ORLANDO, Fla. -- This week the National Conference of State Legislatures will become the first organization of local public officials to endorse phasing out the states' economic sanctions against South Africa, according to the conference's vice president.
The official, state Rep. Art Hamilton of Arizona, added that the gradual relaxation still depends on further progress toward democracy.
President Bush announced last month that the federal government is ending its five-year-old policy of curbs on U.S. investment and business activity in South Africa.
But a number of state and local officials recently surveyed by The Bond Buyer said they consider the federal government's action pre-mature. They have no plans to change laws barring their localities from dealing with firms that do business with South Africa, they said.
Mr. Bush said he changed policy because of such steps as South Africa's release of political prisoners and elimination of political curbs on antiapartheid groups. The South African government also has begun to negotiate with such groups on a new political structure.
On Sunday, Rep. Hamilton said, the conference's executive committee endorsed a resolution urging state governments to phase out antiapartheid limitations in response to "positive steps toward the establishment of democratic government in South Africa."
He said the conference membership is expected to officially endorse the proposal in a business session today. The group is holding its annual convention here.
"I am happy that the executive committee's resolution passed," said Rep. Hamilton, who is also minority leader of Arizona's House of Representatives. "But this should not be seen as taking the pressure off South Africa. They have to continue to make progress for us to push for lifting of sanctions."
State Rep. Wilhelmina R. Delco of Texas, chairwoman of the conference's South Africa Task Force, also stressed that the recommendation is linked to continued progress.
"what this means is that we recognize the positive change that has taken place in South Africa," she said, "and that we encourage states to review their policies toward that country and consider reinitiating responsible investments as it moves forward."
She said the investments should be used to encourage broader access in South Africa to health care, housing, and employment.
The resolution endorsed by the executive committee reads, "As official negotiations commence, including but not limited to the South African government and the African National Congress, NCSL encourages the states to phase in socially responsible investments in South Africa. The final phase-in ending all state sanctions should occur with the establishment of a new constitution which includes full democratic participation and one-person one-vote elections."
Harry Schwarz, South Africa's ambassador to the United States, welcomed the conference's resolution.
"I'm pleased with the approval because it represents a movement away from the hard line taken by many other state and local officials," Mr. Schwarz said in an interview.
"The lifting of investment sanctions is important as we move towards democratic government because it will help those who have been most hurt by apartheid," he said. "When I ask for investment now I am asking for investment in our country's future."
Ambassador Schwarz, a longtime opponent of apartheid, was appointed South Africa's ambassador to the United States in March. Both Rep. Delco and Rep. Hamilton said that the ambassador's personal commitment to change in South Africa played a part in their endorsement of the conference's policy proposal.