Apartheid and diplomacy

CHRIS WOOD August 24 1987

Apartheid and diplomacy

CHRIS WOOD August 24 1987

Apartheid and diplomacy


There had been every indication that the meeting between External Affairs Minister Joe Clark and South Africa’s Foreign Minister Roelof (Pik) Botha on Aug. 14 would be both brief and confrontational. Instead, the encounter lasted an hour longer than its scheduled time of 90 minutes. And when the two ministers emerged from Botha’s office in the pillared elegance of Pretoria’s Union Buildings into the early dark of the South African winter, their mood seemed surprisingly relaxed. But Botha made it clear that the meeting had done nothing to shake apartheid, the South African system that denies political rights to its 25 million native blacks and concentrates power in the hands of five million whites. Indeed, accusing Canada of interfering in South African affairs,

Botha declared, “I told Mr.

Clark we are not prepared to capitulate.”

For Clark, it was the last in a series of snubs and dismissive gestures last week, indicating that white South Africans were far from contemplating concessions to his anti-apartheid policies. Only the day before, a pro-government newspaper, the Johannesburg Citizen, had set the tone in a personal attack on his visit, telling him to “get lost.” At the same time, South African President Pieter Botha delivered his own warning against what he called foreign “interference,” adding in a speech that he might restrict the movement of foreign diplomats who appear to challenge apartheid. Still, the meeting in Pretoria was a critical element in a visit intended to provide fresh direction for Canada’s faltering diplomatic drive to end apartheid.

Economic sanctions against South Africa, approved last year at Canada’s urging by a mini-summit of Commonwealth leaders, have been unevenly applied. Ottawa is now expected to propose new initiatives against apartheid when it hosts two international summits later this year. Next month Prime Minister Brian Mulroney is scheduled to act as chairman of an international gathering

of francophone nations in Quebec City, and in October he plans to play the same role at a meeting of Commonwealth leaders in Vancouver. It was in an urgent search for ways to maintain at least the appearance of momentum to Canada’s anti-apartheid campaign—the centrepiece of Canadian diplomacy in Africa—that Clark last week visited four countries in as many days.

His 10-hour visit to Pretoria, however, only confirmed the profound differences that separate apartheid’s white South African supporters from their opponents. Botha told Clark that Pretoria

was not ready to speed up the process of reform, in which the government has abolished some discriminatory laws but continues to deny political power to the black majority. Said Botha: “I told him we had gone as far as we can.” Earlier in the day Clark had met Allan Boesak, leader of the anti-apartheid United Democratic Front, who cited what he called the “terrible reality” of South Africa. Said Boesak, a mixed-race clergyman: “All of the avenues of nonviolent resistance have been closed down, have been criminalized.”

For Clark, Boesak’s pessimistic assessment was a discouraging outcome to two years of manoeuvring to mobilize opposition to apartheid. Prime Minister

Mulroney fired the campaign’s opening salvo in a speech to the United Nations in October, 1985. The Prime Minister threatened to impose widening economic sanctions and possibly break off diplomatic relations with South Africa. Then, in August, 1986, he led a group of other Commonwealth heads of state in an attempt to persuade British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to impose sweeping sanctions against South Africa. The attempt failed, but in its wake Canada and most other Commonwealth nations banned imports of South African coal, metals and agricultural goods.

But those measures have not weakened South African resolve. Indeed, the country’s neighbors accuse Pretoria of sponsoring a wave of destabilizing violence across southern Africa. At the same time, other reports from Africa and Canada further underlined the limited impact of sanctions. In Zimbabwe the government of Prime Minister Robert Mugabe was forced to drop proposed new sanctions after weighing their potentially devastating effect on Zimbabwe’s own economy. And in Ottawa Statistics Canada reported that despite an overall drop in trade between Canada and South Africa to $89 million in the first quarter of 1987 from $171.4 million in the same period of 1986, purchases of

some South African products, notably clothing, had tripled in the past year.

Several times last week Clark declared that Canada was ready to consider further economic and diplomatic sanctions against Pretoria. But privately his officials acknowledge that the choices are limited. One senior foreign policy adviser commented: “The trade we have with South Africa is insignificant. The sanctions game has gone about as far is it can. So what else do you do?”

Meanwhile, the atmosphere surrounding Canada’s South African policy at times bordered on the bizarre last week. Even as Clark prepared for his meeting with Botha, a delegation of Canadian Indians, visiting at South African government expense, accused Canada of failing to treat its own aboriginal minority fairly. In a remark clearly aimed at Clark and Mulroney, Gerald Wuttunee, a former chief of Saskatchewan’s Red Pheasant band, said, “Instead of going around the world solving its problems, let them clean up their own back-

yard.” The incident led Botha to accuse Canada of “racist attitudes” toward its Indians. As well, Clark’s meeting with Botha was bedevilled by the disclosure of a stunning proposal by Conservative Toronto-area MP Donald Blenkarn, who urged that Canada and other Western nations send a military force to “take over” Mozambique and assume direction of the economy in other southern African nations, in order to isolate South Africa.

As well, Clark was unable to find a consensus during his stopovers in black African capitals on his way to Pretoria. In Abidjan, Ivory Coast President Félix Houphouët-Boigny told Clark that he did not favor further sanctions against South Africa, and he urged Canada to maintain diplomatic relations with Pretoria. In the Zambian capital of Lusaka, Clark received different advice from President Kenneth Kaunda and exiled leaders of the African National Congress (ANC), the outlawed black South African organization resisting apartheid. Kaunda told Clark to press ahead

with additional sanctions, while ANC secretary general Alfred Nzo advised Canada to break off all ties with South Africa.

Still, Clark and Mulroney will have to decide on policy by the Sept. 2 opening of the francophone conference. Whatever its shape, their approach is certain to provoke criticism. But during last week’s stop in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, Clark may have indicated his preferred direction: less emphasis on economic sanctions and more help for the beleaguered frontline states bordering South Africa. Clark invited Mozambique, not a Commonwealth member, to send an observer to the association’s Vancouver summit in October. And although he refused to commit Canada to increasing sanctions against South Africa, Clark did sign an aid package that will deliver food aid worth $15 million to Mozambique’s warand drought-ravaged people.