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Minister discusses the South African elections and his own political future -

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HELEN DALLEY: Australians can justifiably feel they played an integral part in the momentous change which has taken place in South Africa. For more than two decades, we rigorously enforced sanctions against the apartheid state, sanctions which helped isolate and erode the world's last racist regime. But now it's time to look to the future, and in the short term South Africa is going to need massive injections of aid to raise black housing, health and education to acceptable levels. South Africa's emergence as a rival power in the southern hemisphere, with a population twice the size of Australia's, will also challenge our current focus on the Pacific.

Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans, joins us now from our Melbourne studio. To talk with him, here's Sunday's political editor, Laurie Oakes.

LAURIE OAKES: Thanks, Helen. Senator Evans, welcome to Sunday, once again. There have been massive problems for this election in South Africa. Do they matter?

GARETH EVANS: Well, in the judgment of the observers that have spoken on it so far, not so. The elections are being judged to be free and fair, although obviously it was a logistical nightmare and in many ways an organisational shambles. But the bottom line seems to have been one of acceptance by everyone that it's basically okay and is going to deliver a clear-cut result which will be universally acceptable.

LAURIE OAKES: And do you have any information about when we'll have a result?

GARETH EVANS: No more than you do and what the electronics are telling us. I think at the earliest, it's another 24 hours away, given the rate at which they're counting.

LAURIE OAKES: But no doubt that Nelson Mandela will win, will be the new president?

GARETH EVANS: Oh, I don't think any doubt at all. I mean, the early results from the Cape area are showing two to one for the National Party, but that was pretty much expected. I think those proportions will go close to being reversed everywhere else in the country.

LAURIE OAKES: What kind of president will he be? Can he bring South Africa together?

GARETH EVANS: Well, I think he's shown already that he can. Of all the people that I have met all around the world since I've been Foreign Minister, he ranks to me as unequivocally the most impressive and admirable in terms of his personal qualities, his dignity and his capacity to deliver a message of reconciliation, and I think to implement it effectively.

LAURIE OAKES: What about the white Right? They're still threatening bombings, still threatening violence.

GARETH EVANS: I think they're capable of being marginalised. One of the biggest difficulties, obviously, for the new government is going to be to sort out the security, law and order dimension of the government and to make sure that the armed forces and the police are wholly committed and working for the new government, rather than having any residual tendencies to go off in other directions. I think we can be reasonably confident about that given, again, all the evidence that's flowed through this week of a spirit of reconciliation - almost exhilaration - stretching right across the country. And, as in places like Cambodia and so on, I think when you do get that mass of demonstration of that kind of commitment, it does change even the oldest of the dinosaurs in terms of those institutional practices.

LAURIE OAKES: What sort of shape do you think the new South African Government will have? For example, will F.W. de Klerk be Vice-President to Mandela or will Cyril Ramaphosa from the ANC take that job?

GARETH EVANS: Well, certainly it's to be expected that de Klerk will occupy the vice-presidency the way the constitution is constructed. You get it automatically if you get 20 per cent of the vote. Otherwise, it's the second biggest party polling result determines that place. And I think that institutional commitment to the Government of National Unity as formalised in that way will be very important to the country's future in maintaining both domestic confidence in the Government by the whites and international confidence in the new regime.

LAURIE OAKES: There has been a suggestion, I think, that Pik Botha might remain as Foreign Minister. Do you rate that as a high possibility?

GARETH EVANS: I was a little surprised by that. I think Mandela does have a very high regard for Botha personally because of his genuine emotional commitment to the cause of reconciliation. I think for a lot of other National Party Ministers, including de Klerk, the commitment came more from the head than the heart. I think there's some sentimental attachment to Botha as a result, but I'd be very surprised to see him staying in that same job.

LAURIE OAKES: It would be surprising, wouldn't it, for a new black South African Government to have a white face representing it internationally? Is that what you're thinking?

GARETH EVANS: Well, I can only agree. I would be surprised and I think the probabilities are much higher that it will be Thabo Mbeki or some other familiar black face of that kind.

LAURIE OAKES: Now, Australia likes to think it played a pretty strong role in bringing this situation about, in pushing international sanctions to end apartheid. Now that that's been achieved, do we have a responsibility to provide aid to South Africa?

GARETH EVANS: You say Australia likes to think - I think we can genuinely take some of that responsibility; by no means all of it. We were very prominent right back at the beginning with Glen Eagles in 1977 in introducing the sports boycott which was psychologically perhaps more important than anything else in changing - over time -white perceptions, and we were very important in the late '80s, in particular, in developing the concept of financial sanctions and selling that internationally which had the biggest impact of all. Yes, we have got an obligation, I think, to help the country through the transition period. We have been helping in a number of ways over the last few years to build sort of democratic capacity in governing institutions. I think the obligation now on the international community is to help more with basic health, education, housing, infrastructure development of that kind. The extent to which we'll be able to, obviously, is going to depend on budgetary outcome and how much money we've got.

LAURIE OAKES: But Australia will have some kind of aid package for the what, the five year interim period?

GARETH EVANS: Well, I hope so. I mean, we've got a commitment already to spending $7 million a year for the next two years and I hope we'll be able to extend that, but I can't quantify that at this stage.

LAURIE OAKES: But would the aid package for South Africa be new money? We keep reading that the Government is refusing to increase the foreign aid budget this year?

GARETH EVANS: Well, it's a matter of - I think it will certainly at least have the same nominal dollars as last year and maybe some small real increase. But just whether we'll be able to keep pace with aid as a percentage of our rapidly growing gross national product is, I suppose, the matter in issue and that hasn't been finally resolved. There'll be enough new money to spend on a number of new aid projects around the world, including some of them in Africa, but just how much will go to South Africa I can't predict at this stage.

LAURIE OAKES: We had the Prime Minister making aid commitments to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and now we've got this new responsibility for South Africa. How can you do that if you are not going to increase the aid budget substantially?

LAURIE OAKES: Well, we've got a rough idea of what the minimal amount in the aid budget will be and that's certainly enough to cover the South-East Asian, Indo-Chinese commitments that were made and have long been in the planning pipeline. So far as Africa is concerned, there is a question mark because it's outside our immediate area of focus so far as the aid program is concerned. But I would personally acknowledge - and I think that view would be widespread in the Government - that we do have some continuing obligation to help as best we can, and I hope we'll find some more dollars to put our money where our mouth is.

LAURIE OAKES: Presumably, when the Prime Minister sends his congratulatory message to the newly-elected President Mandela, he'll have to say something about what Australia will do to help the new South Africa?

GARETH EVANS: Well, we'll be in a position to say something when the Budget's announced, not before. And that looks like being about the same day, the way the vote counting is going at the moment.

LAURIE OAKES: Now, we keep reading that the new South Africa will change the balance of power in the southern hemisphere. How do you see that happening? What are the implications for this region?

GARETH EVANS: Well, for a start, South Africa comes squarely back into the international community, the mainstream, and I think we can think again now about some sort of coherent policy development for the Indian Ocean region as a whole. That's been a will-o'-the-wisp over the last few years, simply because South Africa's been a pariah. A number of the other States on the African littoral coastline have been broken-back States, and South Asia, India has not been too keen on focusing otherwise than internally. All those conditions are simultaneously changing, and I think we can look forward to some growth in regional identity and economic and political development of that Indian Ocean region with, if you like, India, South Africa and Australia being the three points of the triangle in that respect.

LAURIE OAKES: Nelson Mandela, presumably, will have his hands full at home. Do you see him playing much of a role internationally?

GARETH EVANS: I think his overwhelming preoccupation will be domestic at the moment, and there's an enormous amount to do. I mean, you're looking at an economy which is only about a third of Australia's size, even though it's got more than twice our population. You've got massive expectations now built up which is going to be very, very hard for any government to deliver on, and I'm sure that Mandela's preoccupation, and everybody else's, will be to try and mobilise resources and get at least some of those expectations satisfied. And he's going to need international support to do that and I don't think he'll disappear altogether from the international stage.

LAURIE OAKES: Is there a danger of South Africans being disappointed, ending up with a disillusioned electorate?

GARETH EVANS: Oh, there's a very real danger of that, so far as the black population is concerned, and that's the toughest job, I think, for the Government to do, to deal with those expectations for improvements in employment, employment conditions, for housing, for education and for health, now, that have unquestionably been generated, and there's a massive educative job, I think, to be done in the first instance to make clear to people that those benefits are not going to flow overnight.

LAURIE OAKES: Do you see South Africa becoming a serious economic threat to Australia, a trade competitor that we have to worry about?

GARETH EVANS: No, because even though it's a competitive economy in terms of its basic, at least, primary production, the trade sanctions that have been operative over the last 20 years or so haven't ever really bitten the important sanctions, as I said earlier, with the sports one and the financial ones. So to the extent that South Africa was going to be a problem for us in international markets, we've been dealing with that commercial problem for a long time, now, and I don't think there's any new momentum for us to have to worry about in that respect.

LAURIE OAKES: Will there be a new momentum in terms of new markets for us in South Africa?

GARETH EVANS: Not big ones. The trade and relationship with South Africa, at the moment, is only worth in total about half a billion dollars; it makes it pretty way down the list. There will be opportunities and I hope a degree of interest from Australian business in investing there. But, as I said, the size of the economy is really quite small and the notion of major returns from it in the foreseeable future is really not a reality.

LAURIE OAKES: We're just about out of time, but a question about Gareth Evans - one of the Sunday papers in Sydney is suggesting today that you're thinking of changing Houses, moving from the Senate to the Lower House to position yourself as a possible successor to Paul Keating. True or false?

GARETH EVANS: Well, let me say, Laurie, I mean, not only a matter of not having a baton in my knapsack, I don't even have a knapsack, at the moment, so I think any speculation of that kind is at the very least premature and really rather astray. I've made it absolutely clear that I'm very happy doing what I'm doing. It's much better being on the receiving end of this kind of speculation than the other kind that has applied to some of my colleagues in the recent past. But that's the bottom line. I'm happy doing what I'm doing.

LAURIE OAKES: What about the suggestion that you want to line up as a possible successor to the United Nations Secretary-General?

GARETH EVANS: Well, that would be an intriguing possibility, but I think, realistically, that's a very remote one. The question doesn't arise for two or three years and it's not really very likely at all that there'd be a great deal of interest in an Australian, but you never know.

LAURIE OAKES: Senator Evans, we thank you.