The Commonwealth and South Africa

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:37 pm on 13th November 1987.

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Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 12:37 pm, 13th November 1987

I am delighted to follow the wise words of the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester), who is one of the most respected internationalists in the House. I join him in congratulating the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) on his wisdom and political courage in bringing forward the motion. He has shown an appreciation of the value of the Commonwealth and a willingness to call apartheid what it is — an evil doctrine. It has caused much suffering within the republic and in the front-line states. He pointed to a way forward in a formula which echoes that in the conclusions of the Eminent Persons Group. The alternative — a bloodbath worse than any since world war 2—is set out starkly in the Eminent Persons Group report.

The House of Commons has not debated South Africa since July 1986. Much has happened since that time. There has been the state of emergency and, as a result of censorship, South Africa has been removed from our headlines. To that extent, the State President has succeeded. He has a breathing space and an opportunity. I pose this question to those Conservative Members who are ever ready to act as apologists for the State President: do they seriously think that on his record he has the wisdom or the capacity to use that breathing space costructively; or, as many of my friends from both sides of the political divide in South Africa say, is he a man who is, effectively, played out? They have no confidence that any of his potential successors has the wisdom or the foresight to look beyond the narrow prejudices of the white electorate that they represent.

We have heard from Conservative Members a litany of the changes that have taken place. However, they must concede that the twin pillars of apartheid — the Population Registration Act and the Group Areas Act — remain. If hon. Members of all parties call for changes in education and housing, they must recognise the difficulties. In housing, for example, a recent survey by estate agents in South Africa showed that many thousands of houses are empty. However, in spite of the housing crisis in South Africa, those houses cannot be used because they happen to be in white only areas. Africaner friends have pointed out to me that many school buildings are empty in spite of the education problems in South Africa and they cannot be used because they too are in white areas. Therefore, the essentials of the apartheid system—the Group Areas Act and population registration — continue, despite what has been said about the State President and his political initiatives. His idea of the National Council changes in concept. Even a moderate like Buthelezi will not play until Mandela is released. So far as the Kwa Natal-Zulu option is concerned, we know that the Natal National party president and President Botha immediately rejected it. The State President has not said anything of substance to suggest that he is likely to make any serious move in that direction.