Letter: Mandela's links with Indonesia

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From Dr Peter Carey

Sir: The equivocations and compromises of South African foreign policy are indeed disheartening ("When Mandela went missing", 21 November), especially when set beside the huge sacrifices made to establish black majority rule. But they are not totally surprising in the context of South Africa's links with Indonesia.

During the apartheid regime, arms sales to Jakarta seem to have bulked large (Indonesia's public support for sanctions notwithstanding), and it was one of the first countries which Nelson Mandela visited after his release from prison in l990. The fact that President Suharto made a personal gift of US$10m to Mandela for the African National Congress electoral campaign could be the reason why the East Timor issue was not taken up too strongly.

Even after Jakarta had perpetrated the 12 November 1991 Santa Cruz massacre in Dili (which left 271 dead, 250 missing and 382 wounded - a far worse death toll than Sharpeville), relations continued to blossom. During an official visit to Indonesia in September l994, Mandela again soft-pedalled East Timor, merely calling for "dialogue" (something which was already in train - and getting nowhere - under UN auspices) and not pressing for the release of the one man who could have made that dialogue meaningful - the East Timorese resistance leader, Xanana Gusmao, who is serving a 20-year jail sentence in Jakarta after a trial widely condemned as unfair by international lawyers.

No doubt foreign investment is critical for present-day South Africa and Mandela must do his bit, but when that investment comes from contacts with regimes as repressive as Suharto's Indonesia, one might have expected some scruples, especially from a leader of Mandela's stature.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Carey

Fellow and Tutor, Modern History

Trinity College


22 November