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South Africa

Volume 404: debated on Tuesday 6 May 2003

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If he will make a statement concerning the United Kingdom's bilateral relations with South Africa. [111601]

I know that the House will join me in mourning the death last night of Walter Sisulu, one of the founders of the African National Congress and of modern South Africa. We share with all the people of South Africa their grief at that loss.

On the question itself, our relations with South Africa are good. I will visit South Africa shortly, for the UK-South Africa bilateral forum, when a wide range of bilateral and regional issues will be discussed. I pay tribute to President Mbeki for the role that he has played in promoting the New Partnership for Africa's Development and in the drive for peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi.

Given the inconclusive meeting of the three presidents of South Africa, Nigeria and Malawi in Harare yesterday, will my right hon. Friend do all that he can to use Britain's good relations with President Mbeki of South Africa to ensure that he continues to put pressure on the Mugabe regime and finds a swift solution to the appalling situation in Zimbabwe?

I look forward to discussions with my opposite numbers in South Africa and elsewhere about bilateral and regional issues. Zimbabwe will feature high on the list of regional issues. As I have already told the House, I am in no doubt about the South African Government's concern about Zimbabwe.

While I agree with the question asked by the hon. Member for Stevenage (Barbara Follett), how does the Foreign Secretary feel that our bilateral relations with South Africa have been influenced by the tragedy in Zimbabwe? Does he agree that the security of the whole of central southern Africa might well be influenced by the tremendous damage that events in Zimbabwe are doing to other countries in southern Africa? Does he believe that we, as a country with influence in southern Africa and South Africa itself, can do anything else to bring about a change of leadership in Zimbabwe?

The hon. Gentleman speaks with great knowledge of the region. What has happened in Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe has plainly damaged the wider region as well as that country. However, I believe that our relationship with South Africa is too important to be defined by Zimbabwe and, as it were, by the gross inadequacies of President Mugabe. South Africa is by far the most important country in southern Africa and it has a leading role to play in the economic development of the whole of Africa. We have very good bilateral relations with the country and the subject forms an important part of my agenda for discussion at my forthcoming visit.

We have set a clear agenda for putting pressure on the Mugabe regime, including sanctions and the opprobrium of the international community. We have to work with our partners in southern Africa to achieve an acceleration of that pressure, which is already working, as can be seen on the streets of towns and cities across Zimbabwe. From a depressing position late last year, the opposition parties are winning by-elections and the Mugabe regime is becoming highly destabilised. It is my belief—it may be optimistic—that if we maintain that pressure, sensible people inside the ZANU-PF regime will realise that, for their country's future as well as their own, they have to detach themselves from President Mugabe.

During the Secretary of State's forthcoming visit to South Africa, will he raise with his opposite number the contents of the written statement by Baroness Amos a few weeks ago about the appalling situation whereby, in London and South Africa, the so-called Northbridge group—a bunch of mercenaries—is actively recruiting Brits and South Africans to destabilise the region, particularly the Ivory Coast? Is it not about time that this Government and the South African Government took legislative powers to control and regulate those bandits who are doing great harm throughout the continent?

:My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. We are taking a number of actions in respect of this company but, as he knows, the Foreign Affairs Committee—of which he is a member—has made important recommendations to the Government on legislating in this area and we have already offered a positive response.

The Foreign Secretary will recall the pivotal and direct role that the previous South African Government played in bringing to an end the illegal regime of Ian Smith. When he meets President Mbeki, will he remind him that, under the terms of NEPAD, African leaders have an obligation to speak out clearly and act against abuses of democracy by Governments in the region?

I shall be happy to spell out to President Mbeki and other Ministers the nature of the Harare principles and the Southern African Development Community's parliamentary principles, and the importance of these being implemented right across southern Africa.