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South Africa

Volume 167: debated on Monday 12 February 1990

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3.30 pm

(by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth affairs if he will make a statement on Government policy towards South Africa following the release of Nelson Mandella.

We warmly welcome the release of Nelson Mandela. He symbolises the aspirations of millions of South Africans for a non-racial democratic South Africa.

Since Mr. de Klerk became president, he has transformed the policy of the South African Government. He has initiated a series of steps including the commitment to abolish much of the remains of so-called petty apartheid, the unbanning of political organisations and now the release of Nelson Mandela. All these steps have been demanded time and again by the British Government, by the international community and by the House. Taken together, they create a completely new climate in South Africa—a climate in which dialogue can begin about the massive task of dismantling apartheid peacefully. This new climate presents a decisive challenge to those, black and white, who wish to maintain the old orthodoxies of confrontation.

We urge the African National Congress, the Pan-Africanist Congress, the Inkatha movement, the various white parties and all other political organisations in South Africa to rise to this challenge, end violence, and enter negotiations.

It is vital to send a signal to the white community that President de Klerk's steps will find a response from the international community. That is why the British Government believe that it makes sense to stop discouraging investment and tourism in South Africa.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, having consistently called for the release of Mr. Nelson Mandela for many years, we in the Labour party express our profound satisfaction that he is no longer in prison? We emphasise that he should never have been in prison in the first place. We welcome his release and other recent steps taken by President de Klerk. We trust that successful negotiations will soon begin to bring about a South Africa with a vote for every man and woman on a common roll.

Is the right hon Gentleman aware that although Mr. Mandela is no longer in prison, he is not a free man? He cannot live where he chooses. He has no vote. For him and for the rest of the non-white majority in South Africa, that country continues to be a prison and it will be until apartheid and the police state are completely dismantled.

Does the Secretary of State recollect the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Kuala Lumpur last October.? The Prime Minister signed up—to use her phraseology—a statement which affirmed that the:
"justification for sanctions against South Africa"
"to abolish apartheid by bringing Pretoria to the negotiating table and keeping it there until that change was irreversibly secured".
As that objective to which the Prime Minister put her signature has clearly not been achieved, how can she call for relaxation in sanctions—particularly the ban on direct investment, to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred?

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that the ban has been responsible for one third of the 100 billion rand of losses to the South African economy caused by sanctions over the past four years? It is by far the most effective sanction. Is not that precisely why the Prime Minister wants to end that sanction?

Mr. Mandela has called for sanctions to be maintained. Should we trust the British Prime Minister, whose every action has been to prop up apartheid, or should we pay heed to Mr. Mandela, who has given more than 27 years of his life fighting the injustice of apartheid?

The world has made its choice, and that is why the Prime Minister is isolated in the United Nations, isolated in the Commonwealth and isolated in the European Community. It is no thanks to her, but with all thanks and praise to Mr. Mandela and the millions of other Africans fighting for justice, that apartheid is doomed and will be destroyed.

It is characteristic of the right hon. Member not to say a word of recognition about the courage shown in the steps that Mr. de Klerk has taken.

The sanctions that were introduced in 1986—and some of them will continue—by the European Community were aimed explicitly at bringing about a national dialogue. Mr. Mandela has said that he believes that national dialogue is liable to begin within days. If we do not recognise the courage behind the steps that have been taken—and that I hope will be taken, in response, by the other side—we would not be doing the right thing. The House is owed an explanation by the right hon. Member, on behalf of his party, whether its policy is to step up mandatory sanctions. If that remains its policy, Opposition Members are, as usual, completely out of touch.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a lot of support from Conservative Members for what he has said, and especially for his welcome for the release of Mr. Mandela?

If we hope for the survival of Mr. Gorbachev should not we equally hope for the survival of Mr. de Klerk, as long as white majority rule continues?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Opposition appear to be too obtuse to understand that there is a serious danger of a Right-wing backlash from some elements of the white population—possibly among the Afrikaners or even among the security forces, which could be accentuated if there is no recognition given by the outside world to the dramatic and imaginative steps that President de Klerk has announced?

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend, and I find it depressing that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has used his eloquence to try to get a dialogue going in the Arab-Israel conflict, and has expressed enthusiasm for and welcomed the Soviet Union into the community of nations, but he is so blinkered that he cannot see the window of opportunity here, and the possibility for real progress in South Africa. To let that slip by sticking in the old tired positions would be a terrible waste of opportunity.

Does the Minister accept that yesterday some of us were simply appalled when we found that the first words that the Prime Minister could bring herself to utter on the momentous release of Nelson Mandela were about increasing British investment in South Africa? Will he try to get her to understand that the best way to secure British investment in South Africa is to pay more attention in future to the views of the ANC and other movements that are pressing for the future of democracy in that country? While President de Klerk is, of course, to be congratulated on the brave steps that he has taken, does the Minister accept that South Africa cannot be treated as a normal state until the legal entrenchment of apartheid is lifted?

The right hon. Gentleman is wrong on one point. The Prime Minister's first words were an expression of delight; which, I am sure, is shared by all hon. Members; at Mr. Mandela's release. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that South Africa is at the beginning of a long process. We say that surely we must recognise—as we are trying to do in relation to the Soviet Union and the Palestine Liberation Organisation—that those who wish to sit down and negotiate need our support. If we do not provide any response at all the right hon. Gentleman will surely blame us when the white backlash sweeps de Klerk away.

While recognising that risk and the reality of what my right hon. Friend says, may I ask him whether he should not differentiate between the relaxation of some sanctions now unilaterally by Britain and the encouragement worldwide of doing away with sanctions overall? The Government have made subtle and positive contributions to bringing about what has happened in South Africa. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that the Government will continue their subtle handling of this matter?

My hon. Friend is right. Those who are opposed to dialogue in South Africa know very well the position of the British Government. That is why white extremists have been shooting at the British embassy in Pretoria. As my hon. Friend says, our approach remains careful and, I hope, subtle. We want to see de Klerk's position strengthened because, as Mr. Mandela has said in the most eloquent language, de Klerk stands honourably for dialogue.

On this momentous occasion of historic importance, which has brought great joy to millions of people throughout the world, will the Minister reflect on what has been happening over the weekend in relation to Government policy? Does he recognise the great hand of reconciliation that has been offered by Nelson Mandela? Does he recognise that the pillars of apartheid remain in place and that Nelson Mandela has said that until those pillars are substantially removed and there are substantial negotiations, sanctions must stay? Instead of always talking about offering carrots to President de Klerk, what about offering a little comfort and support to the people of South Africa instead of the contemptible, craven attitude that we get from the Dispatch Box?

All the people of South Africa, black and white, need our support and hands from both sides have been reaching out for reconciliation. The steps that we have taken are to support that process and I am sure that we are right so to do.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Mr. Mandela's support for the continued armed struggle is a chilling reminder that, regrettably, violence is still a part of African National Congress policy? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the lifting of sanctions will ensure the prosperity of the black South African and that it is only under such conditions that the world can reasonably hope for peaceful reform and meaningful change?

At his press conference this morning, Mr. Mandela spoke about the need for peace and said that he foresaw dialogue soon. We should surely concentrate on what he is saying and on such elements of the present situation. We should be seeking to support that hope of reconciliation.

The hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) was one of the most notorious apologists for the South African regime.

Will the Minister explain why the Prime Minister has simply refused to recognise that the pressure of the international community and the liberation movement in South Africa brought about the release of Nelson Mandela and the removal of the ban on the ANC? Will he make the strongest possible representations to the South African Government on how their security forces are completely out of control? Many of its members, perhaps the large majority, are clearly sympathetic to the forces of the ultra-Right and the Nazi terror groups that want to assassinate Mr. Mandela and refuse to recognise the advances that must be made in that country.

The hon. Gentleman is well known as a spokesman for consensus and moderation. He is right that the Government have found it necessary—with, I am sure, the support of the House—to make protests again and again about the behaviour of the South African security forces. The hon. Gentleman was not fair in his remarks about yesterday's events. Mr. Dullah Omar, one of the pricnipal organisers for the Mass Democratic Movement at the large march and demonstration yesterday, did not blame the police for the violence that occurred. He said that he was not satisfied with the security arrangements made by the organisers.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the South African Government could not have run the risk of releasing Mr. Mandela—his release is welcome—if President Gorbachev had not withdrawn his support for militant revolutionary forces in central and southern Africa? Will he congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the contribution that she and former President Reagan made by standing up to the imperialist advance in Africa which has been halted? Thanks to its being halted, the chances of fruitful dialogue have increased.

My right hon. Friend is right. The completely transformed relationship between East and West and this country, the United States and the Soviet Union has contributed—many other things have also contributed—to the change in atmosphere. We are well aware that the advice of the Soviet Union to the ANC, the South-West Africa People's Organisation and other organisations in southern Africa has been to seek dialogue and peace.

Will the Minister reconsider his remarks about the white backlash sweeping away President de Klerk? Should not he be more positive in his approach to the liberal whites and the black majority in South Africa? Were not his earlier remarks very unfortunate?

If I spoke with urgency, I meant it. The person who is under most immediate pressure from his constituency is President de Klerk, which is why it is right that we should signal to him that there are benefits for his constituency in going down the road to peace and dialogue.

Will my right hon. Friend encourage, in every international forum that he attends, a full and generous response from the international community to the fundamental changes that have taken place in South Africa, and which need to take place in the future? Does he agree that the hopes and aspirations of the black community in South Africa will be best served by peaceful and steady reform and not by a headlong rush into what may be a very dangerous period?

The challenge facing all sides is to transfer the most powerful economy in Africa to its rightful owners—all the people of South Africa—under a proper constitution and without revolutionary chaos in the process. I agree with what my hon. Friend said about that. The steps that have been taken by Mr. de Klerk, which have transformed the situation away from the simple certainties of the past few years and to which we are already seeing a response from Mr. Mandela, deserve our wholehearted support.

Is the Minister aware that it will have been noted that he went out of his way to praise the courage of President de Klerk but said nothing about the courage of the tens of thousands of people who struggled for a generation to bring about yesterday's historical event? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Prime Minister is widely regarded in this country and abroad as a fifth columnist for apartheid? In her headlong rush to drop sanctions before there has been a word from de Klerk about bringing down the fundamentals of apartheid and about one person, one vote, is not she—like collaborators and fifth columnists throughout time—exposed as redundant, marginal and out of step?

I do not agree with the extravagance of the hon. Lady's language. The importance of the events in South Africa should not be underestimated. It is easy to imagine this opportunity being lost because we do not rise to the scale of the events but stick to the old rhetoric—that is the danger which faces us. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is as determined as any of us in the House to see the destruction of apartheid. We need, therefore, to get negotiations under way quickly, and that is what Mr. de Klerk is doing. Hon. Members have paid tribute many times to those who have suffered and who continue to suffer under apartheid. It is worth thinking of those people in South Africa who are not alive today and who could have contributed to this process of peace. If Mr. Steve Biko were alive today, he would contribute to the process of reconciliation and negotiation.

I welcome the call by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary for a measured response to this historic event. That response should be co-ordinated to the maximum extent with our European Community partners, the Commonwealth and, in particular, the United States, which has taken a strong line on sanctions. Does my right hon. Friend agree that sanctions were imposed not for the release of one distinguished and courageous leader from prison but to help bring down a system that was seen as unjust by the international community?

My hon. Friend is right—the objective of the House and of the world is the destruction of apartheid. It is vital to get negotiations going. In 1986, the Council of Ministers reaffirmed

"the urgent need for a genuine national dialogue"
in South Africa and proposed various sanctions to bring that about. We believe, as Mr. Mandela clearly believes, that that national dialogue is about to begin.

Order. I remind the House that this is a day for private Members' motions and that an important statement is to follow this private notice question. I shall call two more Members from each side, and then I am afraid that we must move on.

The Minister of State referred a number of times to giving "signals" to the present regime in South Africa. Is not the concern throughout the House, including that of the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend), about the fact that the Government are contributing to confusing signals? As the right hon. Gentleman is a strong advocate of a common foreign policy in the European Community, will he assure us that the British Government will not take a position with the Council of Ministers whereby it seeks to withdraw any sanctions at this stage? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is no parallel between the democratic movement in central and eastern Europe and the changes in South Africa? The South African regime is based on institutional racism. That is qualitatively different from any other lack of democracy worldwide.

The lack of democracy in Stalinist Russia was built on institutionalised persecution of the population by a so-called vanguard. The institutional racism of South Africa is an equal or greater evil. Both are evils, and we should welcome the destruction of both.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about the European Community. We will discuss these matters with our partners, but we do not believe that it would be right at this moment to send no signal to the South African Government.

I give the warmest possible endorsement to my right hon. Friend's analysis and the sentiments that he expressed. Does he agree that the three greatest dangers now are the extremism of the extreme Right, the extremism of the extreme Left and the extremism of the extremely stupid? In the light of the analysis of sub-Saharan Africa in the recent report of the World Bank, would not it be extremely stupid to go along the lines suggested by Mr. Mandela and strengthen sanctions when, as my right hon. Friend said, the South African economy is the powerhouse of the whole of sub-Saharan Africa? That is what we must now recognise and support.

I find my hon. Friend's analysis rather attractive. The present circumstances have their parallels: the extremists on both sides sometimes end up in the same position. I have never been able to understand why it should be thought that damaging the economy of South Africa further would bring about any progress at such a juncture.

My hon. Friend asked about Mr. Mandela and sanctions. Mr. Mandela has made it perfectly clear that he is a loyal member of the ANC, and the view that he has expressed is ANC policy. No one imagined that he would change ANC policy overnight, and there was no surprise whatever when he took the stance that he took.

Is the Minister aware that the Prime Minister's view—reflected in his answer—is open to a wholly different interpretation: that apartheid is a system of economic exploitation, made possible by the denial of political rights, and that the profits from it accrue to foreign investors, many of whom live in this country? The Government's opposition to sanctions has been motivated more by a wish to preserve the economic interests of their business friends than by any interest in the Africans themselves.

Not for the first time, the right hon. Gentleman has the wrong conspiracy theory. If he wants to examine the way in which economic pressures are affecting the position, he should recognise that it is perfectly clear that those who want dialogue and fundamental change in South Africa are now to be found among South Africa's business community. They know that without the use of all the country's resources—including both blacks and whites—the economy will begin to be damaged, and they are a force for progress.

Let me follow up what my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Sir Ian Lloyd) said about the World Bank report. There is only one democratic country in the whole of Africa, and that is Botswana. We can see Namibia becoming independent next month, and we have high hopes of freedom in South Africa. Will the British Government then press for the abolition of the one-party state in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania?

The World Bank report makes depressing reading. The great prize in southern Africa is a peaceful transition of Africa's most powerful economy to its proper ownership—ownership by all South Africa's people. We believe that Mr. Mandela wants that, and that Mr. de Klerk is entering on the great task. We welcome what Mr. de Klerk has done, and for that reason we support him.