§ 9.2 pm
§ Mr. Colin Shepherd (Hereford)
I am sure that the House will be very grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office for coming to the House to participate in this short debate on the Government's policy towards the republic of Bophuthatswana.
I do not profess to be an all-purpose expert on the affairs of South Africa. I became intrigued by the situation in Bophuthatswana as a consequence of considering southern Africa after my son went to work there. I became more and more intrigued the more I considered it. As my right hon. Friend the Minister will be aware, I took advantage of an invitation to visit the republic of Bophuthatswana at Easter. I thank my hosts for the thoroughness with which they took me and others in the party around and made it possible for me to talk to those on the meeting list, those in official agencies and Government Departments, and also people who were not on the list. I was pleased to be able to seize the opportunity to talk to the man in the street whenever I could. I am pleased to say that that was quite often. I was impressed by the general atmosphere of freedom, of life, and of the relaxed air and confidence of the people. In one respect that was amazing, because it was not very long after the wretched and disfiguring coup, which was without doubt a sore point with everyone that we came across.
Among the people to whom I spoke were university students, who were especially refreshing and interesting. Once we had broken down the initial reserve and had become relaxed in our conversations, time and time again the remark made by one student after another of all disciplines was that they felt free in Bophuthatswana. Unibo does not just have a catchment area of Mmabatho, but goes far wider. Part of its attraction is its mix, with freedom of expression, action and thought, and freedom from oppression. I report that as something that was told to me and which I have no reason to doubt.
All in all, I found a fascinating conundrum. I found a multiracial, free enterprise, Christian, open, gay—I hate the misuse of that word—and friendly society. It was one that all the world would want for the whole of southern Africa. The paradox of it is that they are pariahed and condemned for being a product of apartheid. I hope it goes without saying, but I hold no brief for apartheid—hence the paradox. On the one hand, I do not like what it does and, on the other, when I go to what it has done, I find the very thing that we are trying to create in southern Africa as a whole.
The easy way out for those who wish to resolve that dilemma is to condemn the republic of Bophuthatswana as a puppet state. They say that it is not in charge of its own defence. It has a treaty with South Africa, which it initiated and negotiated when it secured its independence in 1977. It was only right that that treaty should be invoked by South Africa as a consequence of the coup. I am delighted that it did so and restored the democratically elected Government.
As for the officers in its army, it may be that the force of 3,400 men has in it two non-Bophuthatswanans—a brigadier and a lieutenant colonel—but the remainder, including the commissioner and the major general, are Bophuthatswanan. It is said that the Civil Service is 627 administered by South Africans on secondment. However, the figures show that 246 South Africans have been seconded, out of a total of 28,140 Civil Service employees, which is not the biggest percentage that there ever was. People say that the South Africans are perhaps in key positions. I cannot agree with that, because when I looked through the list I found that the South Africans there have been seconded for training and instructional purposes. I cannot help but commend the sentiments of President Lucas Mangope, when he said "My objective, as soon as we have people trained, is to have Bophuthatswanan citizens in charge of the Civil Service, but I cannot do that until I have achieved the instruction." The conditions that are used to run down Bophuthatswana's image are perfectly natural in the transition towards the self-educated state that it wishes to be.
We even have the prison service slung at us. It is run by a secondee, but I like a country that is not too proud to go to outside sources for advice when it feels that there is expertise to be had there and it wishes to learn, on the clear understanding between instructor and learner what the eventual outcome will be.
The economy is used as evidence with which to run down the independence of Bophuthatswana. It is said that 20 per cent. of its budget is funded by South Africa by way of grants, which amount to 403 million rand out of a total of 1,745 million rand. If a country is developing and trying to better itself and has infrastructural and development needs but is not recognised and therefore cannot go to other sources of aid, the only place to which it can go is its sponsor from whom it achieved independence and say, "Please help."
§ Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)
This is an important point. Is there not also some inconsistency among front-line states? Bophuthatswana has no one to whom it can turn, but the front-line states are not slow to trade with South Africa. I dare say that their economies can also be said to be 20 per cent. dependent on the Republic of South Africa.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I went to South Africa with open eyes and, I hope, an open mind and no prejudice. I recognised that a substantial amount of trade was going on. I was about to say before my hon. Friend intervened that front-line states that gained their independence from Britain do not hesitate to come to us when development aid is required. That is perfectly natural.
I had considerable sympathy for the Economics Minister of Bophuthatswana, Mr. Kiekelame, when he gave evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in May 1987. He said that if his country was recognised by other countries he would have access to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and would probably be able to avoid the mistakes that were made by Zambia. Such wisdom and the desire not to try to reinvent the wheel and not to make every mistake in the book is to be encouraged. It saddens me that the country's economics are used to bludgeon it into the ground. Who else is there to turn to but South Africa?
If we look for parallels, not far away, from South Africa's point of view, there are Swaziland and Lesotho, which were fortunate enough to be part of the British empire before being given their independence. They are geographically similar to Bophuthatswana in that they are islands in a sea of South Africa. They, too, have 628 development problems. They have had greater difficulties with finance than does Bophuthatswana. It is not surprising that that country looks somewhat bewildered at the outside world, which refuses to recognise its plight.
I came to the conclusion that this is not an economic problem, but a political one. When I looked through the speech that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary made to the Commonwealth Institute on 17 May, I saw that he reminded us of what Harold Macmillan said as Prime Minister in his famous "wind of change" speech. He declared the British Government's commitment toa society which respects the rights of individuals, a society in which men are given the opportunity to grow to their full stature … a society in which individual merit alone is the criterion for a man's advancement, whether political or economic.That rang a bell with me, because that is what I saw when I visited Bophuthatswana.
In so far as Bhophuthatswana has a right to be recognised on a wider basis than just South Africa, we have always placed great importance on the will of the people. So far as I can make out, the people want the present status of independence to continue. In 1987 the Select Committee asked hypothetical questions, such as if there were a whole different set of circumstances in South Africa, what would the case be, but as nobody has a crystal ball, or the least awareness of what the nature of the circumstances might be, it is perfectly reasonable for the country to say, "We like what we have and we want to stay as we are."
That was manifest by the election results of 1987. The two main political parties, the BDP and the PPP, secured 72 seats—the whole of the elected part of the Parliament. The BDP won 66 and the PPP six. The third party, which wanted independence on a different basis, secured no seats. The manifestation of the people is that they want the independence that they enjoy at present. They have reaffirmed that both by their vote and, paradoxically, by their non-vote. If they did not vote, it must be considered a vote for the status quo.
§ Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke)
My hon. Friend may wish to reflect on the fact that the third political party, which was opposed to the present status of Bhophuthatswana, could not field a candidate in the Odi-Moretele district to the east of the country, where, arguably, support for the status quo is at its weakest.
§ Mr. Shepherd
That is a good point and worth taking into account.
We have said to our friends in the Falkland Islands and elsewhere, "If you wish to leave, you may go." It could easily be said, "We have nothing to do with southern Africa and the republic in the middle of South Africa, which is a creature of South Africa, so we have no view on this matter." We say that we have no view about whether parts of Armenia go to Azerbaijan, or whether the Kurds go to Pakistan, Iran or Iraq. I do not accept that, because the British people have a responsibility in this sector.
We set up the boundaries around the Union of South Africa. We took southern Bechuanaland into the Cape colony, despite the representations of the chiefs and elders in 1885 that we should not do so. Therefore, we who have set up the present circumstances cannot absolve ourselves from them. The people of what used to be southern Bechuanaland, who were given their lands by virtue of 629 British Acts of Parliament in 1913 and 1936, ask why they should be abandoned by the British. Moreover, it would be in Britain's interests to tap that enormous source of support in that part of southern Africa, for the benefit of both Britain and southern Africa.
That leads me to my last point. There is an interest for Britain in this argument. We all agree that the future of South Africa is highly uncertain, but in Bophuthatswana there is an oasis of potential stability, if it can be given outside recognition. There is an opportunity for industrial investment in a strategically located and friendly country, with implications for north-south trade within the African continent. If that opportunity is being spotted by countries such as Taiwan, we should be spotting it too and securing investment there.
It must be in Britain's interest to secure the sources of platinum that we require. We no longer have platinum refining capacity in this country. The old days when sub-refined platinum came to this country to be refined are gone. The new refining capacity to be opened soon in Bophuthatswana will give that country added value, but will leave us more vulnerable. It makes sense for us to secure our sources of supply in the future.
In seeking to raise this matter tonight I was reminded of the speech, "South Africa: No Easy Answers", that was made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and the message that it gave. He said:there is another message common to both black and white in South Africa. Avoid intellectual or political straitjackets. Be ready to think the unthinkable.I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister, as nicely as I can, to think the unthinkable. I was disappointed by the resolute stance that she took in May at Question Time, but I hope that if we set out the arguments again she will see them through fresh eyes and be induced to accept an invitation to visit southern Africa—not as Minister of State, with all the panoply of power—and to include in her visit the territory of Bophuthatswana. Perhaps she will encourage further contacts at an unofficial level so that a greater understanding can be achieved of the real contribution that that country can make.
§ Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd)— with more than a degree of envy—on introducing the debate. Like him, I derive no particular pleasure from the opportunity. It is a sad fact that the Government, whom I staunchly support in every other respect—not least with regard to their policy towards South Africa—are deeply and profoundly mistaken in their interpretation of the situation in Bophuthatswana and in their policy towards that country.
Without doubt, this debate will not attract attention in the headlines of the national media tomorrow. It will, however, have a far wider audience. In time, reports of the debate will be read by the southern Batswana, the people of Bophuthatswana; and they will see the debate as another small landmark in their relentless and unceasing bid for justice. It is their argument—an argument that, with consideration of the evidence, I have come to accept —that the southern Batswana have been wronged by the policies of successive British Governments. That seems, alas, to be the case. British foreign policy seeks to deny the 630 people of Bophuthatswana their past, to ridicule their present and to condemn their future. I shall elaborate briefly on those three points.
On 8 February, I tabled a written question asking the Foreign Secretaryon what interpretation of the relationship between the territory of modern Bophuthatswana and the native reserves established for the Southern Botswana by British Governments is Her Majesty's Government's policy towards Bophuthatswana based.I received the reply:Our policy is based on the fact that Bophuthatswana was created out of the Republic of South Africa, as a key element in the policy of separate development".—[Official Report, 8 February 1988; Vol. 127, c. 56.]It was not. That is a gross misinterpretation of the past. It is a rewriting of history which I and many of my hon. Friends will not accept. The territory which is now called Bophuthatswana is the historical and traditional territory of five Batswana tribes: the Barolong, the Bathlapiry, the Bathlaro, the Bakwena, and the Bafokeng. Those were the southern Batswana tribes which existed in that territory for nigh on 700 years. They were awarded independence in 1872 when, through the spokesman of the governor of Natal, the British Government said, "I order, adjudge and adjudicate that from henceforth this will be their territory." That future was very short. It lasted only a few years.
In 1885 the British Government divided the Batswana people. The north became the protectorate of Bechuanaland and in due course the independent republic of Bophuthatswana. Good luck to it. It is a magnificent country. The southern Batswana were, against their will, assigned to the Crown colony of the Cape. British Governments promised that that would not be the case, but it became the case. Then there was the rape and pillage of their land. The native reservations and native locations were established. The Land Act 1913 robbed from the southern Batswana even more of their land. It was marginally restored in 1936 and more greatly restored in the 1950s.
It simply is not the case that the southern Batswana, with their territory of Bophuthatswana, are the creation of apartheid. They existed hundreds of years before a Nationalist party was conceived and before the word "apartheid" was acknowledged. It is greatly to the discredit of any rational person to assume that this traditional and historic land of the southern Batswana was created in 1948, or whenever, by a Nationalist Government in South Africa.
Not only do we deny the past of the southern Batswana; we malign, either through ignorance or—I hope not—through malice, their present. I tabled a written question to the Foreign Secretary on 4 May 1988, askingif he will take steps to ensure that the British embassy in Pretoria obtains more accurate information about the situation in Bophuthatswana.I received the reply:Her Majesty's embassy in South Africa already provides full and accurate information on all relevant aspects of the South African scene, including developments in Bophuthatswana."—[Official Report,4 May 1988; Vol. 132, c. 465.]That was a most unfortunate reply. It came a fortnight after I and half a dozen of my hon. Friends had had the opportunity to speak to our embassy staff in Pretoria. Not only did they demonstrate their lack of knowledge; they specifically confessed it. More than that, they said they did not know why they should have any reason to talk about 631 Bophuthatswana. That led me to write a letter to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in which I listed nine points—nine howlers of omission and commission. I readily accept the fact that the embassy staff in Pretoria are now looking closely at events in Bophuthatswana.
Last week my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) addressed a meeting of the British Bophuthatswana all-party group and, in good faith —I have no quarrel whatsoever with her on that-—she made a number of observations which compounded our worry. My right hon. Friend spoke—I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford referred to this—
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends are wont to refer to all-party groups on Bophuthatswana, Namibia and South Africa. Will he tell the House whether there are any Labour Members in the group to which he refers?
§ Mr. Hunter
To date, no Labour Member has chosen to apply for membership, although we have members from the Opposition Benches. It is a matter of great regret not least that the hon. Gentleman himself will not join our meetings, and I extend a warm invitation to him to do so on any future occasion.
§ Mr. Hunter
Ignorance and lack of information do not constitute a sound basis for foreign policy. I give just one illustration. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State referred to the police force of Bophuthatswana. She spoke in good faith, having been informed that the police force was under the control of South Africa. The police force has an establishment of 3,500 and is under the command of the magnificent General Seleke. I have not had the privilege of meeting a pleasanter man in any walk of life and a bigger, blacker Batswana I cannot imagine. The mind boggles at the proposition that he is a white South African—the disguise is certainly remarkable.
My central point is that British foreign policy towards Bophuthatswana is based on a lack of factual information. That cannot be a sound basis for any policy.
§ Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)
Does my hon. Friend agree that if Bophuthatswana had been Marxist and militant rather than Christian and good, overseas aid would have been pouring out of the Foreign Office to that country years ago?
§ Mr. Hunter
Once again, my hon. Friend not only anticipates my next point but makes it with greater clarity than I could have achieved. One can indeed speculate on the irony of the fact that Oliver Tambo and Lucas Mangope were contemporaries at the same school. Oliver Tambo chose the route to command an organisation which flirts with Marxism and murder. Lucas Mangope follows a road which seeks to implement democracy and capitalism, to encourage free enterprise and to enshrine human rights. I deeply regret that it was Oliver Tambo, and not Lucas Mangope, who had the opportunity to speak to the Foreign Office.
§ Mr. Hunter
I will give way in due course.
The third point, and perhaps the heart of the matter, is the relationship between the republic of South Africa and 632 Bophuthatswana. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford said, we must dismiss irrelevance and double standards in argument. Dependence on South Africa by other southern African countries is regarded as a matter for regret and steps are taken to relieve it, but Bophuthatswana is rejected for it. As Lucas Mangope has said on more than one occasion, to a large extent the wealth of South Africa was built on the efforts, the labour and the land of his people, and he will bleed Pretoria for every last rand. I entirely endorse those sentiments.
What are the intentions of the republic of South Africa towards Bophuthatswana? It is my belief that there has been a subtle change in thinking on this score. About 18 or 20 months ago, when we last debated Bophuthatswana, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State rightly said that South Africa wished the world to give credence to its policy of grand apartheid. When the subject was raised again in May of this year, my right hon. Friend offered an alternative interpretation. It was that South Africa wished to retain control of Bophuthatswana. I concede that I find myself in agreement with her. I have talked many times and on many occasions to politicians, diplomats and civil servants of the Republic of South Africa. I have heard their protestations on international recognition for Bophuthatswana, but it is not my belief yet that the evidence substantiates that point of view. The thesis that I put to my right hon. Friend is simple. It is that international recognition of Bophuthatswana would arguably defeat rather than further the purposes of Pretoria.
I shall conclude with three observations. First, there is the essential truth and justice of the historical cause of the southern Batswana. Secondly, our foreign policy is founded on a lack of accurate information and analysis. Thirdly, ultimately something has started that will not be stopped. It invokes the wrath and ridicule of Labour Members; so let that be. The southern Botswana have their historical cause and case. They seek to regain their independence. As the years pass, they obtain more and more friends. The other day Vice-President and Foreign Minister Rathebe said, "It is a long, long walk for the southern Batswana. They will walk every mile of it." They will not walk alone.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
Bearing in mind some of the comments that have been made by Labour Members, I shall start by declaring an interest. I have had trips to South Africa that have been paid for by the South African Government. I have had trips to Bophuthatswana that have been paid for by the Bophuthatswanan Administration, probably with funding from the South African Government. I have had trips to Namibia that have been paid for by the interim Administration, probably helped also by the South African Government. I have been to other places in the world, and my trips have been paid for by the Governments of those other places.
I maintain that after these funded trips I can be my own self and have my own thoughts along with my own mind. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House can maintain their independence in spite of trips of this sort. I do not think that I would have a point of view developed to the happiness of some of my hon. Friends and to the frustration of others if I had not made such trips.
§ Mr. Pawsey
I shall indeed agree with you. If I may, I shall help with your argument. The fact that you have visited such countries gives you a much——
§ Mr. Pawsey
I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), because of his visits to other states, has a much better understanding of the systems that must exist in those countries. Therefore, he is better equipped to speak on these issues. That is one of the reasons why we are listening to him so intently.
§ Mr. Colvin
I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that it is a pity that Opposition Members do not sometimes take up some of the invitations that are extended to them. If they were to do so, perhaps their understanding of the situation in southern Africa would be a great deal better than it is.
§ Mr. Rathbone
I shall try to move on from my background and that of other people to the subject of the debate. I should add, however, that I have friends in all the countries I have visited and in many others as well.
I fear that I must start by disagreeing in principle with what my honourable and very real Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) has just said in his analysis of the past, the present and the future. I believe that from Bophuthatswana, as from many parts of the world that used to be painted red in our atlases, we must ask a good deal of foregiveness for the past. We must protect as far as we can good sense in southern Africa against the overpowering forces that oppose it. We must work for the establishment of the values of freedom—and most particularly total emancipation in that part of that continent—that we hold so dear in our country, and in others in the developing world.
Having said all that, let me add that I consider it right of my hon. Friends to draw attention to some of the events, attitudes, values and habits in Bophuthatswana that are in stark contrast with those in the rest of the republic of South Africa. On the basis of one extremely short visit and one rather longer one, I believe that a real elimination of apartheid is taking place—electorally, socially, culturally and economically. It is marked by the economic vitality of many parts of Bophuthatswana, especially those that are quite near to Johannesburg. Bophuthatswana has a multiracial administration and press freedom, again in stark contrast with the rest of the republic. It was marked even then—and I am sure it is marked even more now—by the blocking of broadcasting by Bophuthatswana television and radio so that it could not reach the rest of South Africa.
But there is also the downside. There are real doubts about political freedom in Bophuthatswana—probably no more than in many other black African countries, but there is certainly a smell of suppression of opposition parties and opposition thought. I cannot say more, because it is difficult to be precise.
634 As has already been said by my hon. Friends the Members for Basingstoke and for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd), Bophuthatswana depends terrifically on the republic of South Africa, despite the camouflage of the quasi-arm's-length attitude of South Africa towards Bophuthatswana and the creation of a pseudo-diplomatic relationship. For example, there is the pretence that the airport in Bophuthatswana is solely for the encouragement of tourism, when it is umpteen times larger than would be necessary for that and is part of the South African Government's total defence programme against the front-line states.
Bophuthatswana also depends on the republic for police support—in intelligence if in nothing else, but I think that it must be in other respects as well. It depends on the republic for border policing, particularly along the border with Bophuthatswana. The republic accepts that this is a channel, a route for the ANC from the front-line states into South Africa, and is openly concerned. It makes no bones about it, so let us make no bones about it here.
§ Mr. Rathbone
No. I shall progress, if I may. [Hon. Members: "Give way".] Unfortunately, my hon. Friends who were so kind as to say that they would listen intently because of my depth of knowledge—[Interruption.]——
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We often hear opinions in the House with which we disagree. We should listen to the hon. Member with respect.
§ Mr. Rathbone
I could not be more grateful, Mr. Speaker, for your arrival in the Chair and the respect that you show for a mere Back Bencher.
There is also dependence on South Africa, not just for trade—trade between South Africa and the front-line states has been mentioned—but for fundamental economic support and hard cash.
In addition, there is the Bophuthatswana Administration's attitude to the Swana who live elsewhere in the republic of South Africa. Are they part of Bophuthatswana? Are they part of the heritage, which has just been referred to? Are they not to be embraced in the collegiate total of this slowly emerging independent state? If it is an independent state, it should embrace them more than I understood to be the case when I visited Bophuthatswana not so very long ago.
§ Mr. Rathbone
I shall proceed, if I may. I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me. I am sure that he will catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, in order to make his own points.
There is also the question that has already been identified about what the republic of South Africa thinks is its relationship with Bophuthatswana. I honestly believe that it looks upon it as one of the homelands that one can see so clearly established. As soon as one drives across the so-called border between Bophuthatswana and the republic of South Africa one comes from and poor farmland into extremely well-tilled, good farmland. One can see the invidious nature of South Africa's homelands policy, under which I fear Bophuthatswana still suffers.
§ Mr. Rathbone
I shall proceed, if I may. I want to give all my hon. Friends more time than would be the case if I were to give way to everybody now.
§ Mr. Rathbone
Never has there been on the Conservative Benches a greater mutual appreciation of the views of my hon. Friend and myself. I am sure that he will understand that I want to proceed.
Therefore, there are two fundamental approaches to Bophuthatswana. Is it an independent state? I do not believe that it is. I believe that the Administration in Bophuthatswana are trying to have it both ways. They are trying to seek international recognition and, at the same time, trying to draw considerable cultural, economic and social support from the republic of South Africa.
Secondly, is Bophuthatswana really trying to throw off the republic of South Africa's homelands policy? I do not think that it is. It is not ready to embrace all the people that it wants to, and should, embrace—the Swana people who live elsewhere in the republic of South Africa.
§ Mr. Rathbone
No, I shall not give way.
However, I would urge one extra point upon my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for consideration. If we do not recognise Bophuthatswana as an independent state, we must be even-handed about that region of the republic of South Africa and treat it as part of the republic of South Africa. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke illustrated that well in the points that he made about the lack of knowledge about Bophuthatswana which he found in our embassy in the republic of South Africa.
I clearly remember an absolutely fascinating and excellent nursery teacher training school in Mafeking, where a woman was doing a most marvellous job teaching nursery teachers. She was not able to apply to our embassy for the overseas development grants which were available to similar schools within the republic of South Africa because Bophuthatswana was considered separate from the rest of South Africa. If we are to regard it as part of South Africa, as I believe we should, those people should be able to draw upon or at least to apply for the funds that we make available.
§ Mr. John Carlisle
My hon. Friend said that he wanted to be even-handed. I accept much of what he has said this evening in his description of the country of Bophuthatswana. Does he agree that his description of that country, and its dependence on South Africa, is mirrored by so many states in that region, as was outlined by my hon. Friends the Members for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) and for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter)? In those circumstances, in his anxiety to be even-handed, how can he say that Bophuthatswana should be treated differently from those other states?
§ Mr. Rathbone
I am sorry that I gave way, not because my hon. Friend did not make a point, but because I had covered that point earlier. I drew the difference between 636 Bophuthatswana and the front-line states, to which my hon. Friend was probably referring, which of course have trading relationships across the border. Given the economic power that exists in the southern tip of Africa, it would be impossible for that to be otherwise. That is a pity, but in the area of Bophuthatswana it is not just a question of trade. It involves the magnificent and egalitarian factories which exist in the eastern island which make up Bophuthatswana and the underpinning by hard cash grants from the republic of South Africa. So it is not really a comparable point.
§ Mr. Rathbone
I have spoken for this time only because other hon. Members have intervened and I shall continue to make my points. It was churlish of my hon. Friend to say that.
The Foreign Office and the Minister should bear in mind whether recognition will further the all-important fight against apartheid and bring sense to the continuing senseless attitudes of the South African Government and lead them to embrace reform. I fear that movement towards recognition would not do anything to further reform in the republic of South Africa but might inhibit it. The Minister should be wary about espousing political action on the basis of protecting economic interests. It is not sufficient for this country to recognise the existence of another country purely on the basis that we have economic interests in that area.
Contrary to the inclinations of my hon. Friends the Members for Hereford and for Basingstoke, and I fear other hon. Friends, it is premature at best to start taking steps towards recognition of Bophuthatswana as an independent state. At worst, that could be interpreted as support for the South African homelands policy and the South African Government's policy of maintaining the core and essence of apartheid which we all loathe.
§ Mr. George Gardiner (Reigate)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) on having the courage to go and look at Bophuthatswana for himself a couple of years ago and for acknowledging some of the merits of that country. It is sad that his visit there was so short. Had it not been, he might have reached rather different conclusions. Perhaps he will rectify that in future. Unfortunately, he probably prepared most of his speech before hearing the speech of our hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter), who answered many of his points before he made them.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) on securing the opportunity to debate this emerging subject. He spoke of a paradox, and so it is. If most of us were asked what we would regard as the ideal political accommodation in southern Africa, we should say that we wanted a country or state in which apartheid had been swept away, where there were full political rights for the different races and where black and whites worked together in a Government who exploited the free market economy for the benefit of their citizens. In Bophuthatswana we find a country that has won its independence and created a state in which all these features are present, but its people are treated as if they were pariahs in southern Africa.
637 Foreign Office Ministers have described Bophuthatswana as a child of apartheid. That is a gross insult to the people who live there. Certainly their independence came about as a result of the black homelands policy of the South African Government of the day, but there was a convergence of interests. The policy of the white Government gave black Swanas the opportunities for which they had yearned since the days when a British Government drew an artificial line on the map in the last century and sold out those on one side of it to the Crown colony of the Cape. These people saw the homelands policy as at least a chance to regain their independence, and took it.
Ethnic groupings across Europe seized their chance when the first world war caused the destruction of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Those were, perhaps, more enlightened times than now, for then we gave those European nations our blessing, but there is no such luck now for the Swana people. The Foreign Office regards their country as a child of apartheid and it is therefore barred from recognition for ever.
People who go to Bophuthatswana, as several of my hon. Friends have done, and speak to its citizens do not find that they regard themselves as children of apartheid. They see themselves as running their own territory according to their wishes. I am puzzled about what my right hon. Friend the Minister would say if she met some leaders from that country—that is, after they had managed to get past the "no entry for the children of apartheid here" signs outside her office. What would she urge them to do? Would she urge them to renounce their independence and return to the jurisdiction of the South African Government, who as yet include no black members? Would she urge them to subject themselves to the Group Areas Act? Of course not. I have far more understanding of and sympathy with my right hon. Friend than to imagine that she would. But what could she say to them? The question illustrates the blind inhumanity of the Foreign Office position, which would be revealed in any such conversation.
Not many hon. Members would expect my right hon. Friend to recognise Bophuthatswana as independent. It is our historical duty to help other Western countries to recognise what the Swana people have achieved. If my right hon. Friend consults her European colleagues, she will find that Dr. Strauss had something to say about this matter not very long ago. Those of us who have visited Bophuthatswana and met politicians from Germany, France and Italy know that they are taking an interest in its development and, probably out of the corner of their eyes, considering commercial possibilities.
The debate has shown that the movements to recognise Bophuthatswana are under way and that it is well and truly on the political agenda here as well as in other European countries. I say to my right hon. Friend, in a spirit of friendliness, that, whatever old prejudices still lurk in the Foreign Office, the subject will not go away.
§ 10 pm
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
We are living in exciting times of movement in foreign affairs. Following the super-power summit in May, we have seen signs that the Iran-Iraq war is coming to an end, Vietnamese troops 638 withdrawing from Kampuchea, Soviet troops withdraw-ing from Afghanistan and the possible extension of the anti-ballistic missiles treaty.
There has been movement all around the globe, yet in the debate, in parliamentary questions and in a number of Adjournment debates, Conservative Members have shown interest in six land-locked enclaves within the republic of South Africa. Somebody is bound to ask about that sense of priorities. What provides Conservative Members with such an obsessive interest in those six land-locked enclaves in South Africa?
§ Mr. Anderson
Not yet; let me get under way.
I accept the nice tones in which the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) introduced the debate, and all Conservative Members are honourable gentlemen. They have been brought up well. They were probably taught at their mother's knee that if one receives gifts one must say "Thank you." This is their way of saying "Thank you." We know that there is a well-financed lobby——
§ Mr. Anderson
It is a sad fact of political life that there is a well-financed lobby. I say, in all helpfulness, to Conservative Members who have spoken in the debate that their strong advocacy——
§ Mr. Hunter
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to suggest that Conservative Members have been bribed and that as a result their judgment has been influenced?
§ Mr. Speaker
I did not hear that allegation. It certainly would not be in order for such an allegation to be made.
§ Mr. Anderson
I said, in all charity, that Conservative Members, as honourable gentleman, must pay, in some form, for the rather pleasant trips that they have had. Their advocacy of Bophuthatswana would be immeasurably strengthened if, from time to time, even a word of criticism of the South African regime were to escape from their mouths. If, for example, any Conservative Member were to criticise the bloody incursions of South Africa into Botswana——
§ Mr. Anderson
Their advocacy would be strengthened if there were one word of criticism of the detention without trial of many progressive black leaders in South Africa. The fact that there is no such criticism gives some indication of those who form part of the Bophuthatswana lobby.
There is a Bophuthatswana tendency in the House which must be of considerable embarrassment to the Minister of State. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Lewes sprang gallantly to her defence. If he had not, her back would have been exposed. The Minister was brave to go into the meeting of the so-called all-party Bophuthatswana group, which may have an Ulster Unionist Member but it certainly has no Labour Member on it. I confess that I feared for her safety at one stage.
639 However, we know that she can look after herself. The group was hoping to roast her, but the lady was not for burning.
There is what, in South African terms, would be called the Bitterendes or the Verkrampte tendency among Conservative Members.
§ Mr. Anderson
At least on this issue the perception of Opposition Front Bench Members does not differ markedly from that of the Government.
We see the origin of Bophuthatswana as part of the Verwoerd strategy to create Bantustans. That is shown graphically on page 23 of the report by the Eminent Persons Group. I recommend that Conservative Members read that report—[Interruption.]I will not exchange insults with the star on the Conservative Benches, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks).
The motive of the Bantustan policy was to deprive black South African citizens of their citizenship. In 1977 the Status of Bophuthatswana Act was passed and all residents were deprived of South African citizenship. How well founded is the claim to independence? On 7 July 1988, The Weekly Mail in South Africa pointed out that the number of personnel from South Africa seconded to key posts within the Bophuthatswana Administration was 299. It gave the amount of financial assistance to the four Bantustan so-called independent states. It said that the South African Government have guaranteed bank loans of 1.3 million rand to cover the budget deficits in the four independent homelands over the past two financial years. Pik Botha told the Parliament that the total estimated overdraft facilities taken by the four independent homelands was 1.081 billion rand.
§ Mr. Anderson
There was clearly a substantial financial dependence. In terms of jobs, two thirds of the labour force commutes daily to South Africa and 56 per cent. of the gross domestic product derives from migrant workers. Militarily, we know the position of Brigadier Hennie Riekert, the former South African Defence Force officer. Politically South Africa is the only friend in the world of Bophuthatswana and it seeks, by bullying neighbouring states, to coerce them into accepting the independence of Bophuthatswana.
The examples that one can give are of the so-called BLS states—Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland—which, when they tried to renegotiate the South African customs union, were told by South Africa that, first, they had to accept the recognition of Bophuthatswana. With the trains to Botswana through Bophuthatswana, South Africa tried to insist on the acceptance of documentation that would have meant acceptance of the recognition of Bophuthatswana. On other occasions, Botswana has criticised the poaching of industries to the heavily subsidised part of Bophuthatswana.
The claim to independence is placed in question by the events surrounding the abortive coup in February this year. The New Nation of 11 February described the debate between the Foreign Minister, Pik Botha, and the finance ministries about whether South Africa should have intervened earlier to deal with the corruption of Mr. Mangope. It quoted Professor Keenan of Wits university, and said: 640According to Keenan foreign affairs valued Mangope's strong links and good relations with right-wing elements in Germany and other West European countries. Mangope's value to foreign affairs is said to have outweighed any embarrassment that could have been caused to Pretoria by his involvement in alleged corruption.Of course, Right-wing Ultra groups in West Germany and Britain form part of the lobby in favour of Bophuthatswana.
§ Mr. Anderson
Some of them have named themselves.
Mr. Mangope had just been re-elected before the abortive coup in February—in a democratic election with a poll of 0.6 per cent. ——
§ Mr. Anderson
The Weekly Mail of 12 February quoted President Botha, after the coup, as saying:We are tonight back in full control"—a very Pavlovian slip. He thought that he had better alter that, and he said:The President of Bophuthatswana is in full control.What would be the effect if Britain recognised those six enclaves in South Africa? First, it would be a mark of approval for South Africa in general, and its Bantustan policy in particular—too much for even our Prime Minister. Secondly, it would run counter to the views of all our allies in the Commonwealth and the European Community. Thirdly, it would be a giant step away from out declared aim of a united, democratic and non-racial South Africa, to which the Government are committed.
The Government realise that they are going against the tide and are in real danger of being even further isolated in the world as a result of their South African policy. I think not only of the recent decisions of Prime Minister Rocard, but of developments in the United States, which are causing considerable concern to the Government because of their clear message that the British Administration will be isolated. The Prime Minister is prepared to meet Mr. Buthelezi; she is not prepared too meet Mr. Tambo. That sends its own message.
The Opposition congratulate those sportsmen and musicians who reject the wages of "Sin City". We praise musicians such as Jim Keer of the group Simple Minds, and the group Dire Straits. We are pleased to note in The Independent today that Seve Ballesteros, the British Open golf champion, has said in terms that he will never visit Bophuthatswana to compete in the £1 million challenge golf cup in Sun City. It was won last year by Ian Woosnam, who I hope will see the error of his ways.
Finally, the Opposition stand by the members of the front-line states, especially Bostwana, which has refused to yield to the economic pressures forced on it by South Africa, which wants international recognition of that part of its territory for its own purposes as part of its greater apartheid policy.
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Offlce (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)
I have listened with interest to the debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd). Let me make no bones about it: we are very much aware of the deep interest that many hon. Members have in Bophuthatswana and the well-being of the people in Bophuthatswana whom, in all sincerity, they wish to help.
641 There is not sometimes so much dividing us on this issue as some of my hon. Friends would have made out tonight. However, there is undoubtedly one central question, as we have heard during the debate, which divides us. Some of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford, believe that the Government should recognise Bophuthatswana as an independent state. I listened very carefully to what my hon. Friends have said this evening. I hope that they will hear me out because I say this in all sincerity. I should like to see a way to change the position which is plainly seen by my hon. Friends to be unsatisfactory for the people of Bophuthatswana. However, I must recognise what lies in international law and realise what has happened through history.
History causes this Government to describe Bophuthatswana as having developed from the policy of grand apartheid initiated by Dr. Verwoerd. It was created as a key element in that policy of separate development. All the homelands in South Africa were born out of apartheid. By that they live together within their areas as if they were multiracial. However, that can be deceptive. Those who live in the homelands cannot live freely in the rest of South Africa. We must look at this very carefully and with sympathy for those who want to improve the lot of all people in South Africa, whether in the homelands or elsewhere in the republic.
This Government's policy is in line with that of the international community at large. Our policy is to oppose the design of a divided and separated South Africa. Only the South African Government think otherwise. South Africa is the only country in the world which recognises Bophuthatswana as an independent state.
I believe that there is something in the unanimity of the international community. That is a unanimity of attitude which has nothing to do with being blind to the facts or with not listening to the needs of the people. There is an anxiety about what would be imprinted for the future if Bophuthatswana were to be recognised internationally as independent. That unanimity is there for all to see.
I know that my hon. Friends who have spoken tonight are as fully opposed to apartheid in all its manifestations as they could be. The Government are fully opposed to all apartheid whether it be part of some master plan or practised—as it is regrettably still practised—in the republic of South Africa. We cannot recognise as an independent state a homeland that is part of that master plan. Bophuthatswana does not meet the criteria for recognition as an independent state that have been followed by successive British Governments. Those criteria are based on international law.
With others we have supported UN resolutions and statements, which deny recognition to Bophuthatswana. More than all that, and, more importantly, is my duty as a British Minister to examine what British interest would be served by identifying ourselves alone with the South African Government on this issue. Some hon. Members have argued that there are aspects of Bophuthatswana that are sufficient to make the case for recognition. Tonight some hon. Members have referred to visiting European politicians, who may have some sympathy with people in Bophuthatswana. None of the European Governments, whatever individual politicians may say or do—not the 642 Government of Franz Josef Strauss nor the Government of France, before or since the recent election—recognises Bophuthatswana.
I hope that hon. Members will understand that Britain, especially, wants to help, but it would be wrong to lead international opinion in the direction of granting recognition, because it would put our view on a par with that of the republic of South Africa.
§ Mrs. Chalker
I say quite clearly that, whatever the case that hon. Members believe can be made for the existence of a democratic, non-racialist society in Bophuthatswana, those are not the points that are central to the Government's reasoning for not recognising Bophuthatswana.
§ Mr. Winterton
I have listened carefully to my right hon. Friend and to the debate. As my right hon. Friend is aware, this is an area of southern Africa about which I am deeply concerned. Will she advise the House how the south Tswana people can achieve independence, because it was the United Kingdom which put them in what is the republic of South Africa today? It craved independence. It has started on that trail to independence. Does she not believe that a move towards greater recognition of its status would enable it to consolidate the areas of Bophuthatswana and therefore enable it more ably to become the sort of independent nation with integrity about which she is talking?
§ Mrs. Chalker
I recognise my hon. Friend's frustration. His question was also asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner).
The point is that we must end apartheid throughout South Africa. It is in the ending of apartheid that the people, including those in the front-line states——
§ Mrs. Chalker
This debate is on Bophuthatswana, and I shall stick to that.
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) that the recognition of the independent nature of the individual people in Bophuthatswana is a matter of international law. It is not about the individuals in that country for whom he and the rest of us feel very deeply. Many others in the republic of South Africa are in very much the same position intellectually, and wish to achieve the same, but they are not in Bophuthatswana. Therefore, we must achieve the ending of apartheid throughout the republic of South Africa. There will then be leadership from the very sort of people that my hon. Friends have been talking about in Bophuthatswana, many of whom are practising——
§ Mrs. Chalker
I have very little time and I have a lot of questions to answer. If I give way, I shall not be able to answer all the questions.
I was saying that the Government's position on recognition is quite straightforward. We are executing a policy of non-recognition, but we know that that is not free of difficulty. Like others in the international community, we want to know as much as we possibly can 643 about what is happening in Bophuthatswana—and, lest I be accused of over-concentrating on the homeland, in the rest of the republic.
Some of my hon. Friends have said that we do not have the right sort of information, but whenever I have found information lacking, we have gone back to find it. I know that one or two of my hon. Friends were not happy, when they made a visit earlier this year, that they could not meet the ambassador. I agree that it was unfortunate, but he happened to be in Cape Town and they were in Pretoria. They met a new Minister who was in Pretoria. I can pass on to them an invitation from Her Majesty's ambassador in Pretoria that he will welcome the chance to discuss this and other issues with them when they visit South Africa again shortly. The ambassador and all his staff are under strict instructions to be fully in touch, and they are.
§ Mrs. Chalker
No. I must keep going; otherwise, I cannot get through all the points that have been made.
§ Mrs. Chalker
My hon. Friend accuses me of having told the House an untruth. I can assure him that I know what goes on between my Department and the ambassador in South Africa.
§ Mrs. Chalker
I should explain to my hon. Friend that, whatever impression he has formed, it is unfortunate because it is not correct.
§ Mrs. Chalker
It is easy for my hon. Friends to advise that we should take actions which they think are simple and straightforward, but they would be open to misinterpretation. That is why we are careful and thorough about how we go about ensuring that we are as well informed as possible. We have taken steps to improve our knowledge. I remember a debate in the House in 1986, when I was asked about British Council money being available for people in Bophuthatswana. The question was a complete surprise to me. I went away and found out what was happening and corrected any error immediately. I shall always do that. It was not the Government's intention to mislead the House.
The information that we collect is obviously constrained by the contacts that we can have. I would not have thought that that was the cause of any surprise. The contacts that we have have to be circumscribed by non-recognition of Bophuthatswana as an independent state, but we aim as far as possible——
§ Mrs. Chalker
—to cover as wide a cross-sectiori of people in Bophuthatswana as possible, because that enables us to assist disadvantaged black people in that homeland.
I have already told hon. Members who came to the meeting last week that if there are projects which should be undertaken, the people of Bophuthatswana are just as able to be helped through our projects as people in other parts of the Republic of South Africa.
§ Mrs. Chalker
All suggestions for new projects suitable for assistance, whether inside or outside Bophuthatswana, which hon. Members put to me I shall pass to my hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development, who is listening to the debate. We shall examine them with care and, when we can help, we shall.
§ Mr. Hunter
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way, as the debate is drawing to an end. I note the absence from her speech so far of any reference to the historical responsibility of the United Kingdom for the southern Batswana being incorporated into South Africa. Before the debate ends, will she make a passing reference to the fact that, as a result of British policy, the southern Batswana are now in South Africa?
§ Mrs. Chalker
Not all the southern Batswana are in Bophuthatswana. We covered this point in the 1986 debate and on other occasions. If we could solve this problern by turning back the pages of the history books, it would have happened long ago, but that cannot be done. It would be simple for my hon. Friend to say that he recognises the homeland of Bophuthatswana, but if he did, he would do so in the company of the republic of South Africa alone.
Another question put to me repeatedly has been whether we are prepared to help candidates from Bophuthatswana to take up scholarships. It does not seem widely known that they are eligible to apply for scholarships in exactly the same way as other applicants from the rest of South Africa. We shall continue to ensure that that happens.
History has taught us that what happens in other countries, even where once we had a clear writ, cannot be changed. We have to face the situation in South Africa as it is. The Government believe that Bophuthatswana and the other homelands will find their future in South Africa once apartheid has been abolished. It is the abolition of apartheid that must be the aim and main purpose of British policy.
Several of my hon. Friends referred to the speech given by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary to the Royal Commonwealth Society. It detailed fully our overall policy towards South Africa. We want to see apartheid ended. We want to see it not merely reformed but abolished altogether, and soon. Our policy on Bophuthatswana cannot be isolated from our policy towards South Africa as a whole. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] It is part of South Africa, and we cannol legally recognise it as anything else.
South Africa as a country has enormous potential, as has Bophuthatswana within South Africa, but that is where it is. We wish to see it develop along with all the 645 other areas around the homelands. I know that hon. Members are anxious about this and that they will not give up, but the best help that we can give the people of Bophuthatswana is to encourage fundamental change throughout South Africa which will lead to a unified, 646 non-racial and representative Government in South Africa, and that will also include all the people of Bophuthatswana. We want to see that country free of apartheid——
§ In accordance with MR. SPEAKER'S Ruling—[Official Report, 31 January 1983; Vol. 36, c.19.]—the debate was conclude.