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Anc: Prime Minister's Description

Volume 489: debated on Wednesday 28 October 1987

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3.9 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the Prime Minister's description of the African National Congress of South Africa as a terrorist organisation represents their collective opinion.

My Lords, the ANC proclaims the legitimacy of the armed struggle. We can only be opposed to that.

My Lords, that is hardly an answer to the Question. Is it not the case that both the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of State at the Foreign Office have officially met representatives of the African National Congress and that therefore the Government recognise the African National Congress as one of the participants in what we hope will be a dialogue leading to a peaceful South Africa?

My Lords, when my right honourable and learned friend the Foreign Secretary met Mr. Tambo my right honourable and learned friend was president of the EC Foreign Affairs Council. The proposal for a meeting with Mr. Tambo stemmed from the mission to Southern Africa which was entrusted to my right honourable and learned friend by the heads of government at the June 1986 European Council. My right honourable friend the Minister of State at the Foreign Office met Mr. Tambo as part of our policy of dialogue with a wide range of parties in South Africa.

My Lords, at Nassau Her Majesty's Government supported, as I recall it, the declaration to revoke the banning of the ANC and strongly supported the declaration to release Nelson Mandela. Do Her Majesty's Government still support those two proposals?

My Lords, certainly Her Majesty's Government stand by the declaration at Nassau.

My Lords, that really is a vague answer even for a Minister. Would the noble Lord be good enough to be more specific and say whether Her Majesty's Government are still in favour of revoking the ban on the ANC in South Africa, and are they still as strongly in favour of releasing Nelson Mandela as they said they were at Nassau?

Yes, my Lords. I do not think we have ever said anything other than that we support the release of Nelson Mandela. We stand by what was said at Nassau and we will continue to do so.

My Lords, I do not think I can go further than say what I have just said, and that is that we still stand by what was said and what the Government committed themselves to at Nassau.

My Lords, are the Government not in some danger of falling into a deep schizophrenia in this matter? Either the ANC is a terrorist organisation, as the Prime Minister says, or it is an organisation fit to be met by the Foreign Secretary, fit for the Foreign Secretary to demand the revocation of the ban on it, and fit to maintain a legal office in London. Which is it? Is it not obvious that it is the latter?

My Lords, I should have thought that what really counts is what the ANC itself says and does. Perhaps I may refer the noble Lord to the statement made by Mr. Makatini of the ANC. When talking about ANC violence, he said:

"The violence could only include attacks on British and other Western companies refusing to disengage and hasten the collapse of the apartheid system".
I think that says it all.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the ANC for 50 years practised nonviolence and that at the end of that 50 years the result of their policy was apartheid? Does the noble Lord recall that his noble friend Lord Whitelaw, the Leader of the House, last Thursday spoke in his Statement of the need for internal discussions within South Africa? Will the noble Lord say categorically that the British Government regard the ANC as one of the legitimate representatives of African opinion who should take part in the dialogue leading to a peaceful South Africa?

My Lords, I do not think that I can go into a subject as complex as this in any greater detail than I have already set out to do. We believe that the armed struggle in South Africa impedes rather than promotes the cause of fundamental change in South Africa, and obviously violence can only entrench white attitudes. We have always condemned unequivocally indiscriminate acts of terrorism such as car bombings wherever they occur. We understand the frustration of the black community but we believe that change must come about by peaceful means.