Thursday, August 31, 2006

Cameron and South Africa

I have every sympathy for David Cameron in his efforts to re-invent the Conservative Party. I think it's best to look at his visit to South Africa, his photo-op with Nelson Mandela and his repudiaton of Thatcherite policy on sanctions in this light. On their merits, however, I'm not so sure. The two specific approaches DC now believes were wrong are the description of the ANC as 'terrorists' and the British opposition to sanctions. James Cleverly offers a nuanced opinion on both these aspects, disagreeing with the ANC-terrorist term but finding some merit in the influence British policiy maintained in South Africa.

The first thing to say is that the ANC was a terrorist organisation - or at least was the political wing of a terrorist organisation. It's relationship with Umkhonto we Sizwe was analagous with that between Sinn Fein and the IRA. That MK was terrorist seems hardly open to question.


In the Amanzimtoti bomb on the Natal South Coast in 1985, five people were killed and 40 were injured. A bomb was detonated in a bar on the Durban beach-front in 1986, killing three persons and injuring 69. In 1987, an explosion outside a Johannesburg court killed three people and injured 10; a court in Newcastle had been attacked in a similar way the previous year, injuring 24. In 1987, a bomb exploded at a military command centre in Johannesburg, killing one person and injuring 68 military or civilian personnel.

The bombing campaign continued with attacks on a series of soft targets, including a bank in Roodepoort in 1988, which four were killed and 18 injured. Also in 1988, in a bomb detonation outside a magistrate’s court killed three. At the Ellis Park rugby stadium in Johannesburg, a car bomb, killed two and injured 37. A multitude of bombs in “Wimpy Bar” fast food outlets and supermarkets occurred during the late 1980s, killing and wounding many people.

In most of these events, most of the victims were civilians, and of all races. Several other bombings occurred, with smaller numbers of casualties. Along with these mainly urban bombings, there was a campaign, from 1985 to 1987, in the rural areas of the Northern and Eastern Transvaal, aimed at the farming and rural communities. There were about 23 deaths, a few being white, farming families, but mainly black labourers. These data were obtained from the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (1999).

Whatever the merits of their argument, these are the acts of a terrorist organisation. Thatcher was thus right to describe it as such. The distinction between ANC and MK is so slight as to be meaningless. We can look back at Nelson Mandela and believe that any party which boasted him as a member could not have been terrorist in character, but we should not ignore and re-invent the past.

With regard to sanctions, the arguments against them are well known and well rehearsed. They impact disproportionately on the poorest of the society; they discourage internationalism and promote a laager mentality; they force domestic industry to become more efficient; they unite a country behind its leaders. All of these arguments are considered valid by opponents of Iranian sanctions - the fact that these are often the same people who called for South African sanctions is informative. It is also true that the FW de Klerk Foundation's study found that sanctions had very little impact on the end of apartheid.

It is easy today to look at the modern South Africa and decry any who were less than whole-hearted in their support of the ANC. We should, however, avoid when possible the practice of viewing the past solely through today's lense.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Andrew Willis said...

You are going to ruin a good story with facts if you're not careful. Maybe you are confusing politics with truth and integrity :-).

Yes of course this is correct, but what a pity that Cameron hasn't the guts to understand it. If he is going to try and 'out labour' labour, then people would rather buy the real product than the cheap Blair knock off he has become.

I have a better suggestion for him. Maybe repudiate the other Thatcher legacy of selling out Rhodesia to Mugabe. I suppose he won't be going there for a photo op with the president any time soon.

7:13 am  

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