Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act

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Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986
Great Seal of the United States
Long title An Act To prohibit loans to, other investments in, and certain other activities with respect to, South Africa, and for other purposes
Enacted by the 99th United States Congress
Public Law Pub.L. 99–440
Statutes at Large 100 Stat. 1086
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the House as H.R. 4868 by William H. Gray (D-PA) on May 21, 1986
  • Passed the House on June 18, 1986 (voice vote)
  • Passed the Senate as the Senate on August 15, 1986 (84-14) with amendment
  • House agreed to Senate amendment on September 12, 1986 (308-77)
  • Vetoed by President Ronald Reagan on September 26, 1986
  • Overridden by the House on September 29, 1986 (313-83)
  • Overridden by the Senate and became law on October 2, 1986 (78-21)

The Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986[1] was a law enacted by the United States Congress. The law imposed sanctions against South Africa and stated five preconditions for lifting the sanctions that would essentially end the system of apartheid. The sanctions were repealed in July 1991 after South Africa took steps towards meeting the preconditions of the act.

Legislative history[edit]

Initial introduction in 1972[edit]

Sponsored by U.S. Representative Ron Dellums in 1972 with support from the Congressional Black Caucus and Rep. Howard Wolpe, chair of the House Africa Subcommittee, the law was the first United States anti-apartheid legislation. The act was initiated in reaction to the plight of blacks in South Africa and demanded the end of apartheid. The legislation banned all new U.S. trade and investment in South Africa and was a catalyst for similar sanctions in Europe and Japan. Direct air links were also banned, including South African Airways flights to U.S. airports. The act also required various U.S. departments and agencies to suppress funds and assistance to the then pro-apartheid government.

Initial attempt at passage in 1985[edit]

Democrats in the Senate initially tried to pass the Anti-Apartheid Act in September 1985, but could not overcome a Republican filibuster.[2] President Ronald Reagan viewed the act as an intrusion on his authority to conduct foreign policy and issued his own set of sanctions, though Democrats considered these to be "watered down and ineffective".[3]

Passage in the House and Senate in 1986[edit]

The bill was re-introduced in 1986 and brought up for a vote despite Republican efforts to block it in order to give President Reagan's sanctions time to work.[4] It initially passed unexpectedly in the House in June 1986 after Republicans agreed to a voice vote in the hopes that the bill would die later on in the process, thus ending any possibility of sanctions.[5] President Reagan publicly opposed the bill[6] In August 1986, the Senate passed a version of the Anti-Apartheid Act with weaker sanctions by a margin of 84-14.[7] Democratic leaders in the House agreed to accept the weaker Senate version of the bill in order for it to have sufficient bipartisan support to avert a possible veto.[8]

Veto by President Reagan[edit]

Reagan vetoed the compromised bill on September 26, calling it "economic warfare" and alleging that it would mostly hurt the impoverished black majority and lead to more civil strife.[9] He again offered to impose sanctions via executive order, while also working with Senate Republicans on concessions to avoid them overriding his veto. Reagan's veto was attacked harshly by anti-Apartheid leaders like Desmond Tutu who said Reagan would be "judged harshly by history".[10] In the week leading up to the subsequent vote, President Reagan enlisted South African foreign minister Pik Botha to call Republicans on the fence, though this was seen to backfire.[11]

Veto override[edit]

Reagan's veto was overridden by Congress (by the Senate 78 to 21, the House by 313 to 83) on October 2.[12] In the House vote, taken on September 29, 1986, 232 Democrats and 81 Republicans voted to override the President's veto while 4 Democrats and 79 Republicans voted to sustain the President's veto. [13] In the Senate vote, all 47 Democrats were joined by 31 Republicans to override the President's veto while 21 Republicans voted to sustain the President's veto. This override marked the first time in the twentieth century that a president had a foreign policy veto overridden.[14] Apartheid opponents in America and South Africa applauded the vote, while critics argued that it would be either ineffectual or lead to more violence.[11][15]

President Reagan made the following statement after the override:

"Today's Senate vote should not be viewed as the final chapter in America's efforts, along with our allies, to address the plight of the people of South Africa. Instead, it underscores that America—and that means all of us—opposes apartheid, a malevolent and archaic system totally alien to our ideals. The debate, which culminated in today's vote, was not whether or not to oppose apartheid but, instead, how best to oppose it and how best to bring freedom to that troubled country.

I deeply regret that Congress has seen fit to override my veto of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986. Punitive sanctions, I believe, are not the best course of action; they hurt the very people they are intended to help. My hope is that these punitive sanctions do not lead to more violence and more repression. Our administration will, nevertheless, implement the law. It must be recognized, however, that this will not solve the serious problems that plague that country. The United States must also move forward with positive measures to encourage peaceful change and advance the cause of democracy in South Africa.

Now is the time for South Africa's Government to act with courage and good sense to avert a crisis. Moderate black leaders who are committed to democracy and oppose revolutionary violence are ready to work for peaceful change. They should not be kept waiting. It would be tragic to lose this opportunity to create a truly free society which respects the rights of the majority, the minority, and the individual. There is still time for orderly change and peaceful reform. South Africans of good will, black and white, should seize the moment."[16]

The override was seen as a major defeat for Reagan, coming at the hands of his fellow Republicans in Congress. It was subsequently revealed that there was significant debate within the White House between Reagan's political advisors advocating more compromise and those like Pat Buchanan and Donald Regan who supported Reagan's hard line against sanctions.[17]


After 2 years of sanctions under President Reagan, the head of South Africa's central bank argued that the nation had adjusted to financial sanctions.[18] In 1989, the General Accounting Office said in a report that the sanctions against South Africa had been only partially enforced by the Reagan administration.[19][20] In 1989, the newly elected President George H.W. Bush committed to "full enforcement" of the Anti-Apartheid Act, a departure from the Reagan administration`s policy.[21]

From 1990-1991, South African President F. W. de Klerk made steps towards meeting the preconditions of the Anti-Apartheid Act.[22] In 1991, following de Klerk's repeal of Apartheid laws and the release of Nelson Mandela and other (though not all) political prisoners, President Bush issued an executive order lifting virtually all bans against doing business with South Africa.[23] The degree to which the sanctions were responsible for ending apartheid was a matter of debate as those opposed to the sanctions argue that the South African economy was already struggling before the sanctions were enforced and that it was the political process on the ground that led to the changes.[24][25] Despite the repeal of most of the sanctions imposed by this act, many companies were still restricted by laws within individual states and cities in the United States that imposed sanctions. In September 1993, Nelson Mandela called for these sanctions to be removed as well and for investment to return to a still-struggling South Africa. [26] The last of the sanctions stemming from this act was repealed in November 1993.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pub.L. 99–440, H.R. 4868
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Excerpts From Speech In Response To Reagan". The New York Times. July 23, 1986. 
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b Roberts, Steven V. (October 3, 1986). "Senate, 78 to 21, Overrides Reagan’s Veto and Imposes Sanctions on South Africa". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 February 2009. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ 99th Congress (1986) (September 29, 1986). "House Vote #829 in 1986". Legislation. Retrieved December 8, 2013. "To override the President's veto of HR4868, a bill to prohibit loans to, other investments in, and certain other activities with respect to, South Africa (Motion passed; two-thirds of those present voting in favor)." 
  14. ^ Norment, Lynn (August 1994). "How African-Americans helped free South Africa - Special Issue: Nelson Mandela and the New South Africa". Ebony (Johnson). Retrieved 2008-04-19. 
  15. ^,376804&dq=apartheid+sanctions+veto&hl=en
  16. ^ Statement on the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, October 2, 1986.
  17. ^
  18. ^ Wren, Christopher (February 7, 1989). "Pretoria Banker Discounts Sanctions". The New York Times. 
  19. ^ "Enforcement of sanctions inadequate, report suggests". The Pantagraph. August 20, 1989. 
  20. ^
  21. ^ "Bush's Carrot-and-stick Policy On S. Africa Faces Critics In U.s". Chicago Tribune. October 12, 1989. 
  22. ^ Wren, Christopher S. (February 2, 1991). "South Africa Moves to Scrap Apartheid". The New York Times. 
  23. ^ "Bush's rash repeal of sanctions". Boston Globe. July 11, 1991. 
  24. ^
  25. ^ Keller, Bill (September 12, 1993). "THE WORLD; South Africa Sanctions May Have Worked, at a Price". The New York Times. 
  26. ^ Holmes, Steven A. (September 25, 1993). "TRANSITION IN AFRICA; Officials in U.S. Are Moving For a Removal of Sanctions". The New York Times. 
  27. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • Thomson, Alex (2012). "A More Effective Constructive Engagement: US Policy Towards South Africa after the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986". Politikon: South African Journal of Political Studies 39 (3): 371–389. doi:10.1080/02589346.2012.746186.