The 1980s were a time of fundamental and far-reaching changes in South Africa. The apartheid government was under pressure to reform and open the political system. The Reagan Administration had been following an ambiguous policy of constructive engagement and was opposed to imposing sanctions. Richard Lugar took a courageous stance in contradicting the position of his Republican President.
In 1985, Lugar, Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.), Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, and Sen. Charles Mathias (R-Md.) introduced the Anti-Apartheid Act.
Concerning the bill, Lugar wrote that “The United States needed to provide direct, tangible assistance to the black majority in South Africa in its efforts to gain full political, economic and social rights in South Africa, and to provide that in the absence of progress in eliminating apartheid, it shall be the American policy to consider economic sanctions against the government.”
Lugar had held hearings in the Foreign Relations Committee and concluded that, “apartheid is abhorrent to everything that we believe in, and want to promote in the world… we need to be actively engaged in South Africa, and not walk away from it. This bill is a step toward ending apartheid and beginning the process of erasing its effects.”
Lugar knew that this first bill would not succeed because there were not enough votes in the Senate to override Reagan’s veto. A year later, in 1986, he introduced new measures that South Africa would have to agree to if sanctions were ever lifted against their country. This included the release of Nelson Mandela. The bill passed both houses of Congress, and Reagan did indeed veto the bill. Lugar led the fight for an override, and the bill was passed in October 1986.
In 1991, Mandela wrote to Lugar: “Your valiant fight against apartheid has won you a place of honor in the hearts of millions of our people, and we wish that you continue until apartheid is completely dismantled.”
I was honored in February 2013 when Richard Lugar delivered the Patrick O’Meara lecture “On American Foreign Policy: Challenges and Opportunities.” Over the past few years, he has been my neighbor in the Global and International Studies Building, which is home to the Hamilton Lugar School. His graciousness and acute observations were always an inspiration.