minister had understood Ashe more recently had commented that any visit to SA would be to play tennis, not to engage in politics, but damage had been done. He speculated as to whether visa might be issued on specific conditions, but to this I replied that offer of conditional visa to Congressman Diggs had been considered even more offensive than if visa had been denied outright. Nature and wording of conditions would of course be important aspect. Foreign Minister then speculated as to whether, in lieu of conditional visa, Ashe might unilaterally give “undertaking” concerning his activities while here. To be useful for SA domestic purpose, however, there would have to be some publicity which he and I agreed might present difficult problems. This possibility was not, however, ruled out.
Foreign Minister said that he had already spoken with all of his colleagues, including Waring, who might make statements on visa question, and in response to my request made through Ambassador Taswell he thought no South African Government official would make further statements with respect to matter pending completion of our discussions. He expressed strong view that I should see Prime Minister, who presently in remote part of Port Elizabeth area, and asked if I would accompany him on visit there. In light my affirmative reply he later telephoned Prime Minister and arranged that we would meet him in Port Elizabeth on Friday, December 19, returning Pretoria that afternoon.
I shall report further after my talks with Prime Minister. Meanwhile I am hopeful SAG will not further reduce flexibility by additional public statements.
Would appreciate early indication status Ashe’s formal visa request.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, PPT Ashe, Arthur. Confidential; Limdis. Repeated to Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg.
  2. In telegram 206809 to Pretoria, December 12, the Department outlined the next steps for Rountree to facilitate Ashe’s visa. (Ibid.)