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South Africa

Volume 77: debated on Wednesday 24 April 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the South African authorities over recent events in that country.

Following the tragic events at Uitenhage on 21 March, I issued a strong condemnation of the shootings. On my instructions, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce), summoned the South African ambassador to express our shock and to call for the fullest possible investigation.

Does the Foreign Secretary deplore yesterday's detention of three senior members of the United Democratic Front and the continued harassment of those actively involved in opposing the regime? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that, despite the somewhat cosmetic changes recently announced by the regime, there has been no fundamental change in South Africa, and that the vast majority of people there are denied basic rights and liberties because of the colour of their skin?

It is too early to comment on the incident reported yesterday, but I confirm that we certainly expressed concern to the South African Government about the original arrest of UDF leaders and joined our partners in the Ten in underlining our concern. Our practice is not to intervene until the legal processes have been exhausted.

It must be acknowledged that certain important changes have been announced this year, starting with President Botha's speech on 25 January and including the suspension of forced removals, the extension of 99-year leasehold rights to blacks in the Cape area, confirmation that the Mixed Marriages and Immorality Acts will be repealed, and so on. None of them go far enough, but they appear to reflect changes in attitude which could be significant, but none of them diminish the strength with which we condemn apartheid as a system, along the lines suggested by the hon. Gentleman.

My right hon. and learned Friend's latter words will be very welcome to many Conservative Members. Does he agree that if the Government gave a little more encouragement and praise for the moves towards reform that are taking place in South Africa, they would be making a constructive contribution and would ease the process of change there?

When presenting their attitude towards events in South Africa, it is necessary for the Government to keep both halves of the subject in mind. It is necessary to condemn, as we do, actions that are plainly unjustified. But, as I have already said, it is also necessary to acknowledge and encourage steps that are being taken in the right direction. The key point is that we should continue to use all our influence and contacts in every way possible to maintain pressure for change of the kind desired in all parts of the House.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the South African Government's decision to impose a so-called multi-party Government on Namibia shows that the progress of resolution 435 has come to a halt and that there has been an end to the Crocker initiative? Does it not also throw into great doubt South Africa's acceptance of that resolution? Will he arrange to have this matter raised as soon as possible at the United Nations Security Council?

With other members of the Contact Group, we have already made representations to the South African Government about the steps taken in Namibia and underlined the importance that we attach to the implementation of resolution 435. We shall continue to support the American-led negotiations to achieve that.

We are glad that the Government were represented by our consul in Durban at the opening stages of the treason trial. Will the Foreign Secretary ensure that we continue to monitor that trial when it resumes in mid-May? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider whether we should follow the example of the Irish Government and help to pay the legal costs of those UDF defendants? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider also helping the families who are being crippled financially by this legal repression?

I am afraid that I cannot follow the hon. Gentleman down the road that was opened up by the second half of his question. Many British subjects face trial in different countries in different circumstances, and successive Governments have not found it either possible or proper to pay their legal costs. We could not, therefore, extend our representative generosity along those lines. It is important that we should continue to monitor the trial carefully. We have already made it plain that we shall be sending an observer.