Struggle against Apartheid

1977-08-22 - Olof Palme


We have assembled here in Lagos united by a common goal: the total elimination of apartheid. There can be no reform of apartheid, no compromise on apartheid, this weird dictatorship of the minority for social and economic exploitation.

This year we have had the debate on South Africa in the United Nations Security Council and in the United Nations Conference in Support of the Peoples of Zimbabwe and Namibia in Maputo, and now we meet here in Lagos at this World Conference for Action against Apartheid. May I add, Mr. President, that I find the capital of Nigeria a most appropriate site for this conference. Nigeria is playing a prominent role in the conduct of African affairs, especially in the struggle against apartheid. Her record in the United Nations is particularly laudable. And we all know the key role Ambassador Leslie Harriman is playing as Chairman of the Special Committee against Apartheid.

And today in the remarkable speech by the Head of State of Nigeria, his country has shown the world - and the apartheid regime - that Nigeria`s commitment against racism is total and exemplary. We salute your determination and commitment.

Critical stage in liberation struggle in southern Africa

These meetings have attracted an ever wider attendance from all parts of the world. They assemblewith a growing feeling of urgency and determination. Programmes of action with the backing of the world community are formulated, above all in the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Thus the problems of southern Africa are in the forefront of international affairs. We are all aware that we are witnessing the final stage, the inevitable disappearance of the apartheid system. We can rejoice at the success of the liberation movements, the increased isolation of the racist regimes, the strong public opinion in the whole world.

But at the same time we also know that the situation is very grave. We are faced with a serious challenge, a common responsibility for the entire world community. How could we in common ensure that this inevitable process of liberation is not delayed, that it is not accompanied by massive violence, unnecessary bloodshed and human suffering, that it will not ultimately lead to a superpower conflict and a world conflagration? In view of the huge arsenals for external aggression and internal oppression at the disposal of the racist regimes and the extremist attitudes expressed in those countries, these are pertinent questions and a vital responsibility.

The answer to these questions and this responsibility is common and determined action against apartheid.

In Southern Rhodesia there is armed struggle. At the same time there are serious efforts through the Anglo-American initiative to find a peaceful settlement on the basis of majority rule. The white regime in Southern Rhodesia has reacted in an extremist way. It has committed repeated aggression towards the neighbouring countries; it has in fact increased internal oppression. This regime is thereby taking on a great responsibility. The longer it postpones the inevitable change to majority rule, the lesser room there will be for compromise and tolerance, the harder the terms will be for the losers. It should certainly be in the interest of the majority of the white minority in Southern Rhodesia to abandon its present policies. You cannot expect 95 percent of Southern Rhodesia`s population to compromise on majority rule, or to agree to the retention, even for a transition period, of the armed power on which minority rule is based. There may still be time for a negotiated settlement in Zimbabwe. But the prerequisite is an end to white extremism.

In Namibia we can now see a possible way to a peaceful termination of South Africa`s illegal occupation. This requires the full implementation of Security Council resolution 385 (1976).(2) Let us hope that this opportunity will not be lost.

We all know that a peaceful settlement of the problems of Southern Rhodesia and Namibia requires the acquiescence of the Government in Pretoria. Some have talked about a price to be paid or guarantee to be given to South Africa in return for this. Let me repeat what I have said before: 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 Southern Rhodesia as well as in Namibia is the future also of South Africa. It is of fundamental importance to be unequivocal, not to resort to wishful thinking on this point, especially in view of the developments in South Africa itself during the last two years.

The final failure of apartheid

During these last two years we have witnessed the final failure of the system of apartheid, even if viewed from the perspective of the architects of the system. Their promise was racial coexistence, peace and stability. But the people of Soweto and other urban townships in South Africa showed by their revolt that they regard the system as impossible to endure. They do not demand reforms. They demand total and immediate change. And the reply of the authorities has been to increase violence. The children of Soweto have shown that they do not want to grow up as victims of an obnoxious system. Their revolt will continue, flare up again and again so long as apartheid remains. Soweto was a signal, a watershed in the development towards the ultimate downfall of the system.

Last year, the first of the black homelands, the Transkei, was given its so-called independence. But the entire world community has refused to recognize that independence. And some of the homeland leaders have become angry critics of the racist regime.

Thus the policies of racial separation, instead of leading to greater harmony, increased the contradictions and the conflicts within the country.

The architects of apartheid know that the system has no future. It is a question of time before it will collapse entirely. But every day it continues means suffering for the children in Soweto and for millions of human beings in southern Africa. For them time is precious.

What it all amounts to, when the ideological trappings are removed, is that the white authorities do not want to give up their relative prosperity and their privileged position. In order to retain these privileges they profess a vicious and anachronistic doctrine of race supremacy; they have created a legal and social structure in total contradiction to fundamental human and political rights; and they use massive violence against those who oppose or try to change the system. But the privileges of the white minorities rest on two pillars: first, the continued use of cheap labour and the economic 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.

People in West should consider their own contribution

The liberation from exploitation will come from within Africa; it will be pursued and led to victory by the Africans themselves. The African people prefer, as before, to achieve their liberation by peaceful means. But if they are met only by oppression and violence, they will not hesitate to resort to armed struggle, as they once did in Algeria, Angola, Mozambique and Guinea- Bissau and as they have been forced to do in Namibia and Zimbabwe. And history tells us that when a people have taken up arms to liberate themselves, they will not give up until freedom is achieved. Under these circumstances I see little reason for people from abroad to moralize about the resort to arms, especially as they have for so long condoned institutional violence to uphold the privileges of the minority.

The victims of apartheid have but one overriding goal: that of their own liberation, their own dignity, their own identity as peoples and nations. They will accept any assistance - in economic terms, in arms, in equipment - from whatever source, because they wish to achieve their freedom, to be free at last. Those in the West who are upset about political and material aid to Africa`s liberation should consider their own contribution. Did they themselves assist the liberation movements? From where did the Portuguese colonialists get their arms? From where have South African racists get their arms and their licences?

Support African peoples` struggle on their own terms

At the same time it is of utmost importance that we oppose paternalism, oppose efforts to use African countries as pawns in a power game, prevent a new scramble for Africa stemming from superpower rivalry and from the profit interests of multinational companies. Small nations and non-aligned States have a special interest in this context.

We should repeat and repeat again, in words and deeds, the simple but fundamental lesson: we must support the African peoples` struggle for liberation on their own terms, on African terms, because it represents the longing of the African peoples, the need and vital interests of the African nations. The liberation from apartheid will be the work, and the victory of the African peoples themselves. But they should feel the wholehearted support from the world community.

Withdraw economic support to apartheid

This brings me to the second pillar of the apartheid system: the factual support from abroad. It is not often that the ideas and practices of apartheid are openly defended in other countries. But in concrete terms the South African regime has received massive support in the form of arms and military cooperation, transfer of technology, large loans and capital investments. There has thus been and is a contradiction between a declared condemnation of apartheid and the concrete relations that Western countries have maintained and do maintain with Pretoria.

The representatives of the regime have concluded that they have an ideological affinity to Western democracies, that they, furthermore, are part of a world-wide struggle against the communist menace. In truth, Smith and Vorster represent a perversion of Western democracy. Their oppression and racism will never be included in a world of freedom.

It is an important development - if I can read the news correctly - that the Pretoria regime is finally beginning to realize not only that the apartheid policy has failed in practice, but also that it has become increasingly isolated and really has no friends in the world. Of even greater importance is the fact that after Soweto, international capital is beginning to look upon South Africa as a"risk" country. South Africa depends on a continued inflow of capital from abroad. Her growing deficit in the balance of payments is to a very large extent due to the sharp increase in military expenditure. The loans from abroad, designated to cover their deficit, are thus used for armaments which South Africa otherwise could not afford.

It is often said that the Western Powers must apply strong external pressure on the regime in Pretoria. That is certainly so. But it is perhaps more correct to say that it is a question of withdrawing economic support without which the apartheid system could not exist for very long.

The West can learn from Africa, especially from Nigeria`s stand. Concerted action from the international community through the United Nations will of course be the most efficient action. But the action taken, or the lack of such action, can no longer serve as an alibi for passivity on the national level. Each country has its own responsibility and role to play. An immediate ban on investments and export of capital to the racist regime should be a minimum target.

Allow me, Mr. President, in this context to report that, in my country, the Swedish Parliament has recently adopted a Social Democratic Party motion which instructs the Government to appoint a commission in order to work out - without delay - legislation to prohibit new investments and export of capital from Sweden to Namibia and South Africa. To those who claim that such measures upset basic principles of the Western economic system, we repeat: free men are more important than free movement of capital.

Elimination of apartheid will contribute to peace

It is my sincere hope that this conference will formulate and stimulate action, be an important step on the road from intention to intervention in the struggle against apartheid.

In Maputo we said: the longing for peace is common to all peoples. But so long as there is apartheid, there will be no peace. Therefore the struggle against apartheid is a legitimate and universal cause.

The elimination of apartheid will be a contribution to peace.