Pressure on South Africa Urged to Avert Bloodbath
After six months of investigation, a group of Commonwealth leaders has concluded that the South African government must be pressured to bring about political change or there will be a bloodbath that could take the lives of millions.
External pressure on South Africa “may offer the last opportunity to avert what could be the worst bloodbath since the Second World War,” the group says.
The 116-page report, prepared by the so-called Eminent Persons Group, made up of prominent figures representing seven Commonwealth governments, is expected to be formally made public today.
The report makes no specific recommendations as to what steps should be taken but leaves little doubt that the group favors major economic sanctions against South Africa, as well as stepped up diplomatic pressure.
“We are convinced that the South African government is concerned about the adoption of effective economic measures against it,” the report says. “If it comes to the conclusion that it would always remain protected from such measures, the process of change in South Africa is unlikely to increase in momentum and the descent into violence would be accelerated. In these circumstances, the cost in lives may have to be counted in the millions.”
The group is headed by former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser of Australia; the deputy chairman is Olusegun Obasanjo, the former Nigerian head of state. Other members represent India, Britain, Canada, Tanzania and Barbados. The heads of government of the seven countries are scheduled to meet in London in early August to recommend action on the report.
The report describes the quality of South Africa’s black leaders, and what the group calls their idealism and readiness to forgive and forget as a ray of hope “amidst all this gloom.” But it warns that if South Africa fails to take political action now, it could lead to the loss of “these precious assets.”
“The options are diminishing by the day,” the report concludes.
The group was established last October at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in the Bahamas and was given the task of finding ways to open a dialogue between the South African government and black nationalist leaders. The ultimate goal of the group is the end of apartheid and the establishment of a representative, non-racial political system.
Choosing this course was seen as a compromise between the position taken by governments that were calling for immediate sanctions and the position taken by a minority, including Britain, that opposed sanctions.
2 Trips to South Africa
The members of the group made two trips to South Africa, where they met with government leaders and black nationalist leaders, including Nelson Mandela, the imprisoned head of the African National Congress.
Britain, the mother country of the 49-member Commonwealth, has consistently opposed sanctions on grounds that they are ineffective. But as parts of the report have leaked out in recent days, pressure on Britain has mounted, and the pressure is certain to intensify with publication of the full report and its ominous conclusions.
On Wednesday, an official in Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s office would say only that the report will require careful study, but her minister of state in the Foreign Office, Lydia Chalker, indicated there will be no immediate change in Britain’s position despite the report’s conclusions.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Chalker said: “We should only consider measures which will work. Otherwise we will worsen the situation still further.”
Leaders of some black Commonwealth countries, including President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, have threatened to pull out of the Commonwealth unless it takes decisive action against South Africa. Zambia is one of the three nations that South Africa attacked last month in search of black nationalist guerrillas.
The Commonwealth group’s report describes South Africa as a political time bomb with the fuse burning low. It says the government in Pretoria is intransigent and unyielding, refusing to face the reality of the situation.
“After more than 18 months of persistent unrest, upheaval and killings unprecedented in the country’s history, the government believes that it can contain the situation indefinitely by the use of force,” the report says. “South Africa is a country of black people. To believe that they can be indefinitely suppressed is an act of self-delusion.”
The report says that even the more enlightened government ministers appear to be out of touch with the mood in the black townships and the rising tide of black resentment.
It says the government has been unwilling to contemplate substantive change or to discuss the possibility of such change with the authentic, acknowledged leaders of the black community.
“Its program of reform does not end apartheid, but seeks to give it a less inhuman face,” the report says. “Its quest is power-sharing, but without surrendering overall white control.”
The report notes that recent raids on neighboring countries and a perceptible hardening of position indicates that South Africa is moving ever further away from the negotiating process.
The black community, it says, is increasingly frustrated and impatient with its condition and increasingly confident of its cause.
“The strength of black convictions is now matched by a readiness to die for those convictions,” the report says. “They will, therefore, sustain their struggle, whatever the cost.”
It says that effective diplomatic pressure is needed as an important signal to the black community of its commitment to bringing change in South Africa and adds:
“If it (the black community) also comes to believe that the world community will never exercise sufficient effective pressure through other measures in support of their cause, it will have only one option remaining: that of ever-increasing violence.”