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Wednesday, 18 September 1985
Page: 705


Senator HAMER(4.50) —The Senate is debating a motion moved by Senator Giles which reads:

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.

I am sure there is no difficulty about the first part of this motion. Blacks in South Africa have no democratic rights in a country which calls itself a democracy. In contrast, five million whites and, to a much lesser extent, a million or so coloured and Indians enjoy a semblance of democratic government. They also enjoy a very high standard of living, largely derived from the exploitation of black labour and a grossly excessive share of control over the country's resources. Blacks are treated as if they were foreigners within the boundaries of their own country. They are even required to carry passports. Virtually all Australian political leaders have, time after time, condemned apartheid, which is an outrage against human dignity. This is not to say that it is the only outrage perpetrated in countries around the world, but it is one of the few which is explicitly stated in constitutional terms and, worse still, it is done by a country which claims to be a member of the Western group of free nations. I therefore have no difficulty in supporting unequivocally the first part of the motion.

When we come to the second part-that we should endorse and support the action taken by the Australian Government-there are some problems. Neither of the Government speakers in this debate-Senator Giles or Senator Childs-analysed the actions taken by the Australian Government, what they are and what they are likely to achieve. We must remember that Africa is home to more than 500 million people. Its history has been a nightmare of revolution, bloodshed, political manipulation and death on a massive scale, although in the northern areas where there is some Arab influence, the history has been less catastrophic. More people have starved to death or have been killed in Africa than in all the major wars. It is, and almost always has been, a continent seething with confusion, neglect, corruption and civil war. We would not have achieved much if we helped to engineer the overthrow of the existing deplorable South African regime and substituted for it an Idi Amin type of dictatorship.

The besetting problems of black Africa are tribalism and lack of education. In my view, the worst fault of the present South African Government has been its failure to tackle, or rather the way in which it has exacerbated, these problems. To spend, as it does, more than five times as much per head on the education of a white child as it does on a black child is a social and intellectual outrage. By its policy of tribal homelands, it has exacerbated tribalism. It may make the South African blacks easier to rule-President Botha has referred to the non-white population as a collection of minorities-but this divisive policy of keeping the blacks tribalised will make any satisfactory solution to South Africa much more difficult to achieve.

What do we want to happen in South Africa? The worst possible solution would be a violent revolution followed by the sort of tribal black rule which is endemic in most other parts of Africa. This would be a social and economic catastrophe for South Africa and everyone, including the black people of South Africa, would suffer. But there must be a clear and fair objective for South Africa, moving towards equal political rights for all its inhabitants. Much is made of the dangers of Marxism, and the danger is real, but a great deal of the danger has been created by the deplorable behaviour of the South African Government. It has created a monster and now says it is the defence against it. If I were a black South African, I would like to think I would be a revolutionary, and I am sure I would accept arms from anyone who would give them to me, whether Marxist or capitalist. Mr Murphy Morobe of the anti-apartheid United Democratic Front reflects the scepticism which many blacks now feel. He said:

Why talk about far-reaching changes in South Africa and at the same time imprison those who demand and fight for change?

Nothing short of full power for the disenfranchised black majority will satisfy us.

The majority of oppressed South Africans have long ceased yearning for inclusion into the system. Our task is to change the system.

But South Africa is a long way from revolution. The situation is very different from that, say, in Iran where the opposition to the Shah was united behind a religious leader. Unless some clear move is made towards creating a fair society in South Africa, ultimately a bloody revolution is inevitable. The implicit claim of the present white rulers of South Africa is for time to make changes. The problem is that they have never admitted what their eventual vision of a South African society is-or anyway their vision of a South African society which would be even remotely acceptable to the free nations of the world-and their progress towards even their limited objective has been so glacially slow that they have destroyed the confidence of the free world in the honesty of their intentions. But if we rule out a bloody revolution as a means of getting a just society in South Africa-I emphasise that for many years the power of the white security forces will be so great as to make that not an achievable objective-what do we want the South African Government to do and what part can Australia play in achieving it?

If the South African Government is genuine about ultimate power sharing between all the citizens of South Africa it must do a great deal more than it has shown so far it is prepared to do. The restoration of South African citizenship for black people either living in or nominally attached to the homelands is, I suppose, a step forward, though being a black citizen of South Africa does not mean very much. It certainly does not give them any political rights. The possible abolition of the hated pass laws by which movements of black people are rigorously controlled would be a much more significant step forward. But much more significant steps are required. As I said a few moments ago, the besetting problems of black Africa are tribalism and lack of education. If the South African Government is sincere in wanting to see a peaceful move towards the sharing of power, it must break down black tribalism which it has enshrined in its homelands policy. It must abandon its separate tribal homelands and encourage all the black tribes of South Africa to think of themselves as South Africans first. Until I see some signs of this being its eventual objective, I cannot believe that it is sincere in working towards a just society in South Africa. Breaking the blacks up into tribes may make them easier to divide and rule, but it will make any peaceful transition to proper rights for black Africans almost impossible to achieve.

If the Government is sincere in wanting to have a fair society in South Africa it must immediately raise the per capita expenditure on black education to at least the same level it spends on white education. One can think of no economic, political or social reason for the gross discrepancy on the expenditure between black education and white education. The blacks probably need more per head that the white people, not the one-fifth which is what they get now.

We should also seek from President Botha a declaration of intent that he will, within a reasonable time frame, grant full citizenship under one constitution to South Africans of all colours. He should draw up an agenda for a national convention to be attended by all South African groups, including the banned African National Congress. He should release Mr Nelson Mandela who has become a symbol of the racial trouble in South Africa and whose imprisonment is doing much more damage to the possibility of a peaceful transition in South Africa than his release would do. But for all this to be possible, the blacks must make concessions too. If there is to be any chance of evolutionary change in South Africa, rather than a bloody revolution, it will have to be established that the 23 million blacks will not treat the five million whites as badly as the white minority has up to now treated the black majority. Many in the black community would accept this, and it is important that the white minority should start a dialogue with the moderates among the blacks while there is still time to do so and before the battle lines are irrevocably drawn towards ultimate civil war.

The question arises as to what Australia can do about this. Economic sanctions are a gesture, but Australian trade is not crucial to the South African economy. In any case, trade sanctions are of doubtful effectiveness. The United States of America has been a great believer in the effectiveness of such sanctions, and recent victims include Russia, Poland, Afghanistan, Cuba, Nicaragua and now South Africa. It is true that most of the victims do not like the sanctions and would rather see them removed, but how effective have they been? The first trial of trade sanctions in modern times was on Italy over the Abyssinian crisis in 1935-36. It did not liberate the Abyssinians. Sanctions on Rhodesia deprived that country of hard currency and made the economy work much less effectively; it was not the sanctions but rather the revolutionary struggle and the world recession which finally toppled the white minority regime. American sanctions against Cuba drove it into the arms of the Soviet Union and made Fidel Castro the most secure Latin American ruler of them all. The sports embargo against South Africa prevented most international competition, but even when some sports became multiracial the embargo on those sports was not lifted.

We must conclude that trade sanctions are very unlikely to have any useful effect on the South African Government, except perhaps to scare some members of the white community and cause them to bring some influence on the Government. The only effective pressure point that could be applied internationally on South Africa is through the international banking community, on whom Australia has virtually no influence. That is the point on which the Western world must apply pressure if it is serious in the search for a just society in South Africa.

We in Australia have some similarities to white South African society, particularly the 40 per cent which is non-Afrikaaner. Our products, our exports, are in many ways similar; our climate and countryside are almost identical; and we both have a tradition of British colonialism and legal and political institutions. It is possible that we might be a useful bridge in persuading South Africa of the urgent necessity of a serious change in its policies. For that reason we must beware of making gestures that have no effect on the South African Government but lock us into a position where we destroy any possibility of a constructive role by ourselves as an intermediary. Someone must be attempting to persuade the obdurate South African Government-persuade rather than threaten, because to threaten would be to drive them into the laager-of the vital necessity, if they wish to remain a credible member of the free nations of the world, of making serious moves towards making South Africa a genuinely equal country for people of all races. That is a role in which Australia might make a useful contribution. I would like to think the Government is handling its relations with South Africa in a way that makes that role possible for us, but I do not think it is.