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Wednesday, 18 September 1985
Page: 691

Senator GILES(3.25) —I move:

That in the opinion of the Senate the following is a matter of urgency:

The need for all Party leaders and other parliamentarians in the Australian Parliament to condemn apartheid, and to endorse and support the action taken by the Australian Government against the oppressive South African regime.

Despite the doubts of the Opposition, my principal purpose in proposing an urgency motion is not to use this very important issue simply as a point-scoring exercise, although obviously there is massive ambivalence in the ranks of the Liberal and National parties, the most notable inconsistency being between past and present State and Federal leaders of the Liberal Party. I sincerely hope that this debate will provide a means of further sensitising parliamentarians in particular and the Australian public in general to the decades of degradation brought upon the black people of South Africa by a government determined to sustain white minority rule, apparently oblivious to the dreadful violation of the human rights of the majority in South Africa.

In response to the recent escalation of repression in South Africa, especially the state of emergency introduced in mid-July under which activists or indeed anyone can be arrested and incarcerated without trial, the following action has been taken by the Australian Government consistent with growing international community awareness of the fact that sweet reason, gentle pressure or constructive engagement would not work. Having recalled our Ambassador for discussions early in August this year, the Australian Government subsequently undertook a number of measures. It ordered the suspension of all investments by the Australian Government and by Australian public authorities in South Africa, prohibited direct investment in Australia by the South African Government or its agencies; requested all Australian financial institutions to suspend new loans to South African borrowers; gave notice of the withdrawal of the Trade Commissioner to Johannesburg by the end of August; withdrew various forms of official government assistance for Australian trading with South Africa; and banned exports to South Africa of petroleum, petroleum products, computer hardware, or any products for use by South Africa's security forces. It has also prohibited the import from South Africa of krugerrands and all other coins minted there, and all arms, ammunition and military vehicles.

We have introduced a code of conduct for Australian companies which seeks to ensure that their black South African workers are not exploited in the way that has happened in the past. Constructive discussions on this code of conduct are in progress, encouraging us to believe that Australian companies, like European and American companies with South African operations, will observe standards that help, not hinder, black African workers and their families. These measures have been carefully designed and are part of an international commitment to pressure the South African Government into peaceful change to a multiracial society with universal adult suffrage and the standard of human rights proposed by the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

This urgency motion provides the Opposition with an opportunity to take a serious, long, hard look at its official position, to endorse the Government's action, or to explain its continued neglect of this challenge. There is no longer any validity in the assertion that black Africans themselves reject the use of sanctions.

Senator Sheil —I raise a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President. The honourable senator is reading her speech.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston) —I have been watching the honourable senator closely. She is referring to copious notes.

Senator GILES —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. It is no longer valid to assert that black Africans reject the use of sanctions or that leaders of the African National Congress and the United Democratic Front represent no one but the most rabid activists careless of the well-being of the masses. We know that the United Democratic Front speaks for over 700 organisations, including church, union and women's organisations, not all of them black. We are also told that a recent extensive independent poll of black Africans found that three out of four believed that sanctions were necessary in order to achieve change. A common response of the Africans polled was that their suffering was so intense, their lives were so wretched and the attitude of the South African Government was so antipathetic to reform that international pressure by sanctions was not only acceptable but also desirable, the short term disadvantages to ordinary people being far outweighted by the possibility of real social reform and constitutional change. In addition, we read in the Australian of Monday this week:

Leaders of six black-ruled southern African countries were due to meet in . . . Monzambique, yesterday to discuss how to combat the effects that international sanctions against South Africa might have on their own economies.

These countries are in total support of the action that has been taken outside Africa in order to move the South African Government away from its repressive regime. People such as President Nyerere of Tanzania and the leaders of Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe are suggesting airlifts of food and other goods to those likely to suffer most if South Africa blocks other trade routes in retaliation. However, black African countries speak with one voice when they ask for the strongest possible action to be taken against South Africa in order to rid that country of its odious apartheid policies.

It has become apparent that Australians have had little opportunity to understand just what apartheid means. Some of our colleagues who have had the opportunity of going to South Africa apparently have not informed themselves of how, in practice, it affects the lives of the black African majority. Apartheid now and when it was labelled `separate development' in the 1950s has systematically imposed constitutionally authorised racial oppression designed to maintain and protect economic order and privilege. This system of repression is reinforced by the best-equipped police and defence forces on the African continent, given full authority to use violence-often extreme and fatal-against anyone who opposes the system.

Let me remind honourable senators of Soweto and the fact that just this week little school children have been gaoled for similar civil disobedience. Soweto not only is the most important of the black townships but also has passed into world consciousness as symbolising freedom movements both from South Africa and from the wider world. I quote from a publication entitled `Apartheid. The closing phases?' by C. G. Weeramantry which states:

Afrikaans, the language of the master race, was decreed by the Department of Bantu Education in 1974, to become the language of instruction in secondary schools. English, the lingua franca in which Africans of different tribes communicated with each other, was also the language of protest against apartheid. If English was to be displaced in favour of Afrikaans, this extension of authority of the master race was not to occur without resistance from the young people of Soweto. `We are fed on the crumbs of ignorance with Afrikaans as a poisonous spoon' they proclaimed in banner headlines. Soweto erupted in protest. Several thousands of students demonstrated peacefully. Police replied with teargas and bullets. The dead children of Soweto now belong to world history and there is no purpose in recording here what has been recorded in thousands of writings across the world. All that need be added here, from a visitor's impressions, is that the memory of the hundreds (local recollection places it at thousands) of deaths is still fresh and that the community is alive with tales of mounds of dead bodies, mass graves, mass funerals and of wards full of dead and dying children.

In addition to Soweto, there are a number of other instances in South Africa of communities maintaining their independence against absolutely frightful odds. Another symbol of African determination is a place called Crossroads which is both important in its own right and symbolic. The people of Crossroads, a small township not far from Cape Town, were instructed by the authorities to leave their home territory where many of them had lived for hundreds of years, to dismantle their shacks and return to homelands many hundreds of miles away. Migrant labourers were expected to live in mammoth unisex dormitories, eight or more often 16 to a room and to see their families for two weeks a year. The 20,000 inhabitants of Crossroads were told officially to leave the area. A delegation met senior administration board officials and told the board: `Every day they come to Crossroads and arrest our people. We cannot go to doctors or clinics and we cannot even use the taps'. Men lawfully working in the area, but living illegally with their permitless wives, were to report to the unisex dormitories and send their wives back to the Transkei, Ciskei or wherever they had come from. In the course of a year one of the methods resorted to by the police was to charge those men whose permits were in order with harbouring their wives.

Much distress was caused to all concerned. On the morning of 14 September 1978, under a pall of teargas, 400 fresh arrests were made. People were charged and dealt with. Penalties were very heavy and remorseless, as before, and are thought to have earned the South African Government R40,000 from this impoverished community. By July 1978 the matter had reached such an impasse that a day of prayer was called for the people of Crossroads. At one stage the authorities dug a deep ditch right around this encampment in order to prevent any food supplies being taken in to the people who had camped there who were refusing to go to the so-called homelands thousands of miles away which were of no relevance to these people at all. On one occasion, the women of Crossroads, with characteristic tenacity, were living with beds their only homes. Any shelters had been taken away by the police and the black plastic that was being provided by the churches to keep off the rain was being confiscated and burnt daily by the police.

Women delayed the introduction of the iniquitous pass laws in South Africa by the use of passive protests. For many years they were able to hold back saturation use of the pass laws. The police, who were quite prepared to fire on children, for some time were deterred by peaceful and disarming crowds of chanting, good-humoured and determined women.

What does relocation mean? People who choose to move are seeking an improved lifestyle but forced removals-the fate of millions of black Africans-induce despair and hopelessness and damage self-esteem. Removed people feel threatened, powerless and unable to cope. Inadequate or polluted water supplies, a shortage of productive land, an inhospitable climate and poor housing are common features. Children, even if not actually starving, are especially likely to succumb to diseases such as malnutrition, bereberi and kwashiorkor. Gastroenteritis is endemic if there is a poor water supply. Children contract serious infectious diseases and tuberculosis is one of the main causes of death amongst young people. Resettlement camps are designed for mere survival with only tin huts or tents and often only one toilet to many dwellings. Perhaps, if people are lucky, commuter transport is provided because the provision of labour to the places where it is required is a priority of the South African authorities.

As reported in a church report on forced removals in South Africa, any family or community that was previously living even marginally close to the minimum level of survival was likely to experience relocation as a debilitating loss. A young construction worker described his family's new home in these terms:

It is not a house even. It is not even a pig sty. Two rooms for 11 people. Do they think we are animals? We need privacy too, man, even if we are black.

An old lady described her removal in this way:

We had no choice. The guns were behind us. Here is not enough food. I am hungry now as I am sitting here. Everybody has died. My man has gone died, as have my daughters. They took my land away.

Morbidity and mortality figures for the homelands are no longer kept by the South African Government, all management having been handed over to the Bantustan authorities with their own police and armies, backed by a mass of repressive legislation. Social security is the responsibility of the Bantustans. Pensions and unemployment insurance are frequently delayed and always meagre. Grants from the central government are totally inadequate for health, education and housing. Domestic work-one of the few options for black women in or near white areas-attracts no industrial or social protection, with often complete dependence upon the employer for the worker who, technically, is illegally earning money to support her family away from her so-called homeland.

Most authoritative information on social conditions in South Africa comes to us from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in a report dated January 1985. It was estimated in the report that in one of the homelands 400,000 people would need feeding. In another homeland 11,000 peasant farmers faced the winter season without any crops. By May 1983 stock deaths in the Ciskei and Transkei had reached 60,000. We hear very little about drought in southern Africa.

Statistics provided by a working group in its report entitled `The Violation of Human Rights in South Africa' indicated that, although the number of people living below the poverty datum line had dropped from 99 per cent to 81 per cent, the number of people living below the poverty line had increased from four million to nearly nine million. In relation to health, it was stated by a cleric, the Reverend Palos, that the extent of infant mortality in the homelands could not be determined, as statistics of deaths due to malnutrition and related diseases were not available.

However, a doctor of one missionary hospital had estimated that 386 children per thousand-that is, nearly four children out of every 10-were dying of malnutrition and related diseases. Of the survivors, 100 to 200 per thousand would have suffered brain damage. In addition, the fact that parents are obliged to leave their children behind in looking for work and survival causes widespread emotional, physical and psychological problems.

The Black Sash organisation in South Africa is a very highly regarded group of women founded 30 years ago. It has long been regarded as amongst the most knowledgeable about the so-called homelands and the plight of relocated people. Mrs Sheena Duncan, head of the Black Sash organisation and widely respected for her long fight against apartheid, has commented on the most recently announced changes in South Africa. It is widely agreed that these changes have occurred as a result of the actions that have been taken by Australia, amongst other members of the international community, over the last few weeks and months. Mrs Duncan commented that her long fight against apartheid seemed at last to be having some effect. On the most recently announced changes in South Africa, she said that the twin moves of restoring South African citizenship to residents of independent Homelands and abolishing the system of influx control were highly significant and not a mere modification or reform.

The impression that is coming to all of us is that, when the international community works in concert from outside South Africa to have some effect on the fiscal position in South Africa, things begin to move. It seems to me to be absolutely essential that all of us in Australia, regardless of our party affiliation, give our full support to our Government which, along with many other nations, is taking the sort of action that is persuading the South African Government that it must modify its represssive policies. As our Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Hayden, has said:

. . . unmoved when school children bleed in Soweto and Uitenhage, it--

that is, the South African Government-

will jump when the rand bleeds in London and New York.