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South Africa

Volume 178: debated on Wednesday 24 October 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions, and with whom, he has had about policy towards South Africa; and if he will make a statement.

I visited South Africa from 19 to 21 September and met a wide range of political figures, including both President de Klerk and Mr. Nelson Mandela. I was encouraged by the commitment I found on all sides to move speedily towards negotiations aimed at ending apartheid.

Will the Minister support Nelson Mandela who warned the South African Government earlier today that unless the new South African constitution guarantees the right to vote for all black people in South Africa, the probability is that violence will continue and escalate? Will the Minister also support the efforts that are being made to arrange a meeting between Nelson Mandela and Chief Buthelezi, with a view to bringing an end to the continuing violence in the townships, where more than 700 people have been killed since the beginning of August?

On the first point, I found no one among the main-line politicians in South Africa who had any doubt whatever but that the constitution must be based on one man, one vote. The hon. Gentleman need have no fears on that score. On the hon. Gentleman's second point, I strongly agree with him. When I was in South Africa I met the secretary-general of Inkatha and urged that such a meeting should take place. I hope that it takes place soon and that it leads to an end to the violence in the townships. We all want to see that.

When my right hon. Friend holds discussions with representatives of other African front-line states will he emphasise to them that a great deal of the fighting in the townships is on a tribal basis between two groups who in the long term are seeking to have power in a future democratic South Africa? Will he urge those representatives to look in depth at the problem and see what they can do to bring the two sides together to end the fighting in the townships and hasten the march towards a free democratic South Africa?

There is something in what my hon. Friend says, but it is a little more complex than that. A great deal of fighting is taking place between Zulus who are ANC members and Zulus who are Inkatha members. It is not, therefore, simply a tribal matter, although there is a tribal element to the fighting. Clearly, ruthless jockeying for political position is taking place.

Is the Minister aware that a South African delegation that recently saw Foreign Office officials was peddled the dangerous and disastrous line that there is no role now to be played in South Africa by external forces and that it is all down to the people inside the country? Will the Minister deny that that is the Government's position? Does he accept that there is a strong role to be played by Governments outside South Africa and that pressure must be maintained on President de Klerk to move faster towards the negotiating table rather than delaying that move, as he appears to be doing now?

I profoundly disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I think that it is the ANC which is having difficulty in keeping up with the pace of movement towards negotiation. As a result of meeting external organisation representatives who over the years have honourably put a great deal of hard work into supporting the abolition of apartheid, I have the very strong feeling that they are increasingly being left behind. They often come to see me urging points of view which they believe are held by the ANC but which have already been abandoned by the ANC. I must urge that the lead being taken by major politicians in South Africa, both black and white, should continue. It is the most optimistic thing of all about South Africa at present and represents the best hope for the future.

As my right hon. Friend once again expressed his disapproval of economic sanctions while he was in South Africa, will he now express the same disapproval of sports sanctions and boycotts? It is nonsense that although, with the full support of this side of the House, we rightly advocate the abandonment of economic sanctions, we still retain the sports boycott. When are we going to come out of the ridiculous Gleneagles agreement?

With respect my hon. Friend is perhaps making the mirror image of the mistake made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) as there are now senior ANC spokesmen saying that the abolition of the sporting boycott is coming near. It is better to leave the joint leadership being developed between the South African Government, Inkatha, the ANC, Azapo and others to tell us about the timing on some of these things. The ANC is moving well ahead of some of its alleged external supporters on this.