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Tuesday, 3 May 1994
Page: 3

Senator LOOSLEY —My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Now that the President-elect of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, has claimed victory, what is the assessment by the Australian government of last week's historic election in that country which marked the final burial of the abhorrent system of apartheid under which so many people suffered for so long? What is an appropriate post mortem on apartheid? What is the Australian government's projection for a democratic South Africa?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am planning to make a more substantial statement on the situation in South Africa probably next week to coincide with the swearing-in of the President. It will enable other senators to say something, which I have no doubt a number wish to do. There are some things that should be said right now on the public record about the quite extraordinary transformation we have seen over the last few days in that country—

Senator Ian Macdonald —Are you going to cut the aid budget?

Senator GARETH EVANS —That is clearly much to the disappointment of people such as Senator Macdonald who are still living in the past. He has a very considerable memory of how long his party resisted this process of change. Honourable senators will be aware that last night, on behalf of the African National Congress, Nelson Mandela claimed victory—and that victory was conceded by President de Klerk, on behalf of the National Party. The Prime Minister today sent messages of congratulations and best wishes to both Mr Mandela and Mr de Klerk.

  South Africa owes an enormous debt to the vision and integrity of Nelson Mandela who, as we all know, in 27 years of imprisonment maintained his steadfast commitment to the creation of a non-racial democratic society for all South Africans. He did so, as became abundantly clear upon his release, with a spirit of dignity, reconciliation and forgiveness towards his captors and persecutors that should make us all enormously proud that such a human response is still possible on this planet. It is an extraordinary personal achievement for Mr Mandela to have seen this process through in the way he has. He deserves the enormous respect of all of us.

  I should also say that the new South Africa that we are seeing born in this way would not have been possible without the realism and determination of F.W. de Klerk who did, so courageously, make the break with the past. These elections have marked the end of an enormous number of years of injustice and racial oppression in South Africa. The elections, despite some obvious problems in administration, were conducted in an overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic atmosphere. In the face of violence and extremism for them to have gone off as well as they have is a really outstanding achievement for the South African people.

  The new South African government faces enormous challenges in redressing the social and economic inequalities of apartheid. The new government first has to curb the endemic violence and assert its authority throughout the country, and do so by securing the effective cooperation of the police and the defence forces. That may not prove to be easy in the job that lies ahead.

  It must also, obviously, resolve the problems that still exist in KwaZulu and Natal. It has to, above all else, attempt the excruciatingly difficult task of maintaining economic growth and attracting foreign investment while, at the same time, undertaking the massive housing, education, health and other infrastructure projects that are necessary to redress the legacies of apartheid. If there is any basic problem that is going to be experienced over the period immediately ahead, it is pretty obviously the enormous expectations that have been generated among the black African people and the difficulty that any government is going to have in satisfying them.

  Without exaggerating the importance of the Australian contribution, we can be proud of the role that we played in the ending of apartheid. For many years, Australian governments and many individual Australians have worked towards this objective. There is little doubt that the sanctions policies pursued by successive Australian governments—first of all as to sports with the Gleneagles Agreement back in 1977, for which Malcolm Fraser deserves thanks and congratulations; then the trade and investment sanctions from 1985 onwards; the financial sanctions in the late 1980s; and the strategy of phased reduction of sanctions that we led the way on in 1991—have all been enormously important in showing the way not only for the Commonwealth but also, in many instances, for the world at large.

  We have helped in other ways with the transition to democracy by democratic capacity building in the period leading up to the elections. I hope we will be able to make a substantial continuing contribution. The details of that should be able to be made clear in the not too distant future.

Senator LOOSLEY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. In the light of the minister's observations, what is the future of the South African liberation precinct outside the South African embassy in Canberra at the moment?

Senator GARETH EVANS —With the old apartheid state structures having now been replaced as a result of this election by a government which is freely elected and fully representative of all South Africans, I have to say that we see this as an appropriate time at last for the removal or the relocation of the liberation shed, so-called. It is located on land of the Australian Capital Territory and its removal, therefore, is a question for the ACT government. We understand that the ACT government has plans to remove the shed and to replace it with a commemorative plaque and garden. I have to say from a government perspective, and I would imagine a wider community perspective, that is a pretty dignified way of finally making clear that the transformation has occurred and commemorating that in an appropriate fashion.