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South Africa (Detentions)

Volume 79: debated on Wednesday 22 May 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he is making to the South African authorities over the detention order under section 29 of the Internal Security Act of officials of the United Democratic Front.

We have consistently condemned the practice of detention without trial and have made our position clear to the South African authorities on many occasions. We have expressed our concern about the recent detention of the United Democratic Front officials to the South African Government.

Does the Minister agree that it is ludicrous for the South African ambassador to seek to argue that the judiciary for this issue in that country is acting independently of the wishes of the Government?

The South African judiciary has, on several occasions, acquitted people who have been charged with treason or other politically related offences. Therefore, it would be wrong to suggest that the South African judiciary does not have considerable indepen-dence. We hope that anyone who is brought before the South African courts will be considered by the South African judiciary on the basis of the evidence that is presented.

Is the Minister aware of the renewed concern in this country and elsewhere at the number of people held in detention in South Africa and the deaths of some of them in very suspicious circumstances? How long will it be before the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary speak out in forthright terms against the racial tyranny in South Africa and make people there recognise that this country is no ally of that regime and that the community in this country condemns the practices which take place in South Africa?

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary have both made clear their abhorrence of the apartheid system on many occasions, I see no need for any change of policy of the kind suggested by the hon. Gentleman.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the judiciary in South Africa has to operate, as all judiciaries should, within the law of the land and that that is exactly what is happening?

My hon. Friend is correct, but at the same time we must make clear our own view that a system of detention without trial precludes those so detained from appearing in court and establishing whether they are rightly in custody.

Is this not yet another example of the South African Government's legal tyranny persecuting leaders of black opinion who are committed to non-violence? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that underlines the failure of the so-called constructive engagement and how little has really changed in that appalling country? Will the Government now start to isolate South Africa economically before we have to do so, following lamely after the Americans?

There have been a number of important reforms in South Africa which we have welcomed and which have been rightly welcomed by the international community, including the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) when he wound up the last foreign affairs debate for the Opposition. Nevertheless, if the South African Government are serious about wanting a policy of dialogue with genuine representatives of black opinion in that country, it is difficult to understand why they continue to charge and to detain without trial leading members of the United Democratic Front. I entirely reject the suggestion that a policy of economic sanctions would make any helpful contribution to achieving the objectives that the hon. Gentleman seeks.