Reversing Gear

SOUTH AFRICA

MEMBERS OF the International Monetary Fund (IMF) believe their organization is above politics. But last week's decision by the IMF-approving a $1 billion loan to South Africa clearly demonstrates the United States desire to have strong ties-with Pretoria. The U.S. which has what amounts to vetoing power within the IMF, ignored a U.N. resolution and pleas from several dozen Congressmen to block the and Instead. Reagan Administration officials lobbied the other 145 members of the Fund to push the loan through.

The Treasury Department, which oversees U.S. representation at the IMF, claimed that requests from members countries should be judged solely by economic criteria. Certainly, South Africa needed the money. Its balance of payments, deficit last year reached $3.8 billion and is expected to go higher a reflection of the sharp drop in the price of gold, the country's main export And in the past the IMF has loaned funds to other countries with questionable human rights records, like Argentina, Nicaragua and EI Salvador.

But the IMF decision ignores South Africa's unique position in the world community. In 1974, the United Nations General Assembly voted Pretoria out of that body to protest apartheid and the illegal occupation of neighboring Namibia. While other totalitarian states can count on sympathy from at least a few other nations, South Africa is almost totally ostracized.

The basic facts of South Africa's repugnant racism are known to most whites, who make up 15 percent of the population, own 86 percent of the land and exclude Blacks from voting and most public places. What is less obvious at first glance is that it takes a reasonably sound economy to maintain repression at home and oppression abroad. The IMI money will indeed help Pretoria correct its payment deficit That in turn will allow the white minority to "keep Blacks in their place" and continue a massive arms build-up that will insure dominance over Namibia.

The Reagan Administration is willing to ignore all this in order to court Pretoria. South Africa's abundant natural resources and key strategic position on the African continent suffice to give what appears to be national interest preeminence over morals. But all Washington will succeed in doing is propping up for a while longer a university condemned regime that must eventually fall. Such a policy merits only contempt.