Commentary

Key personal & political events

1985 Oct 22 Tu
Commentary (The Times)

South Africa: Summit accord on apartheid hailed as key step [outcome of Nassau CHOGM]

Document type: Press
Document kind: Article
Venue: -
Source: The Times , 21 October 1985
Journalist: Nicholas Ashford
Editorial comments: -
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 689
Themes: Foreign policy (Africa), Commonwealth (South Africa), British policy towards South Africa

Summit accord on apartheid hailed as key step

From Nicholas Ashford, Nassau

Commonwealtih leaders were yesterday congratulating themselves on reaching agreement on a package of measures increasing pressure on South Africa to end apartheid. But there were many differing interpretations on the extent to which Mrs Margaret Thatcher had had to compromise to make agreement possible; the likely impact the accord would have on the South African Government; and what the fine print of the agreed seven-page document will actually entail.

Mrs Thatcher, anxious that the new restrictive measures listed in the accord should not be seen as capitulation by her on the issue of sanctions, claimed she had persuaded the other 45 Commonwealth leaders present that her approach to South Africa was the correct one. “They joined me,” she declared shortly after agreement was reached late on Sunday night.

But Mr David Lange, the New Zealand Prime Minister, said Mrs Thatcher had made significant concessions. Britain had “surrendered its position as to its literal interpretation of sanctions”. He added: “One man's ‘sanctions’ is another woman’s ‘measures’,” referring to the absence of the word “sanctions” in the text of the accord.

However, no one was in the mood for recrimination yesterday as Commonwealth leaders celebrated what they unanimously believed to be a significant step towards the dismantling of apartheid. “This is a moment of great joy”. said President Kaunda of Zambia.

The accord is a carefully balanced package of sanctions, threats and inducements to encourage the South African Government to begin a dialogue with representative black leaders on ways of replacing apartheid with a non-racial system of government. It contains a number of what Mrs Thatcher described as “psychological signals” to South Africa that the international community is losing patience with Pretoria’s failure to reform itself.

It lists five steps it wants South Africa to take as a sign of its determination to dismantle apartheid, including a lifting of the state of emergency, the release of Mr Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners. and a lifting of the ban on the African National Congress. It calls for the setting up of a Commonwealth committee of “eminent persons” to help promote dialogue between the white authorities and black South Africans.

However, the agrcement emphiasizes, at Mrs Thatcher’s insistence, that dialogue would only take place “in the context of a suspension of violence on all sides.”

The accord has nine “sanctions” to be adopted by Conmmonwealth members. Six have already been implemented by Britain as part of a package of measures agreed by the European Community last month. Two are new: a curb on the import of krugerrands and an end to government funding for trade missions and trade fairs in South Africa. A third, a ban on all new government loans to the South African Governmcnt and its agencies, is already in operation although never laid down in formal terms.

British officials said the economic impact of the new measures would be negligible. British imports of krugerrands last year amounted to about £ 500,000.

The accord also provides a mechanism for further measures to be taken if no progress is achieved within six months. It states that “some of us” would consider measures such as severing air links to South Africa, banning new investment, or ending imports of South African food produce.

Mrs Thatcher made it clear she would not consider taking any of these steps at this stage.

It is hoped that the committee of “eminent persons” will be established within a month. The leaders of Britain, Australia, Bahamas. Canada, India, Zambia and Zimbabve have been asked to monitor the committee’s work and the extent to which South Arica makes progress on the Commonwealth objectives.

The agreement was reached after a long weekend of negotiations during which Mrs Thatcher found herself totally isolated over sanctions. Agreement was only reached when, realizing that other countries were prepared to make a declaration without Britain, she agreed to the new restrictive measures.

Insisting that these were “tiny little measures”, she said: “It was worth paying a price to get an agreement, it was worth paying a price to keep the Commonwealth together.”