The United States and South Africa

By Cason, Jim; Fleshman, Mike | Monthly Review, April 1986 | Go to article overview

The United States and South Africa

Cason, Jim, Fleshman, Mike, Monthly Review


"The policies and actions of the government of South Africa constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy and economy of the United States." Ronald Reagan's September 1985 declaration that the white minority government in South Africa was a threat to the United States appeared to be a sharp reversal of the administration's "constructive engagement" policy toward Pretoria. Only a few days earlier the president had firmly rejected economic pressure on the white republic; now he was suddenly imposing a series of limited economic sanctions, including restrictions on bank loans, computer exports, and the sale of nuclear technology.

Something had changed and changed radically. The difference was that by September 1985 South Africa had entered a state of virtual civil war: the army was fighting pitched battles with the residents of the shattered black townships, the economy was on the verge of collapse, and South Africa's creditors were beginning to ask serious questions about the country's long-term stability. At the same time, in the streets and in the Congress of the United States, a coalition of civil rights and anti-apartheid activists had succeeded in making U.S. policy toward South Africa a major political issue.

It was the certainty of stiffer Congressional action that forced Reagan finally to abandon some of the tenets of constructive engagement--the policy that repudiated any type of economic or political pressure on South Africa in favor of "quite diplomacy" and a strategic alliance with white minority rule. But it is clear that Reagan's retreat has only been tactical: the administration's strategic goals in South Africa remain the same. Indeed, despite the appearance of radically different approaches to southern Africa by the Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan administrations, the policies have been designed to protect and promote a remarkably consistent set of interests. Any understanding of U.S. policy and policy options toward the region must therefore proceed from an analysis of those interests and an analysis of how contending fractions of the U.S. ruling class define threats to those interests.

One set of interests is economic. For the past hundred years, the capitalist powers have sought to preserve access to South Africa's supply of strategic minerals and to the cheap black labor force by working to maintain capitalism as the dominant mode of production in the region. Central to the development of capitalism in southern Africa has been the establishment of white supermacist regimes, and later of apartheid itself, because it is these regimes that have made possible the superexploitation of black labor, particularly in the mines.

The United States has profited from apartheid, and U.S. policy toward the region, now and in the past, has been determined by its growing economic stake in South Africa, a stake that today totals some $14 billion in direct investment, bank loans, and holdings on the Johannesburg stock exchange. Consequently, the United States has supported the survival of pro-Western capitalist governments in the region, both in order to maintain its economic interests and to reduce or eliminate the perceived threat that the Soviet Union will gain a foothold in what has always been considered a Western economic and politico-military preserve. We will examine how different administrations have pursued these goals, but the point here is that the importance of ideology in the formation of U.S. policy toward southern Africa must not be underestimated. Beginning at least with the assassination of the prime minister of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, in 1960, U.S. policymakers have viewed the region as a U.S. sphere of interest--that is, as an area that was integrated into the capitalist economic system by the colonial powers and was and must remain an area for capitalist exploitation in the postcolonial era. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The United States and South Africa


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.