319. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Tarnoff) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Reduction of Staff in the USG-South Africa Mission

Attached is the response to paragraph 3 of the NSC’s memorandum of October 28 requesting an interagency study proposing further staff reductions that could be made in the U.S. Government’s Mission in South Africa, if required, consistent with maintaining necessary informational and analytical capacity.2

The Department of State has been advised by the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture that those agencies are forwarding to the NSC separate memoranda commenting on the proposals in the attached study. We have also been advised by the Department of Defense that that agency is opposed to any further reductions, following the withdrawal this month of the Naval Attache in Pretoria, in the size of the Defense Attache Office in South Africa. However, we understand that the Department of Defense has no objection to the proposed closure of the Eastern Test Range Tracking Station in South Africa, provided permission is forthcoming to transfer the tracking station facility to Botswana.

Peter Tarnoff3
[Page 965]

Tab 1

Paper Prepared in the Department of State4


The objective of any reduction in the USG South Africa Mission should be to convey a clear political signal to the South African Government that the U.S. is prepared to disassociate from that government if it makes no effort to move toward a fundamental transformation of its society. The elimination of key, high-visibility positions which South Africa regards as essential to the maintenance of close US-South African cooperation would most likely provide this clear political signal. In our view, across-the-board reductions of a given percentage are not relevant since they would affect many positions of no importance to the South African Government. Such positions would include secretaries, Marine security guards, a number of officers and technicians providing consular, administrative, and technical services, and low visibility operations with little government-to-government contact. Together these positions account for 60% of authorized official US positions in South Africa.

We believe that most State Department officers, DOD attaches, USIS employees, [less than 1 line not declassified] are regarded by the South African Government as official staff whose presence indicates a desire on the part of the United States to maintain significant relationships with the Republic of South Africa. In addition, the level of our presence, as gauged by the number of consulates general, consulates, USIS libraries, tracking stations, etc., provides a further indication to the South Africans of the significance and depth of our relationship. With respect to both personnel and facilities, net reductions can be made if we wish to convey certain political signals, or changes in status can be effected, such as reducing a consulate general to a consulate and designating the highest-ranking U.S. official in South Africa as charge rather than ambassador. Options for both net reductions and changes in status for both personnel and facilities are examined on an agency-by-agency basis below.



It is generally true that high-ranking State Department officers are more visible to the South Africans than middle-grade and junior offi [Page 966] cers, that their presence is considered important to the South African Government, and that their removal would convey a clear signal with respect to US-South African relations. It is also true that the loss of these positions would have a much more serious impact on mission operations than the reduction of lower-ranking State positions. In light of the above, we strongly recommend the retention of an Ambassador as chief of mission, but suggest consideration of the redesignation of the three consul general positions as consuls.

The Ambassador

The Ambassador clearly could be an important element of a scenario involving a modification of official U.S. presence in South Africa. His withdrawal would leave no doubt with respect to U.S. intentions, and the South African Government could not fail to conclude that the U.S. “means business.” Such a move would also garner substantial political payoff from the South Africa black community and most, if not all, African nations and leaders.

While the advantages are apparent and substantial, the same holds true of the disadvantages. The most serious disadvantage would be a reduction in high-level contact with the South African Government. The Ambassador has been America’s chief spokesman in conveying on a day-to-day basis the U.S. view that South Africa must move rapidly toward a system of full political participation for all racial groups. As U.S. involvement in the initiatives taken since May with respect to Namibia, Rhodesia, and South Africa itself increases, and as we speak out more frequently on human rights and other domestic developments in South Africa, the Ambassador’s presence becomes even more essential. There is also logic in the argument that it would be unwise to withdraw the Ambassador at the initial stage in a reduction in staff. If his withdrawal at the outset did not achieve our political objectives, then the subsequent withdrawal of other personnel would add little to the exercise. It would be wiser to hold the Ambassador in reserve, as a final, rather than initial, withdrawal. Finally, the extreme complexity and sensitivity of the issues involved in our relationship with South Africa call for handling by an experienced, top quality mission chief.

Consuls General

We recommend the reduction in level of the consulates general in Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg to that of consulate and the redesignation of the positions of consul general as consul. In terms of position and visibility, the consuls general are not as important as the Ambassador, but their redesignation as consuls accompanied by the reduction in level of the consulates general would be taken seriously [Page 967] by South African officials. Moreover, these moves could give the South Africans the impression that the withdrawal of the Ambassador could follow if satisfactory progress were not achieved. Since the consuls general continue to perform important functions at their posts, it is essential that senior middle-grade officers are assigned as consuls to Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg in the future. The advantage of the moves outlined above is that a clear political signal is conveyed at less cost than if senior personnel were removed without replacement. Essential mission functions would not be affected significantly, although certain high-level contacts in South Africa’s major cities might be somewhat more difficult for a while.

Political and Labor Officers

We recommend no reduction in positions designated either political or labor in the USG South Africa Mission. The four political officer positions in Pretoria are particularly important for carrying out the Embassy’s political reporting functions, maintaining contacts with the South African Government and key black and white leaders, monitoring internal political and human rights developments, and explaining at the middle levels of the South African Government the details of U.S. policies and concerns. In spite of the importance of these positions, three of the political officer positions in the Embassy are of lesser rank (one lower-level middle-grade officer and two junior officers), and their loss would have a minimum impact on the South African Government. Only the Political Counselor is a senior officer.

The labor/political officer in Johannesburg is the Mission’s chief officer for monitoring developments in the labor movement and in meeting with American corporations in South Africa to discuss the implementation of fair labor practices. We do not believe that the elimination of this position would give a clear signal of our intention to distance ourselves from the South African Government. On the contrary, the South Africans might well conclude from the elimination of this position that we wished to sever our ties with black labor leaders.

The political/economic officer position in Durban is the second-ranking position at this post. There is a clear need for a political officer at this post. Durban provides our main access to black homeland (Transkei, Kwazulu) leaders and our main contact with the Indian community. Durban is also an important center of white political opposition. We see no benefits in terms of political payoff in the elimination of this position.

Economic/Commercial Officers

Of the six positions designated either economic/commercial or resources, we believe that the elimination of only one, the commercial [Page 968] officer position in Johannesburg, would be of real political significance. This is the only position designated exclusively as commercial, and South Africans may well regard this officer’s presence as an indication that the United States will continue to maintain close trade and commercial relations with South Africa. If there is a decision to make further reductions in Mission staffing, we recommend the elimination of this position as it would be in step with current policy not to engage in active, high visibility trade promotion in South Africa. Moreover, current policy is neither to encourage nor discourage U.S. investment in South Africa. There would be some cost to our mission operations by the elimination of this position, especially in regard to end-user checks and licensing checks, both of which are extra work occasioned by our arms embargo. Such work in the commercial field, and supervision of local employees carrying out commercial functions, could be transferred to the political/economic officer, although it would be difficult to continue handling the present volume of trade inquiries from the United States. If the Commercial Officer position is eliminated, consideration should be given by the Department of Commerce to minimizing the flow of trade inquiries to the Consulate General.

We want to stress the need for one political/economic reporting officer in Johannesburg, since the city is South Africa’s largest and its financial and industrial center. The economic contacts of this officer are of considerable value to the Mission. He is the officer best situated for reporting on the role of blacks in the economy. Also he monitors the socio/economic problems of South Africa’s apartheid society. For example, he is a window on Soweto, the sprawling Johannesburg suburb of 1.2 million blacks.

The regional resources officer in Johannesburg is also important in the execution of mission functions in the economic field. This officer is our chief contact with the mining industry. His reports with regard to developments in diamond, gold, uranium, and chromium mining will have continuing importance to the United States. This officer does not have significant contact with the South African Government. Therefore, the elimination of this position would not convey the sort of political signal afforded by some other positions. It would, however, deprive us of essential information relating to South Africa’s vital minerals sectors and for following Rhodesian sanctions enforcement.

The economic/commercial officer position in Cape Town is the second-ranking position at this post. As the center of South Africa’s colored community, Cape Town remains an important political and commercial center. Since the officer now does a substantial amount of political work, action is being considered to redesignate this position as political/economic. This position needs to be retained if essential reporting is not to suffer.

[Page 969]

The two economic/commercial officer positions in Pretoria already represent the minimum staff necessary to follow important economic questions in South Africa and discuss major economic issues with the South African Government. The economic/commercial counselor is the supervisor of the total economic/commercial reporting program, e.g., CERP, WTDRs, etc. at all four posts. Furthermore, if the United States begins to give greater consideration to the use of economic leverage in southern Africa, the role of the Embassy’s economic/commercial officers would become even more important in the future. These two officers maintain important contacts in the business and industrial sectors, and report much of value about economic trends, trade patterns, stockpiling efforts, and other matters of special interest regarding South Africa’s economic strengths.


We do not recommend any reduction in current USIS staff in South Africa. The benefits of USIS activities to the United States Government and to the majority population of South Africa are substantial. Through its libraries in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban and its reading room in Soweto, USIS has developed broad contacts with all racial communities in South Africa. In recent years, USIS has focused most of its extensive cultural programs on the black community in South Africa. In establishing good contacts with black community leaders, USIS has fostered substantial goodwill for the United States. As USIS continues to focus much of its program in South Africa on the black community, we can expect continuing benefits from these efforts in the years to come.

The reduction or elimination of USIS personnel and programs would have little political gain. Since our USIS activities are one of our main ways of reaching the black community in South Africa, the elimination of or a cutback in USIS programs might even be interpreted by the South African Government as a sign that we wish to discontinue or deemphasize such contact. At best, the signal which the South African Government would receive from such a reduction would be mixed. On the basis of the substantial benefits from the USIS program, we believe that there is a strong case for maintaining (or even expanding) the USIS presence in South Africa.


We recommend consideration of a reduction in the Defense Attache Office in Pretoria from four attaches (three following the departure of the Naval Attache later this month) and five enlisted men to one attache and one enlisted man. Consideration should also be given to closing the Defense Attache Office in Cape Town (one attache and one enlisted [Page 970] man). This office may have to close in any case due to the fact that the South African Government is requiring the Assistant Naval Attache to move from Cape Town to Pretoria by the end of 1977. By virtue of our recommendation below to close the Eastern Test Range Tracking Station near Pretoria, there would also be a net reduction of one Air Force enlisted man at the tracking station.

In proposing these cuts, we have attempted to reconcile the legitimate and important liaison and intelligence gathering functions of the DAO with its status as a conspicuous example of a US-South African military relationship. It is in the military area where the US is particularly open to criticism by South Africa’s blacks and other African nations.

The most emphatic signal would be a complete closing of both Defense Attache Offices. This action would provide an unmistakable indication of our overall intentions and our specific interest in discontinuing existing military relationships. The South African Government tends to regard the maintenance of a full range of attache staff as indicative of a desire to stay in touch on military matters. The closing of the attache offices would be in keeping with our arms embargo and restrictions on high-level military contacts. Such a move would also achieve maximum political payoff in the black community and in other African states.

The disadvantages of a complete closure should be examined carefully. First, we would lose important intelligence gathering and intelligence liaison functions. These functions could probably not be assumed by other agencies. Second, we would lose our chief contact with a key element of the South African establishment. This contact could continue to be useful as an avenue for explaining US views and policies. Third, we would lose the DAO’s flight operation, which supports [1 line not declassified] the administrative requirements of eight posts in the region. It has also been of very great value in certain special diplomatic missions.

If an overall reduction in Mission personnel is to be made, and if it is to have some significance, a reduction in the size of the DAO is essential. Of all of the American presence, the South Africans and other African countries regard as most significant the presence of five (soon to be four) U.S. military attaches. Failure to eliminate DAO positions would indicate that we wish to continue to maintain close military relations and would undercut the effect of reductions in other areas. Therefore, we recommend a maximum cut in DAO personnel—four attaches and five enlisted men. With only one attache in Pretoria and none in Cape Town, the loss in intelligence gathering would be substantial, but with one officer at least the most essential work could be carried out.

[Page 971]


We recommend the elimination of the agriculture attache position in Pretoria since the retention of this position would be seen as business as usual by South Africa’s white farmers and food processing industry. Although the Embassy’s agriculture section would be left with no U.S. citizen employee, the work of the two local employees in the section could afterwards be supervised by the Economic/Commercial Counselor.


We do not recommend any reduction in the number of IRS personnel assigned to the IRS office in Johannesburg. Since the work of this office is entirely with U.S. citizens and corporations, a reduction in staff would convey no political signal to the South African Government, unless the office were closed entirely. In a situation in which we were sharply reducing staff, however, failure to close this office could send the wrong signal to South Africa.



We have recommended above the reduction in level of all three consulates general to consulates. In addition, we have considered the possibility of closing one or more consulates general, but have concluded that the overall cost would be greater than the political benefits. Each consulate general continues to play an important role in discharging fundamental mission operations. A facility must be maintained at Cape Town to accommodate and support the Embassy six months each year. Moreover, Cape Town is the center of the country’s colored community of 2.4 million. Johannesburg is probably the most important of the three consular sites. Besides being South Africa’s largest city and its economic and commercial capital, it has the largest number of visiting and resident U.S. citizens. Moreover, it lies at the center of South Africa’s major concentration of urban blacks. Of the various black townships, Soweto is the largest. Politically, Durban plays an important role. It provides our main access to Transkei developments and our contact with the Indian community, which is concentrated in Natal. Durban is also the most important center of white political opposition and is near the home of the nation’s largest black group, the 5 million Zulus. Chief Buthelezi, an important black leader, is based near Durban. It is also the largest port in South Africa. We would not want to lose any of the advantages gained by having active reporting posts in these three cities.

[Page 972]


Consistent with our recommendation regarding USIS personnel and programs in South Africa, we recommend no reduction in USIS libraries and other facilities in South Africa.


We recommend the closure of the Defense Attache Office in Cape Town and closure of the DOD tracking station. The reduction in personnel proposed above also necessitates the withdrawal of the military support aircraft and the private contract employee who services it.

The DAO in Cape Town contributes to the collection of military intelligence which is useful to the United States. In our view this consideration is outweighed, however, by the need to reduce our military presence in South Africa.

The requirements of the South African Government would make it necessary to locate in Pretoria the remaining attache and enlisted man after the reductions in DAO personnel discussed above. However, if there are important reasons to keep open the Defense Attache Office in Cape Town, and if the South African Government will permit it, we would not oppose the retention of two DAO enlisted personnel, one of whom could be assigned to Cape Town.

The DOD tracking station has not been used actively since 1973, and a request by the DOD to use the facility later this year and early in 1978 has been turned down by the National Security Council. For all practical purposes, the tracking station is not functional and does not contribute to US space-tracking operations. The gains from a formal closure of the station would be worthwhile because the facility is a visible example of US-South African cooperation in the military-scientific field. In conjunction with the reduction in DAO positions proposed above, the closure of the tracking station could well make a significant impact upon the South African Government.

If we proceed with the reduction of DAO positions to one officer and one enlisted man, it will be impossible to maintain the military support aircraft, since a minimum of two attaches and two enlisted men are needed. This means a loss in both intelligence gathering and administrative support to all southern African posts. Some of the loss in the latter category can be compensated for through greater use of commercial charter flights.


With the exception of the elimination of the agricultural attache position discussed above, no changes in Department of Agriculture facilities in South Africa are proposed. The attache office would remain [Page 973] open and would come under the supervision of the Economic/Commercial Counselor.


No changes with regard to the IRS office in Johannesburg are proposed. However, in the event of a major reduction of the U.S. presence in South Africa, the IRS office probably should be withdrawn since its continued existence would be regarded as business as usual.


The timing of the reductions in personnel discussed above is important. Barring logistical problems, all of the reductions could be made within three months. Some, even most, of the reductions could take place immediately, but at considerable personal hardship to those affected and their families, and with considerable strains both in the logistical support necessary and in the personnel systems of the affected agencies. In any case, we recommend that we proceed immediately to implement moves outlined above with respect to the status of the consulates general and the closure of the tracking station. Moreover, we recommend that these steps as well as whatever decision is reached with regard to staffing reductions be announced publicly in order to make the greatest impact.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Country Chron File, Box 48, South Africa: 11–12/77. Secret. Tab 2 is attached but not printed.
  2. See Document 315.
  3. Frank Wisner signed for Tarnoff above this typed signature.
  4. Secret.