Congress of the Socialist International

1978-11-04 - Olof Palme


Two years ago at the Geneva Congress, the Socialist International committed itself to intensify its struggle against apartheid and exploitation in southern Africa. We said in our resolution that "neutrality towards the existing and coming struggles in southern Africa is impossible. Between the exploiters and the exploited there is no middle ground. Action must be taken to end a system which is both evil and a threat to peace.

In March 1977, the Bureau decided to send a mission to Angola, Zambia, Botswana, Mozambique and Tanzania, the so-called frontline States. The aim of the mission was to express the solidarity of the Socialist International with the liberation movements in Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa, to further our contacts with the governments and parties of the frontline States and to study the reality in southern Africa on the spot.

Events in southern Africa over the last years have also mobilized a mounting pressure against apartheid all over the world, with a focal point in the United Nations. We can in all modesty state that the Socialist International and democratic socialists have played a role, directly and indirectly, in these deliberations.

The Socialist International mission with representatives of ten member parties took place in September 1977. The mission presented a report, including a nine-point programme of action, to the Madrid Bureau meeting in October 1977. The Bureau unanimously adopted the recommendations for action.

We had in our report pointed out the extreme gravity of the situation in southern Africa. The military and economic power, the huge arsenals for external aggression and internal suppression at the disposal of the racist regimes and the extremist attitudes expressed in these countries were indications of this. The report further underlined the two-fold risk of a racial war and an escalated conflict between the foreign, non-African interests in the area. Having been traditionally an area of colonialist ambitions, Africa was now also a theatre for superpower rivalries.

The global consequences of the developments in southern Africa, the racist regime`s threats and aggressions against their neighbouring countries, the explosive internal situation created by apartheid and South Africa`s ambition to develop nuclear energy - those four elements constituted in our view a threat to international peace and security.

What could our contribution then be to avoid further escalation and to bring an end to that unique evil which is apartheid? We came to the following conclusion:

Apartheid rests on two pillars.

First - the continued use of cheap labour and economic and social exploitation of the African population.

Second - the continued support from abroad, from what the leaders of the racist regimes usually refer to as the "free world."

Without these two pillars apartheid would crumble.

Liberation from exploitation is basically a matter for the Africans themselves. But they should feel the wholehearted support from the world community in their difficult struggle. To take action against the second pillar, the factual support from abroad is mainly an obligation for those who live in the richer, industrialized countries in the West. It is very clearly an obligation for the Socialist International and her member parties.

Programme of action of Socialist International

Therefore, in solidarity with the African liberation struggles, we suggested the following programme of action which was approved by the Bureau...

This is the platform for our action, the goals to which democratic socialists have committed themselves. It was an important step forward that we could agree on this programme. It is being implemented in many countries, in different ways. The degree to which our parties and governments live up to the programme will decide how public opinion in our own countries and the African peoples will judge our political will to contribute to the struggle for peace and against apartheid.

Danger of Great Power confrontation in Africa

We must remind ourselves that in southern Africa we are witnessing an inevitable process towards racial and national emancipation of the black people of this area. This process is accompanied by great dangers for world peace and of racial conflict. The liberation process continues slowly and at the cost of great human suffering.

The fears we expressed some years ago regarding Great Power intervention and confrontation in Africa have unfortunately proved well-founded. In some areas, it has been a rather sickening spectacle. On the African Horn, they have changed partners. Ethiopia, traditionally equipped by American arms, turned to the Soviet Union in its conflict with Somalia, a country previously supplied from the Soviet arsenal but which now receives backing from some Western Powers. The incidents in Zaire and the Shaba province were not very complimentary to the actors on the stage. We are fully justified in criticizing the communist Great Powers for their activities in Africa and the Cuban presence in some countries. But we should refrain from grotesque exaggeration of the importance of Cuba in Africa. There can be no excuse whatsoever for the countries of the West to relapse into old-fashioned patterns of colonial behaviour.

The African nations do not wish to be regarded as pawns in a game between Great Powers. They want, and should be given support, on their own terms since what they are striving for is their own liberty, what they are defending is their own human dignity. Africa`s central ideology has been and will remain nationalism.

Prospects for negotiated settlements in Zimbabwe and Namibia

In Zimbabwe, under pressure of the growing success of the nationalist forces, the Smith regime was finally brought to accept the principle of majority rule. But it came in a form designed to guarantee continued white dominance of the country. Today we know that the so-called internal solution, which excluded the Patriotic Front, is a complete fiasco. The war has not ended but escalated. In September, 800 people died in Zimbabwe, the highest figure ever. Emigration is increasing again and approaching two thousand persons a month. Travel in the countryside must be undertaken by convoy. In Rhodesia`s second city, Bulawayo, the guerilla forces are said to control the suburbs. The Salisbury regime has given a desperate answer to this situation by barbarous raids into Mozambique and Zambia.

Smith and his allies, given a temporary moral boost after their visit to the United States, are fighting a losing battle. The longer they postpone the inevitable change to majority rule, the harder the terms will be for the losers.

We still believe that there is room for a negotiated settlement. We understand that the Patriotic Front and the African States accept a transitional council of representatives, the presence of a United Nations force, and the control of the forces of law and order being invested in the hands of a neutral resident commissioner; and that they accept the integration of the existing forces into a new Zimbabwean national army. But this presupposes an end to white extremism. In the meantime international sanctions must continue to be strictly applied in full solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe.

Not so many weeks ago prospects of reaching a negotiated settlement in Namibia seemed rather bright. After a year of hard negotiations, under the auspices of the Western Five, both SWAPO and South Africa agreed to a United Nations supervised plan and time-table for Namibia`s independence. The General Assembly of the United Nations noted in its declaration on Namibia in May of this year that SWAPO had made far-reaching and substantive concessions to facilitate a negotiated settlement.

In September the Vorster regime arrogantly dealt the peace efforts a major blow by rejecting the United Nations settlement for Namibia. The outcome of the subsequent talks in Pretoria, between the foreign ministers of the Western Five and the new South African Government, was not exactly a step forward. Let us hope they were not a step backwards either. It is easy to understand the bitterness and disillusion of SWAPO. If anything positive could be said about this new situation, it is that for the first time we seem to have a united and determined front of those nations in the West who can really bring about a change.

The lesson from Pretoria is this: the Government of South Africa will only do what is in its own interest and that interest is defined also in the context of what actions the outside world, particularly the Western Powers, will take. It will no doubt cooperate with the purpose of trying to install pliable regimes in Zimbabwe and Namibia, and it will only let go its hold over these territories when they become liabilities too costly to retain. It is possible to talk to the Pretoria Government if at the same time sanctions and increasing pressure are applied to give weight to the words. No solution of the problems of Zimbabwe and Namibia could ever contain any guarantee for the survival of apartheid in South Africa. What is finally at stake in Rhodesia as well as in Namibia is also the future of South Africa.

It is important to underline that in the case of both Namibia and Zimbabwe, the way to a negotiated settlement had been paved by concessions and goodwill on the part of the liberation movements and the frontline States. In both cases the hopes for a settlement were crushed by the intransigence and arrogance of the white minorities. They have something to learn when it comes to reconciliation and compromise from the recent accords between Zaire and Angola.

We all favour peaceful evolution and negotiated settlements as an alternative to violence and bloodshed. But naturally there is a point when the credibility of this approach will be undermined, when Africans reach the conclusion that much more desperate means are needed. This point has not been reached yet in the case of Namibia, I hope, although South Africa`s behaviour in recent months should not give any illusions about her intentions. There is still room for negotiations. But I think they will only succeed if it is made abundantly clear and credible that the Western Powers are prepared to apply pressure and effective sanctions if the negotiations should fail again.

Final failure of apartheid

In South Africa, we see how repression and human misery continue to increase. Prisoners continue to die mysterious deaths. A great number of so-called terrorist trials are being held. In one of them Solomon Mahlangu is facing the gallows for a crime he did not commit. Recent shock figures reveal that in the South African "paradise", the death rate of black children under five in the Ciskei and the Transkei is up to 240 of every thousand births registered. The policy of the homelands is being expanded. Another two so-called independent "nations" are expected to be created. The final solution in the mind of the regime is that there shall not be any black South Africans. South Africa could in that case find itself in the unique situation that the majority of its inhabitants will be foreigners.

All this amounts to the final failure of apartheid, even if it is viewed from the perspective of the architects of the system. Their promise was social coexistence, peace and stability. But the people of Soweto and other urban townships showed by their revolts that they regard apartheid as impossible to endure. They want to be free at last.

Promising trends in the West

There has always been great hypocrisy in the rich industrialized countries between our declared condemnation of apartheid and the concrete relations that we still maintain with Pretoria, relations like military cooperation, transfer of technology, loans, capital investments on which white South Africa depends.

But there are also other promising trends which are growing stronger and stronger. Time doesn`t allow me to enumerate them here. Let me mention just two examples. At the recent British Labour Party conference at Blackpool, delegates unanimously called on the Government to work at the United Nations "towards a mandatory ban on all trade with apartheid South Africa, and in the first instance to support the proposal at the United Nations for mandatory oil sanctions against South Africa."

And last week the Food Workers` International carried out a solidarity campaign in some fifteen countries in favour of trade union rights at the plant of Unilever in South Africa. In Sweden the workers at Unilever went on strike, the first of its kind ever.

Other points discussed where governments could easily exercise pressure in South Africa:

They could consider seriously cutting down air links to and from South Africa.

They could introduce entry visas for South Africans. South Africa requires visas for many of our countries without being subjected to the same demand itself. The Nordic countries took that measure on November 1st.

Commitment of democratic socialists

Let me end by this:

We made a serious start at our Geneva Congress regarding our attitude to the liberation struggle in southern Africa. We have followed up that policy and we are today committed to work for a concrete programme of action. Let the message of this Congress be:

* Democzratic socialists must in every case be on the side of the exploited and oppressed against the oppressors. We want to be on the side of African liberation.
* We consider free men to be more important than the free movement of capital. Therefore we must stop the economic support from our countries to apartheid. Our professed ideals can no longer coexist with apartheid.
* We want peace, but we realize that so long as there is apartheid and racism, there can be no peace. Therefore our commitment to the eradication of apartheid is a contribution to peace.