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The Reagan Administration took an unusually strong position, criticizing the emergency and denouncing apartheid as "repugnant" and "largely responsible" for the current problems, but indicated that it would not abandon its policy of "constructive engagement," an attempt to change South African attitudes and policies through quiet diplomacy. France withdrew its ambassador from Pretoria, as the U.S. had done six weeks earlier, and imposed a ban on future French investments in South Africa as a means of pressuring the country to institute meaningful reform. Like the U.S., Britain condemned apartheid, but refrained from supporting sanctions. At the United Nations, the Security Council adopted a French-Danish resolution in favor of voluntary economic penalties against South Africa, with the U.S. and Britain abstaining.
In South Africa, criticism was no less severe. Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, an Afrikaner and the leader of the Progressive Federal Party, the white opposition in Parliament, declared that "the government seems to have neither the ability, the plans, nor the talent to bring about effective negotiation policies [with black South Africans]. Every opportunity of consequence has been neglected or rejected. I ask this government, What in heaven's name are you doing?" Slabbert demanded that Parliament be called into session to debate the emergency. Botha refused, saying that the time had come for action, "not further debate."
Echoing Slabbert's call, the Rev. Christiaan Beyers Naudé, a clergyman who is also an Afrikaner and who has stood in the forefront of the civil rights struggle for two decades, declared, "No state of emergency is going to bring about peace unless, first of all, the doors are opened for the political prisoners [and] people are given the opportunity to express to all concerned what kind of country they want and what kind of life they want to live." To the Rev. Allan Boesak, a "colored," or mixed-race, clergyman who has recently emerged as a provocative advocate of change, the prospect was for "more repression, more deaths and more disappearances of more leaders." The only solution, he said, was to negotiate political reform with blacks. "The days when force could be used to suppress opponents of apartheid have gone."
From Botha's point of view, the declaration of the emergency could hardly have received a more dramatic boost if it had been conceived by the South African Broadcasting Corp. The frightful scene that became the prelude to the imposition of the decree was portrayed in full color on the 6 o'clock news on July 20. A screaming black crowd, apparently acting on the accusation of one pointed finger and one shout of "Informer!," turned on a young black woman at a funeral in the township of Duduza, outside Johannesburg. The woman was stoned, beaten, stripped and burned to death, all on nationwide television. At 8 p.m., saying that "this state of affairs can no longer be tolerated," Botha announced that emergency regulations would go into effect in 36 magisterial districts in the violence-ridden eastern Cape and in areas around Johannesburg (pop. 1.5 million), the country's largest city.