June 20th, 1966
With Robert Kennedy In White Africa
The Kennedy tour in Africa took on the markings of political barnstorming. What reaction? Albert J. Meyers of the staff of U. S. News & World Report tells the story.
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa
It was something new for a U.S. Senator - taking the stump in a country nearly 7,000 miles from home and attacking that country’s racial policy.
Senator Robert F. Kennedy made a whirlwind tour of South Africa from June 4 to June 9. He repeatedly criticized the South African Government’s policy of apartheid– separation of the races.
The New York Democrat, brother of the late President John F. Kennedy, drew enthusiastic crowds on university campuses and in the streets of Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban as well.
However, Mr. Kennedy got a cold shoulder from the South African Government, which had suggested that his visit might have been intended as “a publicity stunt . . . a build-up for a future presidential election.”
Visas were refused for some 40 American newsmen who had planned to go to South Africa with the Senator. This correspondent flew into Johannesburg to cover the Kennedy story-which was very much like a whistle-stop political campaign-but was barred from accompanying Mr. Kennedy on his tour. I flew out of South Africa to cable this dispatch.
High officials of the South African Government rejected the Senator's requests for conferences with them. One indication of the Government's attitude came in the comment of an official who said, after a speech in which Mr. Kennedy denounced apartheid as one of the world's “evils”:
“This little snip thinks he can tell us what to do. He has only been in this country for three days, and already he has the audacity to tell us what the remedies to our problems are.”
Reports from the U. S. indicate that the news of Senator Kennedy's visit to South Africa was overshadowed at home by the ambush shooting of James Meredith on a Mississippi highway. The shooting relegated Senator Kennedy's African adventures to a secondary position in press coverage.
Invitation from students.
The Senator was invited to South Africa by the National Union of South African Students. The organization's president, Ian Robertson, 21, was restricted to his quarters by the Government, but Mr. Kennedy was permitted to talk with him.
In his address to the student union at the university of Cape Town on June 6, Mr. Kennedy said that “the young people of this world” must fight such “differing evils” as “discrimination in New York, apartheid in South Africa and serfdom in the mountains of Peru.” He also listed as “evils” the jailing of intellectuals in Russia, starvation in India and mass slaughter in Indonesia.
In a speech at the University of Natal, in Durban, the Senator predicted that, unless South Africa modifies its policy of strict racial segregation, “there is going to be a major crisis not only in Africa, but throughout the world.”
At airports and on the streets, crowds swarmed around Senator Kennedy.
Mr. Kennedy made a point of attempting to shake hands with every black African he could reach. This didn’t always work out as planned. In Pretoria, one startled African ran away as Mr. Kennedy approached. In Johannesburg, another fled as the Senator moved in to shake hands. The African was quoted as saying: “I thought the white man was going to hit me.”
The Government permitted Mr. Kennedy to travel to Zululand to talk with Chief Albert Luthuli, a tribal leader and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. The Chief, former head of the outlawed African National Congress, has been restricted to his home area since 1959.
Later, the Senator toured Soweto, a complex of black townships near Johannesburg. This was his only contact with large numbers of black South Africans, who cheered lustily when he said: “You have friends in South Africa, in the United States and all over the world.”
What Africans think.
Mr. Kennedy's trip, of course, had no relation to the position of the Johnson Administration, but it was widely interpreted in black Africa as a sign that the U. S. is for immediate change in South Africa, even to the point of black rule.
U.S. diplomats in Africa are emphasizing that Washington is not advocating any such swift change, and that, if the black countries think so, they are bound to be disappointed.
Some diplomats believe the Kennedy visit has sharpened the division between white and black Africa and between the U. S. and South Africa, and that the trip, therefore, was ill-advised.
Abroad, editorial reaction was mixed. “The London Daily Mirror,”for example, praised Mr. Kennedy's “moving appeal to youth to show qualities of conscience and indignation,” but “The Daily Express” observed:
“It is hard to see what useful purpose Senator Kennedy is achieving in South Africa... The suspicion must be that Mr. Kennedy simply wants to advance his presidential prospects by creating a stir.”
U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT, June 20, 1966