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The Double-Standard Justification for South Africa's Apartheid

As a black American I was saddened by the opinion-page column ``South Africa Shouldn't be Singled Out,'' Oct. 12. This column compares white-ruled South Africa with black-ruled African states and suggests the social and economic superiority of white South Africa. Yet on human rights, the writer contends that whites and blacks have comparable systems. Rather than defending white South Africa, this column should pressure whites to demonstrate their presumed superiority - by developing laws in support of dignity for all people.

History reveals that most nascent governments, especially former colonies, tend to be dictatorial in the early stages of self-government. But the struggles of these black-ruled states in no way justify sustained colonialism or white domination, and certainly not a system of legally-sanctioned racism. Apartheid denies and degrades the humanity of millions of people solely on the basis of skin color. Shirley A. Hill, Kansas City

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That whites occupied the land first is a long discredited notion. Anthropological evidence and written records show that the Cape area was inhabited by the Khoi and San peoples, the Eastern Cape and seaboard was inhabited by Zulu and Xhosa, and Sotho and Tswana peoples occupied the interior lands. The ``Journal of Jan van Riebeeck'' discusses the methods the Dutch used to subdue these peoples. Statistics can be misleading for a country characterized by wide disparities. The statistics for the African population alone drastically change the picture: Infant mortality ranges between 94 and 124 per thousand births, compared to 72 in Botswana, 76 in Zimbabwe, and 84 in Zambia - all majority-ruled nations. Malnutrition among African children is rampant. Education is not mandatory for African children and government funding for African pupils is only a fraction of that for whites.

This column's use of statistics suggests that it is acceptable to compare white living standards with the West, and black living standards with Africa. This implies that blacks are primitive, not part of the same society.

The human rights record of many African countries is appalling. The Bush administration should not lend support to a leader as corrupt and brutal as Mobutu Sese Seko. But that is a different problem. In South Africa, the vast majority of the population has been systematically disenfranchised for no reason but skin color. Michael Niemann, Hartford, Conn.

Why should South Africa be pounced upon and hobbled by sanctions when it treats blacks far better than black-ruled Africa does? While South African whites have made some concessions to blacks economically, religiously, and socially, they are understandably reluctant to allow full political and social equality because of the disproportionate black majority. If one-man one-vote democracy is established there, blacks would easily gain control of the government. Then what? Would South Africa go the way of ``the 42 black-ruled states ... now disintegrated into a political, social, and economic nightmare?'' Charles F. Rasoli, Long Island City, N.Y.

I am South African of Irish descent, and I have worked and traveled in many African countries. What this column states about average black living standards, black literacy rates, and government spending in South Africa may be true. Mobutu in Zaire may be more corrupt than politicians in South Africa, and Burundi may have more inter-ethnic violence. But nowhere else have I experienced the racist attitudes of white South Africans. Living standards are secondary: A man's dignity and freedom are a far better measure of the worth of a country. Joy F. Morrison, Iowa City, Iowa

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