President Clinton pitched his African trade policy Saturday to ordinary South Africans and the business elite, seeking to allay concerns that it is coercive and abandons traditional aid too soon.

"A new partnership in trade and investment should not come at the expense of development assistance when it is so plainly still needed," Clinton told South African and American business leaders.He described in detail his plans for a trade policy that rewards countries making economic reforms with greater trade access, while working to reverse an erosion in development assistance.

"Under our plan, all African nations will benefit," the president said. He spoke at the opening of a trade center named in honor of Ron Brown, the late U.S. commerce secretary who died when his plane slammed into a mountainside in Bosnia two years ago.

Clinton gave a similar message earlier at a meeting with youth leaders in Thokoza, one of the township ghettos where, under the previous white-minority government, blacks were required by law to live.

Kumi Naidoo, a former anti-apartheid campaigner and expert in community organization work, urged Clinton at the meeting to maintain aid for the long term.

"If you understand the devastation that apartheid caused, it's completely unrealistic to believe that that legacy can be wiped out in five, 10 or even 15 to 20 years," he said.

Clinton pledged in his speech that he would work to restore development aid to sub-Saharan Africa to its historic high of $830 million, which was reached in 1992. This year, he is asking Congress to raise the level by $30 million from $700 million.

He said the United States would provide $650 million in government-backed private loans. He told the audience he had sought $35 million in funding from Congress to wipe off the books $1.6 billion in bad debt owed by African countries for low-interest loans from America.

On Saturday, Clinton pledged to make Africa's case for additional debt relief when he would meet other leaders of the Group of Seven industrial nations in May.

In the meantime, Clinton's Africa trade bill, which passed the House of Representatives in March, aims to use the promise of greater access to U.S. markets and investment assistance as a leverage for market and political reforms.

Clinton said he would convene a Washington summit of the leaders of "reforming economies" in Africa - a meeting aides placed within the next three years - and follow that with regular consultations by finance ministers.

But Clinton's day was not entirely spent on business.

Following his Friday visit to President Nelson Mandela's former prison cell at Robben Island off Cape Town, Clinton paid homage at another shrine of post-apartheid South Africa - a memorial to Hector Peterson, 13, shot dead by police during a 1976 uprising.

"This solemn place commemorates forever the death of one young boy, a death that shocked the world into a new recognition of the vast evil of apartheid," Clinton told a gathering of South African dignitaries.

Peterson was the first of around 700 blacks, many of them children, who died in a 10-month uprising that began in the sprawling township of Soweto on June 16, 1976.

Clinton saluted the people of the townships for their front-line efforts to fight the apartheid system of racial separation and white-minority rule.

"Today we remember the historic events of this decade, and we remember that none of them could have been possible without the young men and women of the townships, many of whom were cut down in struggle, more of whom were damaged by prison and torture," Clinton said.

Clinton spoke after laying a wreath at the memorial and planting a tree nearby. He also toured an exhibit of dramatic photographs depicting the uprising, including a famous photograph of a man carrying Hector's body.

*****

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Clinton sees games

South Africa's M-Net television channel broadcast the two NCAA basketball games for President Clinton today. The station showed the game between Stanford - Chelsea's university - and Kentucky beginning at midnight local time. The Utah-North Carolina game was shown afterward.