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Mr Nelson Mandela

Volume 81: debated on Tuesday 18 June 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations Her Majesty's Government have received on the continuing imprisonment of Nelson Mandela in South Africa; and what has been the response of those representations.

We receive many representations, from individuals and organisations, in accord with our view that Nelson Mandela should be released immediately and unconditionally. We shall continue to press for this.

Do those representations include the petition presented to the Prime Minister two weeks ago by 45 lord mayors and lord provosts, including the Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent, Councillor John Birkin? They will no doubt be delighted to hear that the Government will continue their support for Mr. Mandela's release, but would be more cheered if the Government would take some action. Will the Foreign Secretary raise this issue at Milan and consider a joint initiative with European, EC and Commonwealth Heads of State to put some pressure on the South African Government?

I can confirm that the representations received include representations from local authorities, including those from the specific individual about whom the hon. Gentleman is so concerned. As to action by Her Majesty's Government, I remind the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister raised this issue with Mr. P. W. Botha when he was in the United Kingdom last year.

Have not the South African Government made it clear that they are prepared to release Nelson Mandela on condition that he renounces terrorism and violence? Is there to be a distinction so that some are to be allowed legitimately to pursue terrorism and violence as long as it is against South Africa? I remind my hon. Friend that South Africa is one of the 13 of the founder members of the League of Nations whose Governments have not been changed by force since the first world war.

Bearing in mind that Nelson Mandela has been in prison but was never convicted of any personal act of violence, and that it is somewhat unusual, to say the least, to impose conditions on the release of persons in prison, either in South Africa or any other country, neither I nor Her Majesty's Government believe that it is appropriate to require statements from Mr. Mandela before he is released.

Is it not unfortunate that there are Conservative Back Benchers who are far more concerned to see Hess released from prison than Nelson Mandela, who all his life fought against the principles on which Hess was convicted at Nuremberg? Is the Minister aware that we require from this Government and the United Nations, not simply words but determined action and pressure on the South African authorities, to ensure that Nelson Mandela, after 20 years of imprisonment, is allowed, without any conditions, to be released and to become a free man again?

I have already said that Her Majesty's Government shared the view expressed in the hon. Gentleman's latter question. As to his first question, that is a most unworthy comparison, which is both irrelevant to the questions under consideration and also, I am afraid to say, rather typical of the hon. Gentleman.

Did my hon. Friend have the opportunity to read the leader in The Times on Monday? Does he agree with its assertions that terrorism can never be given a political legitimacy no matter where it occurs, and that terrorism against civilian targets must never be justified? Is it not the refusal of Mr. Nelson Mandela to repudiate such acts of violence that means his continued imprisonment?

While I entirely agree that it would be inappropriate for the Government to have formal contact with an organisation that is committed to acts of violence of the kind described, given the very lengthy period that Mr. Mandela has already spent in prison I do not believe that further conditions need to be imposed before he is released. All those who are seeking a peaceful solution to the problems of South Africa ought to believe that Mr. Mandela's release might help in that direction, and might also help to persuade the ANC as an organisation to renounce the road of violence as a means of achieving political change.

Why do the Government not meet leaders of the ANC, who are denied any political role in their own country? While the IRA can fight elections if it wants, the ANC cannot, because it is excluded from national franchise. Is it not impertinent and unrealistic of President Botha to impose the pre-condition of disavowal of violence, when the South African authorities constantly carry out acts of violence against the black majority? Will the Government now press South Africa to allow Mrs. Winnie Mandela to leave her own country next month to attend the women's conference in Nairobi?

Of course we hope that Mrs. Mandela will be free to leave South Africa if she wishes, and we hope that the South African Government will act in a responsible and constructive way to any such request. As to the hon. Gentleman's general points, there is nothing I can add to the comments that I have already made.