Letter: Interpretation of events in South Africa after the Ciskei massacre

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your leading article on the Ciskei massacre (9 September) shows that even supposedly responsible and liberal newspapers apparently cannot rid themselves of a neo-colonialist mentality when addressing events in South Africa.

Thus the ANC is damned with faint praise because it 'did not place bombs in planes, or gun down travellers', and then unreservedly damned for 'irresponsible street theatre', for involving 'innocent people in such a harebrained enterprise' and for 'being foolish to provoke the rulers of Ciskei'. F. W. de Klerk and his government apparently bear no blame either for the carnage in Ciskei or for the breakdown of negotiations, nor does it appear to have occurred to you that he may deliberately have refrained from instructing his 'surrogates to restrain their murderous instincts' (as the ANC could reasonably have expected him to do) in order to scupper the resumption of


Of course the march into Ciskei was provocative - any action that genuinely threatens apartheid cannot avoid being provocative to those whose power depends upon apartheid. But what should always be kept in mind is that apartheid is itself the ultimate provocation, that the only way to end that provocation is to end apartheid and that this will not happen until South Africa has a government elected by all its peoples.

Negotiations can only be meaningful if the participants each have real bargaining cards. The De Klerk government's cards are that all constitutional and legal powers are still in its hands. Lacking political representation, the ANC's cards are that it speaks for the voteless South African majority and that by persuading this majority to use its numbers in mass action it can exert pressure on the government. What realistic alternative action would you suggest for the ANC?

The fact remains that successive Nationalist governments have been responsible for those provocations and that the onus is therefore on the current one to remove the continuing provocations which are behind the unrest and violence.

There will be little point in 'the stationing of United Nations observers at flashpoints' - overseas observers were present at Ciskei - unless the Western powers that have for so long propped up apartheid display the integrity and courage to take sides, to act for democracy, to assist the ANC in forcing Mr de Klerk to discover that will. They should do this by informing him that unless he accepts the ANC's negotiation conditions by a specific date - say

1 October - then sanctions (diplomatic, travel, sporting) will be reimposed.

Yours sincerely,


MP for Neath (Lab)

House of Commons

London, SW1

10 September