Blair told to apologise for Boer War

Ed O'Loughlin
Thursday 07 January 1999 01:02

TONY BLAIR arrived in South Africa last night to demands that he apologise for the deaths of thousands of women and children in British concentration camps during the Boer War 100 years ago.

South Africa is about to commemorate the centenary of the war, in which 20,000 to 26,000 Boer civilians died in overcrowded camps from typhoid, dysentery, enteric fever and other diseases. More than three-quarters of the victims were children. Last week the right-wing Herstigte Nasionale Party - Herstigte means "reconstituted" in Afrikaans - called on Mr Blair to apologise.

On arriving at an air force base near Pretoria from the Seychelles, where they had been on holiday, Mr Blair and his wife, Cherie, met the Deputy President, Thabo Mbeki, who is expected to succeed President Nelson Mandela after next year's elections. Meanwhile, anti-British demonstrators gathered outside the guest house where the Blairs will be staying.

During the visit Britain hopes to announce pounds 4bn of private investment in South Africa. In exchange, Mr Blair is hoping to finalise pounds 1bn of already negotiated defence orders. But, while an agreement of intent is expected to be signed by Mr Blair and his South African counterparts today, confusion surrounds the reciprocal package of British foreign investment. While South African media reports this week said Britain will invest pounds 4bn in local industries as part of the deal, the Ministry of Defence says the final figure depends on detailed trade discussions which have not been finalised. Asked about the figure of pounds 4bn, a spokesman for the MoD's Defence Export Services Organisation (Deso) admitted: "I first read that in the papers this week."

The proposed defence package consists of four Westland Super Lynx marine helicopters, 24 British Aerospace Hawk jet trainer/ground-attack aircraft and 28 Gripen medium fighters, manufactured by British Aerospace and Saab of Sweden.

Excluding the Swedish component of the deal, the total benefit to Britain will be pounds 1bn, part of a pounds 3bn South African re-armament package which also involves the purchase of German corvettes and submarines and Italian helicopters. South Africa's arms spending has brought criticism from disarmament and humanitarian bodies, which question why so much is being spent on weapons when much of the country's population remains deeply impoverished.

The government has sought to justify the package by pointing to growing instability in central and southern Africa and claiming that counter-investment from the successful bidders will more than compensate for the cost of the weapons.

Yesterday a spokesman for Deso said that, while the pounds 4bn figure was doubtful, the final investment package would easily exceed the South African government's minimum requirement, which was for direct investment at least equal to the cost of weapons supplied.

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