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Tuesday, 26 March 1985
Page: 811


Senator MASON(5.25) —I rise to support the Government paper and on behalf of the Australian Democrats to express our dismay and anger at the recent events in South Africa. These have the most unhappy implications for the future and very clearly point out that the policy of apartheid does not work. Nor is it any longer possible in the world, if it ever was, for a minority indefinitely to keep a majority subservient. It shows us that attempts to do so inevitably lead to suppression in a physical sense, to a growing confrontation and ultimately, as we now see, to atrocity. Indeed, the deaths of 19 people in Uitenhage last week must be only an episode, unfortunately, in what looks like a continuing period of crisis. Just as Sharpeville preceded Uitenhage, so another such incident must ensue if the policies of the South African Government do not change, and as far as we can see from the statements of Mr Botha and others there is no indication that it will change.

It worries me that apologists for the South African Government, including at times apologists in this Parliament, talk about unrest and violence among the black majority as if these were matters which justified continued repressive policies and that there was some reason for this, instead of perceiving that the real truth is that they are the consequence of repressive policies. While those repressive policies go on this can be only an increasing problem. It is worth noting that Uitenhage was only one part of a protest which goes back to some very important basic matters-a rent and education protest, which has now become a general challenge to the Government and which has, since it began, involved the deaths of more than 240 black people. Uitenhage is really just the tip of the iceberg.

Beyond this, there have been very disquieting aspects of South African society for some considerable time. There have been repeated incidents in which people have died while in police custody such as the notorious one involving Steve Biko, which can indicate only continued disquiet and a breakdown of the legal processes in South Africa. South Africa can no longer be regarded as a society in which there is equality of its citizens before the law. There never has been that, but at least one might have hoped there was equality of citizens according to the law as South Africans interpret it; that is, the apartheid-type law. However, I think that even that has been lost now and that the police in South Africa have been guilty of the murder of people in prisons. They have continued to do that and it has become a policy which is part of the system of repression of black people and it can lead only to tragic consequences in the future.

As Senator Sibraa mentioned, yesterday the Sydney Morning Herald had some interesting things to say. Yesterday's editorial is worth quoting briefly. It points out that there will be more than lives and property at risk. It then says:

The already dangerous erosion of moderate black support for peaceful reform will accelerate. And the growing violence will swell the numbers of white hardliners who will, no doubt, interpret what is happening as the consequence of Mr Botha's tentative reforms.

That is perhaps one of the most tragic consequences of the whole thing. Whatever leeway Mr Botha has to ease the lot of the blacks will now perforce be a great deal narrower. Commenting on the events of last Thursday, Mr Botha said:

We are going to keep order in South Africa. And nobody in the world is going to stop me . . .

That intention will cause appalling problems in the future.

Some action is necessary from our Government. It is not sufficient that we should tolerate this situation. We should not be friendly with a country which does this; we should not have contacts with it. It is a country which has a heritage from the Western democratic system--


Senator Peter Rae —Would you abolish contacts with Russia and China?


Senator MASON —These people are different. I agree that Russia is a dangerous, unstable and repressive society; it is that. But we should have expected more from people of European and Western antecedents than the South Africans are capable of mustering. They have a moral obligation and a past which should give them the ability to deal with this situation in a better and fairer way than they have. The fact that they have not done so places a greater moral burden on them.