Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Fifth Report

South Africa and the war against terrorism

142. In November 2001, this Committee launched a rolling inquiry into 'The Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism.'[195] Since that time we have taken a large amount of evidence on the subject and produced four substantial Reports to the House. These have covered a wide range of issues including the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in the USA, the work of Al-Qaeda and the recent war in Iraq.[196] During this inquiry, we have been struck repeatedly by the all-embracing and global scale of this conflict against terror. Although South Africa does not appear to be on the 'front-line' of the war against terrorism, given the international scale of the struggle, we felt it to important to examine this element of UK-South African relations in our Report.

143. In its memorandum, the Foreign Office stated that South Africa had responded swiftly to the September 11 attacks in the USA, condemning terrorism without equivocation, and offering to the USA both humanitarian support and the full co-operation of its security agencies.[197] In a follow-up statement, the South Africans cautioned that the USA's reaction to terrorism should be coupled with a longer term response of isolating terrorists through international co-operation, "to eradicate poverty and underdevelopment".[198] The FCO also noted that South Africa had taken a number of concrete steps in the war against terrorism: joining the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group (ESAAMLG), for example. It is working closely with the United Kingdom to tackle money-laundering activities that can help fund terrorism. It has also presented three comprehensive annual reports to the UN's Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC).[199]

144. Mr Charles Nqakula, Minister of Safety and Security, whom we met while visiting South Africa, informed us that the country enjoyed good co-operation on terrorist-related issues with both the United Kingdom and the USA. He was very conscious of the need to ensure that South Africa did not become a 'safe haven' for terrorists evading justice. The Minister noted, however, that, at that time, domestic terrorism, particularly from those groups based on 'gangsterism' and drugs, was a more pressing concern for the Government. In its memorandum, the Foreign Office provided some information on this issue:

The South African Government's intentions and actions on countering terrorism are laudable. The Counter Terrorism Bill is working its way through Parliament ... The work of South African agencies involved in countering terrorism is not always fully co-ordinated, but is improving. The South African Police Service is confident that it is on top of recent domestic terrorist threats from domestic groups, including People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (PAGAD) and the Boermag (a white far-right organisation). [200]

Dr Jakkie Cilliers commented in a similarly positive manner on the Government's response to this domestic threat.[201]

145. Other evidence we have seen stressed the danger of ignoring the terrorist threat in Africa. In a recent article on this subject, Jeffrey Herbst and Greg Mills highlighted the fact that the largest terrorist atrocities prior to 11 September 2001 took place on the continent—the bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 people and injuring 574.[202] They also referred to the US's National Security Strategy of September 2002, which stated that 9/11 had:

taught the United States that weak states ... can pose as great a danger to our national interests as strong states. Poverty does not make poor people into terrorists and murderers. Yet poverty, weak institutions, and corruption can make weak states vulnerable to terrorist networks and drug cartels within their borders.[203]

During his 2003 visit to Africa, President Bush stated that he would "not allow terrorists to threaten the African peoples or to use Africa as a base to threaten the world."[204]

146. There have been attempts to improve and co-ordinate the African response to terrorism, most notably through the AU.[205] However, many states in the continent lack the resources and expertise to cope with the demands the international war against terrorism places upon them. In his evidence to us, for example, Dr Mills stated that:

Most African police forces are extremely weak and cannot combat day-to-day crime, much less be the front-line forces in combating instability. Intelligence collection is also very poor in most African countries.[206]

147. In the light of the difficulties faced by many African states in meeting their commitments, Dr Cilliers suggested that:

South Africa's contribution to the global war against terrorism lies primarily in passing on this experience in intelligence-driven policing operations to their counterparts in Tanzania, Kenya and other neighbours.[207]

We agree. As in so many areas, South Africa, with its well-established police and intelligence structures, can act as a good example of best practice, which can be disseminated across the continent.

148. However, the United Kingdom, and the wider global community, needs to recall at all times that the fight against terrorism, vital as it is, should not lead us to neglect our broader commitments to nations not directly affected by the conflict. As Dr Steve Kibble observed in his oral evidence:

Africa's problems have very little to do with terrorism, except possibly as a kind of marginalisation, because so much effort of the world is concentrated on those areas where there is terrorism, or thought to be the potential for terrorism. Africa suffers, but indirectly and not by engagement.[208]

149. We conclude that South Africa has an important role in the war against terrorism, especially by helping to prevent international terrorists using the continent as a base for their activities elsewhere in the world. South Africa has a particularly crucial role to play, as an influential African nation in disseminating best practice in anti-terrorism activity across the continent. We recommend that the United Kingdom continue to offer substantial assistance to ensure that South Africa can both combat international terrorism within its own borders and act as a catalyst for improving Africa's ability to respond to the threat.

195   "Launch of new inquiry: Foreign Policy Aspects of the War Against Terrorism", press release No. 7 (Session 2001-02), 13 November 2001 Back

196   Foreign Affairs Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2001-02, Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, HC 384; Second Report of Session 2002-03, Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, HC 196; Tenth Report of Session 2002-03, Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, HC 405; and Second Report of Session 2003-04, Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, HC 81 Back

197   Ev 71, para 41 ff. Back

198   IbidBack

199   The UN CTC was established in September 2001 by Security Council Resolution 1373, to strengthen the capability of states to combat terrorism. For further information, see: Back

200   Ev 71, para 43. People Against Gangsterism and Drugs, a Western Cape Muslim-based group, was formed by local people in response to gang violence on the Cape Flats. However, it turned into its own terror group, almost indistinguishable from the other gangs. The Boermag is an extreme right-wing, white supremacist group. Back

201   Ev 109 Back

202   Jeffrey Herbst and Greg Mills, "Africa and the War on Terror", South African Journal of International Affairs, vol 10 (Winter/Spring 2002), p 29 ff Back

203   Ibid., p 29 Back

204   Ibid., p 34 Back

205   Ibid., p 34 Back

206   Ev 111 Back

207   IbidBack

208   Q 111 Back

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