HC Deb 27 March 1975 vol 889 cc704-13
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

Before I call the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) to begin this series of Adjournment debates, I should point out that the first debate will end at 1.15 p.m., as indicated on the Order Paper, because Mr. Speaker took into consideration the fact that there was to be a statement this morning and he allowed additional time for that.

12.1 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

A number of right hon. and hon. Members will be aware that during my 21 years in this House I have taken a great interest in Africa and have visited different parts of that continent, on average, once every two years. Last month, at the invitation of the South African Government, I visited South Africa and South-West Africa, stopping off en route in Rhodesia.

I found that great changes were taking place throughout the southern part of the continent. I believe that these changes are important to this country and probably to the world and that they should be placed on the record of this House in some detail.

The changes can be summed up in one word—détente. This policy was inaugurated by Mr. Vorster. It is supported by the African Heads of State, and it has worldwide implications. Its success would mean the peaceful evolution of the southern part of the continent, which is an area of great strategic importance to the world as a whole since it commands the oil routes. Oil is perhaps of primary importance at the moment, but probably for the next generation the production of food will be the major issue, and that part of the world can provide a great deal of the food required for the industrialised nations of the West. Failure of détente could well entail a race war in which the major Powers inevitably would become involved. Such a war would destroy the future of all races in Southern Africa but could possibly involve the world in an even more serious crisis than that in Vietnam and South-East Asia.

I submit, therefore, that the stakes in terms of the success of the policy of détente are very high. The alternatives are either the peaceful evolution of Southern Africa or bloody revolution.

The immediate problems which have to be overcome if détente is to be successful are, first, the constitutional future of Rhodesia and, second, the constitutional future of South-West Africa.

Détente has produced an entirely new situation for Rhodesia. For the first time, the leaders of the African States are using their influence to stop the guerilla fighters instead of, as in the past, encouraging them. Three States have now realised that independence did not bring Utopia. Their citizens are short of food and are becoming restless. The African nationalists are demanding a rapid transfer of power in Rhodesia in one to three years, a timetable which no Rhodesian Government would concede, though 10 years might perhaps be considered a reasonable compromise.

This problem can be solved only by Rhodesians in Rhodesia. Any interference by this country could wreck any chance of success. I was glad to see that the Foreign Secretary had the good sense, on returning from his African visit, not to give any date for a constitutional conference on Rhodesia. This would only have produced a complete fiasco. In case the right hon. Gentleman thinks that only Rhodesians were critical of his visit, let me give one brief quotation from an item broadcast on Zambia radio: James Callaghan has been exposed as the typical hypocrite and opportunist who, like a linesman in a crucial football match, runs along the sideline ready to rush to the goal post, whichever side the goal is scored, to emerge, boots and all, carrying the ball and claiming to be the scorer. That was broadcast on Zambia Radio. In other words, even a country with which the Foreign Secretary and the present Government have close links can be critical of the right hon. Gentleman's visit.

The problem faced by Mr. Smith's Government is very similar to that faced by Her Majesty's Government over Ulster. The use of security forces by both Governments has greatly reduced the level of violence, but it can be eradicated only by a political solution. That applies equally to Ulster and Rhodesia. If the Government concerned negotiate with one guerilla organisation and reach some form of settlement, inevitably the other guerilla organisation will disagree with it.

In Rhodesia, there is as yet little agreement between the four components of the enlarged ANC—Bishop Muzorewa's ANC, Joshua Nkomo's ZAPU, James Chickerema's FROLIZI and Dr. Sithole's ZANU. Clearly ZANU is the most intransigent, partly because it represents the Shona majority and partly because it possesses the larger guerilla army, whose operations were directed by the late Herbert Chitepo from Lusaka. ZANU is now stalling for time in order to consolidate its hold on the enlarged ANC and to build up its supplies in Rhodesia from base camps in Zambia and Mozambique.

When I was in Rhodesia, I believed that, though the gap between the two sides was large, there was a chance of success provided that Chitepo and Sithole could be controlled and would observe the cease-fire. There was already a split in ZANU over the cease-fire and a mutiny in one of the base camps in which more than 40 were killed. Since then Mr. Chitepo has been blown up by a land mine, presumably planted by one of the hostile factions, and Dr. Sithole has been rearrested and is now facing trial.

However, the key to the future of Rhodesia lies in South Africa. South Africa wants détente to succeed. The question is whether she will put pressure on Rhodesia to settle on the African terms in, say, three years. I found that, compared to two years ago, there had been a surprising change of opinion in northern cities such as Pretoria and Johannesburg. Whereas on my last visit the Afrikaaner was backing Rhodesia 100 per cent. and the English-speaking South African was lukewarm in his support, today the English speaker supports Ian Smith in his determination not to yield to a black government in less than a generation. Whereas the anti-Rhodesian view is supported by the Afrikaans Press in the Transvaal, this is not reflective of public opinion in the Platerland nor, as I discovered, does it represent the view of the Prime Minister, most of his senior Ministers and the heads of the defence forces.

Mr. Vorster has stated repeatedly that these matters must be settled by Rhodesians in Rhodesia. He maintains that his country would not apply any political pressure on Rhodesia, and that the Rhodesians would not accept political pressure from outside. However, there is a general feeling that as there has been a virtual standstill, for reasons that we all know, in African progress in Rhodesia for some years, some advance must now take place. After all, Rhodesia has a multi-racial constitution. It is believed that if this happens, a black Government could evolve in 10 to 15 years, a moderate Government, in friendly relations with all its neighbours.

I repeat, there is strong feeling in both Rhodesia and South Africa that any interference by Her Majesty's Government at present would probably wreck any chance of a settlement in Rhodesia which must inevitably be followed by a more widely attended constitutional conference.

What if the negotiations fail? The chances of success are, I believe, about fifty-fifty. I believe that. South Africa will not withdraw support from Rhodesia but will attempt to continue her policy of détente by by-passing Rhodesia and trying to carry this policy through to the North. The danger is that if there is a failure, there may be an increase in guerilla warfare in Rhodesia and she may be attacked on two or even three sides. South Africa would then have to make the final and drastic decision either to jettison Rhodesia and so reduce her front line or to fight it out in Rhodesia rather than, a few years later, in the Transvaal.

I have dealt with this matter in some detail because I believe that a great deal depends on the success of the talks in Rhodesia. Mr. Vorster has himself said that the alternative to bringing the parties together round the table was "too ghastly to contemplate".

I turn briefly to the question of South West Africa. Rhodesia has been in the news, but South-West Africa also presents serious problems which will emerge in the next few months or years. The House knows that for some years the South African Government, who administer this territory, have been in dispute with the United Nations about the country's constitutional future. The United Nations consider that that country should be an independent unitary state called Namibia and support the political organisation called SWAPO to achieve this end.

I submit that anyone who has the slightest knowledge of South-West Africa must realise that a unitary state in a country where tribes have been killing each other in living memory and where the population are so split cannot be feasible.

I remind the House of the number of different ethnic groups in the territory. The largest group is the Ovambo who represent 45.9 per cent. of the population. The second largest group are the whites representing 12.1 per cent. Then come the Damara 8.6 per cent., the Kavango 6.7 per cent., the Hereros 6.6 per cent., the Nama 4.5 per cent., the coloured 3.8 per cent., the Caprivi 3.4 per cent., the Bushmen 3 per cent., the Basters 2.1 per cent., and others making up 3 per cent. There are therefore a large number of tribes which are homogenous in themselves and are geographically separate. That is rather different from the position that we find in the Republic itself.

The House must also appreciate that the Ovambo, the largest tribe, have always kept themselves to themselves and were never conquered by the Germans. The Hereros and Nama, who used to be called the Hottentots, are traditionally hostile and have fought each other continually. The Hereros were decimated by the Germans during the occupation and the Damara have in the past been made the slaves of both the Hereros and the Nama. I am giving this detail to show how difficult it will be to get these different ethnic groups with different histories and characteristics into a unitary state.

The South African Government's policy is that each ethnic group will elect its own council which will nominate two members to take part in constitutional talks. The Ovambo, the largest tribe, may then decide either on independence or to join the rest of their ethnic group across the frontier in Angola which is to become independent this year. If that happened, I believe that it would make the chance of a successful federation or confederation of the remainder in an independent Namibia very much easier, for if the Ovambo remain they are almost bound to dominate the rest, representing as they do just under 50 per cent. of the total population. At the moment the talks are held up while the Hereros and the Damara decide on their councils, but bilateral talks between the Government and each ethnic group are proceeding.

SWAPO has different ideas. It is the only organisation which claims to represent all ethnic groups in the territory, but it is in reality a pretty solidly based Ovambo organisation. The House will recall that it ordered a boycott of the 1975 Ovambo elections and succeeded as only 2.8 per cent. of the people in the territory voted. They tried the same thing again in January this year, but the vote was 75 per cent. in Ovamboland and there was an overall vote of 56 per cent. throughout the country, including Ovambos working in Windhoek and elsewhere. That was a crushing blow to SWAPO.

Unfortunately, the Labour Party has given SWAPO funds and Her Majesty's Government have apparently offered it membership of the Commonwealth. The Labour Government appear to believe that SWAPO represents all ethnic groups, whereas in fact it is some 90 per cent. Ovambo-based. For this reason, the other tribes are becoming increasingly restive because they fear Ovambo domination.

The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. David Ennals)

I think that it may be helpful if I clarify one point now. There has been no suggestion that SWAPO should be offered membership of the Commonwealth. In a conversation between the Secretary of State and representatives of SWAPO a suggestion was made that if the people of Namibia, having eventually gained independence, decided to apply to join the Commonwealth, we would accept them. However, we have recognised that there are other nations in Namibia who should be heard, not simply the views of SWAPO.

Mr. Wall

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention.

The South African Government have stated their determination that the people of South-West Africa—Namibia—will decide their own future and have already outlined how that will be done. The only problem is that it is unlikely that the constitutional conference can be held until the end of this year or early next year. There is a United Nations declaration giving a deadline of May, so there may be further friction with the United Nations over this timetable.

I turn now to my final point, the result of détente. It is interesting to see what has already been achieved. The extraordinary thing about the change in South Africa is that the Nationalist Party, the Afrikaaner Party, has taken the lead. The change in the last two years has been considerable and will now be speeded up. Already, all five-star hotels are multiracial. Sport is being desegregated. The appalling signs "Whites Only" are coming down, even in Pretoria. The Indian and Coloured Councils are being given greater powers. The Transkei is soon to become independent. The new theatre complex in Cape Town is now open to all races. Even the Nationalists are openly talking of accepting coloureds as whites, which was done in earlier years. The House will recall that they were removed from the voting roll by the then Nationalist Government.

The success of détente in Southern Africa must have important repercussions on race relations in South Africa. A start has been made. It is hoped that western nations, particularly this country which has particular ties with South Africa, will encourage the process by closer contact and relations rather than boycotts and demonstrations which have proved so counter-productive.

The success of the policy of détente and the dismantling of petty apartheid could have important repercussions for the West. The Communist giants, the Soviet Union and China, who have armed and trained the various nationalist guerilla forces, are now doing all they can to sabotage this new policy. Their aim is to detach Southern Africa from the Western orbit.

The oil route to the Middle East and round the Cape is vital to the West until North Sea and Arctic oil becomes available in some 10 years time. This route can be properly protected only with South African co-operation and assistance.

The Soviet maritime power in the Indian Ocean has increased fourfold in the past few years. Russia has established logistics support bases throughout this vast area at a time when the British are withdrawing from an ocean which used to be a British lake.

This raises two important strategic points. First, there is the protection of the 12,000 ships a year which call at South African ports, and the 14,000 ships which pass the Cape without stopping. About 58 per cent. of the ships belong to NATO countries. It is important that the development of the airfield and installations at Diego Garcia are developed. I understand that Her Majesty's Govern- ment have given the go-ahead, and it is now up to the United States Congress to find the necessary finance. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us how far this has gone.

Secondly, there is the maritime defence of the Cape route. Recently, Buccaneer aircraft were used in joint operations with the Royal Navy. These operations took place last November and they led to a furore in the Press and on the Government benches. Two of the Buccaneers crashed and replacements have been requested from this country. I should like to know what answer has been given.

The Minister will recall that shop stewards at the Hawker-Siddeley factory at Brough in my constituency have been to see the South African Ambassador to tell him that they want to build Buccaneers for his country. It is believed on pretty good authority that an order would be placed in my constituency for 20 new aircraft if our Government would grant export licences. Will they agree to do that? Do they want to see more employment in my constituency? Their attitude amounts to hypocrisy, because it is clear that it is in Britain's and the West's interest that these maritime aircraft should be supplied to protect this vitally important trade route.

There is also the Nimrod, the best antisubmarine aircraft in the world, which South Africa would purchase on a joint user basis. I understand that the Government's defence cuts, which are decimating our Forces, include the reduction of Nimrod aircraft already ordered and there will be several spare airframes. Are the Government prepared to let these go to South Africa? Are they prepared to throw away an order of £500 million at a time when our economy is in the state that it is and unemployment is increasing throughout the country? South Africa will get aircraft from some other country if we do not provide what they want.

One of the other allied Western Powers, France, has built submarines for South Africa. She is now going to build missile-firing fast patrol boats, and later will probably build corvettes. Many South Africans would far rather these ships were built at Yarrows or by other British builders and so maintain the close links that have always existed between the Royal Navy and the South African Navy.

There can be no doubt that change is taking place in South Africa and that as the South African Government's racial policies alter the Government's political objections must fall away and so enable the close co-operation between South Africa and the Western maritime Powers which is essential to check the ever-growing power of the USSR in the Indian Ocean.

Of course, the Communist Powers and their fellow travellers in this country will do their best to deny the success of détente and the watering down of apartheid, or they will represent it purely as a policy of appeasement based on weakness, but the Government know that this is nonsense. They have their representatives there, and they know what is happening, and the strength of South Africa, both economically and militarily.

No one can deny that change has started, and that this should be encouraged. No country, let alone Britain, has yet solved the problems of race relations, and they are at their most difficult in South Africa which is a Western industrialised State where the ratio of blacks to whites is one to 3¼f or 1 to 2¼ if the coloureds are included as whites. Let us at least recognise that something is being achieved and give South Africa our support in making a success of a policy which I believe has untold advantages for the Western world. If the right hon. Gentleman really has Britain's interests at heart he will at least go as far as that when he replies to the debate this afternoon.

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