Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 164-179)

2 MARCH 2004


Q180 Mr Hamilton: So there are no cuts for South Africans envisaged so far as you are concerned.  Mr Mullin: I am not aware of that.  Mr Sparkes: The last information I had was that we would have about the same number of scholars available to us this year as in previous years, which is around twenty. Q181 Mr Olner: What was very, very obvious to us when we visited South Africa a couple of weeks ago was the tremendous loss of skilled labour over there due to HIV/AIDS. I would hope that we are not recruiting from South Africa those people who are going to do South Africa's economy a lot of good. It is a tragedy that when people are at their most productive age in a society they are being taken away from that society with the scourge of this disease.  Mr Mullin: I cannot disagree with that. Q182 Sir John Stanley: Myself and possibly other members of the Committee were taken considerably by surprise during our visit to South Africa by the extent and the intensity of the criticism we ran into in relation to the British Government's policy towards Iraq. Given that Iraq is geographically far removed from South Africa and given the fact that the Muslim citizens in South Africa are a relatively small minority, I wonder whether you could help us as to why this particular foreign policy issue has generated so much antagonism and so much heat towards Britain and the United States in South Africa.  Mr Mullin: As it was explained to me during my visit there in November, it was the issue over the lack of a second resolution for the invasion at the United Nations. The South Africans, rightly, have a very high regard for the United Nations and they felt that the alliance should have received United Nations' endorsement before the actual invasion. Q183 Sir John Stanley: So they were taking the view that the war was illegal.  Mr Mullin: No doubt you asked them and they are better placed to put their case than I am. However, it had to do with the United Nations as I understood it. Q184 Sir John Stanley: It is always difficult when you have a very, very concerted view on a particular policy issue, but are you disappointed at the lack of success which our own diplomatic representatives in South Africa have had—and no doubt the American representatives as well—in trying to get South African politicians and ministers to see the case that the British and American governments made out for going to war in Iraq?  Mr Mullin: I am certainly not disappointed in the quality of our representation in South Africa, which, as you will have seen for yourselves, is of the highest. Of course, one is always disappointed when a government's arguments are not getting across as well as they should do and in relation to Iraq one could argue that that has been the case domestically as well as internationally. The one thing I would say is that our relationship with South Africa is a mature one and I do not think that has actually clouded the generally good relationship we have with South Africa. I do not see it as any more than a—I would not say "blip" because that would trivialise it—temporary phenomenon. Q185 Chairman: You said that the South Africans make the case in respect of our aid that they are both a first and a third world country. Clearly anyone who has seen the northern suburbs of Johannesburg and Alexandra will see that very dramatically. You went on to say that all of that is true. Can you give an assurance that that first and third world difference is reflected in the way that our aid policies respond to the reality of South Africa?  Mr Mullin: It is, but because our aid is focused primarily on the poorest people at the end of the day—and I know this is a very tricky issue, as the South Africans themselves are the first to acknowledge—the long-term solutions to South Africa's problems are the redistribution of the considerable wealth that already exists within that society. It is not something that can easily be achieved from outside. We can offer advice, which they can take or not as the case may be. I must say, I think they have gone about it in a very sensible way during their first ten years in office. Expectations were inevitably very high when they were first elected and they have handled the inevitable disappointments extremely well. I think the South African electorate is very mature as well and they understand that the huge gulf has to be bridged and also the dangers of going too far too fast and collapsing the whole economy. Q186 Chairman: Are you confident that our aid policies reflect that great distortion and that we are not reducing that volume of aid because we call it a middle-income country which shields these vast differences?  Mr Mullin: It is undoubtedly true that the reduction was in part because South Africa is a middle-income country. You have to bear in mind that much of our aid budget is directed towards countries where most people are living on a hundred dollars a year or less whereas the average in South Africa—and I do understand the point about the huge gulf—is something like over three thousand dollars a year per head. We all understand the issue and what hits any new visitor to South Africa is that a small proportion of the population enjoy Californian—not European, Californian—standards of living and they live within a couple of miles of people who enjoy, for practical purposes, a third world standard of living. Q187 Mr Chidgey: Minister, I would like to ask you some questions in relation to peace-keeping in terms of South Africa's role and the assistance the United Kingdom may or may not be giving. You sent us a memorandum setting out details of our assistance to South Africa in helping them develop their peace keeping capabilities. While we were in South Africa we had a lot of different messages about South Africa's capability and its potential role. Just to give you an example, whilst we are obviously aware that South Africa has been instrumental in peace-keeping in some of the neighbouring countries, we also heard that out of 160 tanks only four were operable and that many of the armed forces—particularly the army—were ridden by HIV/AIDS to the extent that it actually made then unable to operate. We have had a large interest in South Africa through our post there, through the Ministry personnel. Apart from the role that we know South Africa has fulfilled in recent years, what further assistance has South Africa asked us to provide and how much has that been tempered by the professional analysis of our military personnel either in post or attracted to these discussions?  Mr Mullin: As you know in November we had quite a large joint exercise with the South African forces and our forces have played a part in the past in integrating the various branches of the South African military that needed to be integrated. We have high hopes in the medium-term future that South Africa will play—as it does already in a couple of countries—a leading role in African peace-keeping forces. You will know about the role they play in Burundi and in the Congo. You are quite right to say that there are very serious problems with the high incidence of AIDS. I do not have a detailed knowledge of discussions between our military and theirs but it may be that Andy Sparkes can assist with enquiries.  Mr Sparkes: Our commitment to assistance to the South Africans in this area is on-going and very important to us. You know that the African Peace and Security Council envisages an African peace-keeping capability. What we want to do is to help Africa to develop that capability and South Africa is one of the best vectors for this because, as has just been said, they are already dealing with peace-keeping operations in the DRC and Burundi.[9] For eight years we had a British military assistance and training team—40-odd strong—helping the South African army to integrate itself. That has now focused down into a British peace support team which looks at helping them with the capacity in their own army to do a good job in Burundi, DRC or wherever. The idea is that we should be able to use that assistance as a multiplier in the longer term, to assist in the region as a whole. Q188 Mr Chidgey: You made a very interesting comment there when you said that it was very important to us and I want to test that out if I can. One of the things that was confusing for us was that on the one hand we were being told by some people in the administration that South Africa was—or was becoming—a military super power in the continent's terms; on the other hand some commentators were saying that that was the last thing they wanted South Africa to be (these were local politicians). I want to put this in the context that this is important to us and ask you a bit more about that. I am interested to know whether or not we provided advice to South Africa on its armaments, for example. If South Africa is to fulfil a regional peace-keeping role, one might ask the question, why does it need a fleet of submarines? Why does it need to have an air force with the latest up-to-the minute fighter aircraft supplied by this country? When you say that this is important to us, I want to know whether it is important in terms of exports or whether it is important in terms of how we see South Africa in its regional role. Obviously we supplied Hawk aircraft; I understand that. Can you tell me, did we actually bid to supply a fleet of submarines there? Did the post support the bids from a British organisation? Did we advise that, because I wonder what the strategic purpose of those submarines might be in terms of a peace-keeping role? I do not understand how they could be relevant to their needs.  Mr Mullin: I do not think we are supplying submarines, are we? Q189 Mr Chidgey: We are not, but did we try? Did we support the effort? That is my question.  Mr Sparkes: I afraid I cannot remember whether we tendered for the submarines.  Mr Mullin: The fact is—and it may come as a disappointment to you—we are not supplying submarines. Q190 Mr Chidgey: Can we have a note as to whether or not British companies tendered for the submarines and whether or not we actually advised the South Africans on the need for that in terms of their strategic need as a regional peace-keeping force6[10]  Mr Mullin: I do want to make one general point about defence in South Africa. South Africa is now a democracy and they have a right to decide—whether we agree with them or not—what their defence priorities are. It is not for us to advise them whether they need this kind of helicopter, this kind of fighter plane or, indeed, this kind of submarine. That is a matter for them. It has been a controversial matter within South Africa and being a vibrant democracy that issue has been explored in their media and in their parliament as it properly should be. It certainly is not for the British Government to start mouthing off about what is appropriate for the defence needs of South Africa.

Q191 Mr Chidgey: I did not suggest they did, Minister, I am merely asking if we gave advice on what their needs might be.  Mr Mullin: I will send you a note about that[11] Q192 Mr Pope: Minister, you mentioned Burundi and the seemingly intractable problems there. When we were in South Africa we heard that the burden of supplying and leading the peace-keeping mission that South Africa has taken on under the auspices of the African Union is really quite a difficult burden for them to bear. My question is two-fold. Is there more that we could do bilaterally as a nation to help? Secondly, if Kofi Annan is still speaking to the British Government, could we raise with the UN a greater UN involvement in peace-keeping in Burundi to try to lift some of the burden that the South Africans are finding so difficult to bear at the moment?  Mr Mullin: As you will know, we already make a significant contribution to the cost of the Burundi peace-keeping force. We pay for the entire Mozambiquean contingent. Yes, I am sure that in future it will be an issue for the UN. South Africa has played a very valuable role in stepping in there and taking the lead in a situation which, as you say, was dire and remains very difficult to this day. We are anxious to get to a point—this is one of the reasons why we value our relationship with South Africa—where increasingly, as is happening in West Africa, Africans are taking responsibility. We are willing to help and advise and also provide resources where Africans are taking primary responsibility for resolving African problems. We welcome South Africa's role in Burundi and in the DRC, just as we welcome Nigeria's role and Ghana's role in West Africa. Indeed, the African Union is now talking about setting up its own African peace-keeping force. That is another development that we welcome and it is the way the future lies. Q193 Mr Pope: I appreciate that answer and I can see real merit in a proposition which says that Africans are going to take the lead. We are all conscious of our colonial past and we do not want to be seen to be marching into these places and it really is an African problem and Africans should be taking the lead in solving it. I certainly agree with that, but is there not a danger in that approach we are off-loading the problem? It is politically expedient to say an African solution to African problems, but it really absolves us of any responsibility for taking action and are we perhaps expecting too much of a country like South Africa? I am sure it has made great strides and we all feel really warm about the tenth anniversary of democracy, but are we expecting too much too soon for a country like South Africa to take the leadership in, for example, a country like Burundi?  Mr Mullin: I certainly agree with you that we should not expect too much and we have to recognise that there are limits, especially to the effort that a young nation like South Africa can cope with, but I do not think the United Kingdom is simply walking away from this problem. We have contributed £2 million to the AU's administrative trust fund that supports the Burundi peace force and South Africa is receiving a proportion of this. I mentioned the funding of the Mozambique contingent a moment ago; we are contributing £3.7 million to the funding of that. Those are quite substantial sums. In addition, as I say, there has been cooperation between our military and theirs in training precisely with a view to carrying out peace-keeping operations, so I do think we have stepped up to the plate and it may be for other countries perhaps to join us. Q194 Mr Pope: You mentioned the DRC and I think South Africa has about 1,500 troops in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Can you tell us what help Britain has been in DRC and how you think things are panning out there at the moment?  Mr Mullin: There is a very cautious stability there and I would not put it any higher than that just at the moment. It is a big step forward from where we were, which was in a deep, dark hole. In the Congo, as you know, over the years in the region of about three million people have died and therefore it was a catastrophe of First World War proportions. There were also a lot of other countries meddling in the Congo. Without going into the details I am glad to say that most of them are no long meddling. We now have to move towards some kind of stability. President Kabila was here the other day. He has various vice presidents who represent different factions, not all of whom are yet talking to each other so we need to make some progress on that front. Once again, the South Africans have made a very useful contribution—as I believe have we—in the Congo. Going back to Burundi, let me just repeat what I hinted at but perhaps did not say explicitly in answer to your first question. We do favour the United Nations taking over the mandate in Burundi and we think that will come to pass in due course. Q195 Mr Illsley: Could I ask a couple of questions on the Southern African Development Community which, although it has been in existence since 1980 and has had some substantial aspirations (for example, a free trade area, a common market and the idea of a customs union) we have received in evidence some suggestion that there is perhaps what has been described as a "credibility gap" as to what this organisation can achieve and what it is actually achieving. Do you have any view on what role the SADC is playing within southern Africa to promote the political and economic development on the continent?  Mr Mullin: Let me speak in relation to some of the statements they have put out regarding Zimbabwe, for example. We are rather disappointed; they betray a level of ignorance that disappoints us. For example, last August they put out a statement calling for the EU to end its economic sanctions against Zimbabwe; there are no economic sanctions. Following the Commonwealth Conference they put out another unhelpful statement which, again, did not demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the situation. We are anxious to encourage SADC, I have to say, having said all that. We have offered them quite a lot of support over the years. Last year we gave them a quarter of a million to help restructure their secretariat and from January this year, over the next four years, we are going to contribute £11 million towards supporting the secretariat's regional trade and investment in integration work. We are also supplying for three years a senior advisor on tax policy. We were talking a moment ago about the need to get world trade right for poor countries, but actually there is quite a lot that African countries can do to remove trade barriers between themselves, not only in southern Africa but in eastern Africa. Q196 Mr Pope: Are they likely to achieve any of these goals they have set out? This idea of a free trade area by 2008, a common market by 2015, is there a likelihood of achieving those developments or do the divisions between the various countries that make up SADC militate against that?  Mr Mullin: It is too early to say whether they are going to achieve them or not. You are right that progress so far has been fairly slow. The issue that poisons the whole region is the problem of Zimbabwe and that does distract a lot of energy away from the kind of developments that the southern African countries need to be addressing—and we do too—but I would not like to say how far advanced they are because, as you say it is 2008 and there is still some way to go yet. Q197 Chairman: You mention the African stand-by force. Over the weekend, meeting in Libya, the African Union took a clear decision that they would have, by next year (2005) such a force to be deployed at five regional centres and to cover the whole continent by 2010. That is a pretty ambitious timetable. What assistance are we planning to give to the African Union as such in respect of this stand-by force?  Mr Mullin: I cannot tell you off the top of my head, but I will send you a note[12]about that. You are right that it is a very big development and it is one we will want to encourage. The head of the African Union, Mr Konare is a very dynamic man who is busy injecting a bit of dynamism into that organisation, which we welcome.  Chairman: This Committee has produced a number of reports on Zimbabwe. We did ask many questions during our visits. I would like Sir John to open now on that basis. Q198 Sir John Stanley: Minister, did you see last Sunday's Panorama programme on Zimbabwe? [13]  Mr Mullin: I saw extracts from it; I did not see the whole programme but I am familiar with the contents. Q199 Sir John Stanley: I think you might find it valuable to see it in full. I am sure you will share the acute dismay—to put it at its mildest—that anybody who saw that programme will have experienced of these young men and young women being sent off to the training camps, the young men being subjected to a kind of Hitler Youth type indoctrination and clearly too many of the young women are being subjected to rape as a means of intimidation. Against that gross violation of human rights and so many others that have occurred, could you set out for us now, so that we are completely up-to-date, what the British Government's policy is towards the South African Government in dealing with the Zimbabwe issue? What are we saying to the South African Government in terms of what policy we would want the South African Government to follow on this issue?  Mr Mullin: We share the same objective; that is the first thing. Both countries want a transition towards democracy and the rule of law in Zimbabwe. We have a tactical disagreement about how to get there, South Africa tending to argue for quiet diplomacy. We have to listen to what they say because they are the neighbours after all; they have enormous interest in a peaceful outcome, rather greater than us and they suffer greatly from living next door to a country which has caused such serious problems. They had the best part of two million refugees. I have to say, although there has been a lot of talk of quiet diplomacy and talks between Zanu-PF and the main opposition party, we do not see much evidence of progress on that front so far.

9   DRC- Democratic Republic of the Congo. Back

10   Please refer to the supplementary memorandum submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ev 94. Back

11   Please refer to the supplementary memorandum submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ev 94. Back

12   Please refer to the supplementary memorandum submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ev 94. Back

13   Panorama "Zimbabwe's torture training camps"-broadcasted on BBC 1on Sunday, 29 February 2004. Back

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