South Africa, a Terrorist Nation

New York Times op-ed

On April 7, Albie Sachs, a white South African lawyer who had been an active opponent of apartheid, was seriously injured in a bomb explosion as he opened the door of his car outside his home in Maputo, Mozambique. One week earlier, the African National Congress's chief representative in France, Dulcie September, was gunned down as she arrived at her office in Paris. In Lesotho last February, a member of the A.N.C. was shot to death in a hospital bed.

South African methods in battling the A.N.C. - car bombings, assassinations of political exiles and attacks on innocent civilians - are the trademarks of international terrorism. The State Department cited Iranian and Libyan support for this type of violence when it branded the two countries terrorist nations and included them on ''The Terrorism List.''

If the Reagan Administration does not put South Africa on the list, its whole battle against terrorism loses meaning and value.

Technically, ''The List,'' as it is known, is compiled in accordance with the 1979 Export Administration Act, which restricts sales of items with possible military uses to regimes that ''repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.''

Since 1979, however, the list has become much more than a way to regulate commerce. A recent State Department information paper states: ''Citing a country as on the 'List' has become an important step in itself in attempting to focus the spotlight on countries supporting international terrorism.''

In addition to Libya and Iran, the list includes Cuba, South Yemen and Syria. Iraq was removed in 1982, and North Korea was added in January on the recommendation of Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who said evidence linked Pyongyang to the bombing of a South Korean airliner.

Conspicuously absent from the list is South Africa. And the free-wheeling international murder spree that it continues to carry out has somehow escaped the stigma of being branded as terrorism by American officials.

The United States has had little to say about any of the recent incidents except that there is no hard proof linking Pretoria to the murders and attempted murders. Though this may be true, there is no plausible reason why anyone else would make such attacks. One can easily imagine that had the victims of these hit squads been Libyan exiles, the Administration would have been less reluctant to reach the obvious conclusion.

And even if Washington lacks the kind of evidence that could convict Pretoria in a United States court of law, South Africa's most blatant acts of terrorism leave no room for denial.

For more than 10 years, South African-sponsored terrorists, calling themselves the Mozambique National Resistance, or Renamo, have systematically struck in Mozambique, concentrating their violence exclusively on civilian targets. In the last 12 months alone, at least 500 civilians have been shot to death by Renamo in attacks on buses and unprotected towns. Farmers have been gunned down in their fields and doctors have been murdered in hospitals.

In addition, thousands of people have died from starvation and disease as a direct result of Renamo's sabotage of roads, crops and health clinics. And thousands more have been wounded, kidnapped or mutilated, often by having their ears cut off. Renamo is one of the most barbaric terrorist organizations in the world.

There is no shortage of evidence showing that Renamo is armed, sustained and directed by South Africa, yet the United States is one of the few Western countries that has not denounced the terrorism. Rather, Renamo has the backing of several key members of Congress, including Senator Jesse Helms and Representative Jack Kemp, who last September sent a letter to Renamo's leader that closed with ''best wishes for continued success.''

While tentatively acknowledging the South Africa role in Mozambique, United States officials have said there is no need to place Pretoria on the list since it is already penalized under the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act. But the addition to the terrorism list of North Korea, which was already covered under the Trading With the Enemy Act and with which the United States has almost no trade, has further institutionalized the list as an official designation.

The Administration's battle against international terrorism and its attempts to enlist allied support for the effort have been seriously compromised by the impression that the list is no more than an official Washington ''enemies list.'' If the list is to have any meaning, it must include countries, like South Africa, that are clearly supporting or carrying out acts of terrorism, regardless of other political factors.

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