SAR, Vol 9, No 2, November 1993
THE SANCTIONS END GAME
BY DON RAY
Don Ray teaches political science at the University of Calgary and is an active member of Calgary's Committee Against Racism (CAR)
Now that, in the wake of Nelson Mandela's well-publicized appearance before the United Nations, sanctions against South Africa are fast disappearing, it's interesting to take a look at just how eagerly, in the final days of those sanctions, the Canada's Conservative government viewed the prospect of ending them. The Tories would no doubt argue that they deserve merely unalloyed praise for their having implemented sanctions in the first place. Yet those who have followed the issue closely will know that the Tory government, all along, did much to minimize their effectiveness. The manner of their playing out the sanctions' endgame provides a further revealing footnote to that contradictory record.
Thus, by the end of June 1993, Canadian business was aquiver at the prospect of ending all barriers against Canadian investment and trade with the apartheid regime. After all, President F. W. de Klerk had agreed to an election date (April 27, 1994) to choose a constituent assembly and thereby satisfied one of two major Commonwealth criteria (established at that body's October 1991 meeting) for the ending of sanctions.
The next step, and the second of the criteria, was to be the establishment of a Transitional Executive Council (TEC) to supervise the white government until the elections had taken place. And, as the ANC firmly stated (not least its Canadian chief representative Victor Moche), so long as the TEC was not in place to supervise the elections and effectively remove De Klerk's ability to manipulate their outcome through his control of government structures, there was no way it could be said that the second criterion had been met.
Enter the Canadian government. Despite the fact that this was a period when negotiations between De Klerk's government and the ANC to set up a TEC were still fraught with tension, strong rumours began leaking out of Ottawa that External Affairs Minister Perrin Beatty was about to announce the end of sanctions.
Not surprisingly, Canadian solidarity groups (including Calgary's Committee Against Racism/CAR) - committed to the premise that Canada should respect the Commonwealth criteria - became anxious that the government not jump the gun. For CAR, an invitation at the end of June to appear on CBC television phone-in show to discuss whether or not sanctions were a "good thing" prompted us to devise our own strategy. We believed that sanctions should be dismantled gradually in exchange for concessions from the apartheid regime and we didn't believe that the election call was enough of a step. We said as much on the air. In contrast, an apartheid diplomat, also guesting on the show, merely appealed to Canadians to come to South Africa and invest. But he did so without much apparent success; by the end of the programme, most callers were arguing vigorously for continuing sanctions. There were also other kinds of efforts to mobilize anti-apartheid sentiment, locally and nationally, on this issue - with phone calls and faxed messages to Beatty and other government officials in Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal.
At this time, Canada's remaining sanctions referred to trade and investment, financial loans, and arms sales. External Affairs responded to our pressure by pointing out that the UN mandatory arms embargo on exports to South Africa would remain in place until revoked by the UN and "a post-apartheid South African government is firmly established, with full democratic control and accountability" (External Affairs, News Release No. 139, July 2, 1993). And it repeated its (somewhat misleading) claims as to how much it had done on other fronts, notably trade and investment - while also telling CAR that even its entirely voluntary ban on private investment and bank credit to South Africa had worked, since the banks had closely adhered to this ban for fear of having to answer questions from their shareholders. (Here was an unsolicited testimonial to the work of solidarity organizations like CAR, the Task Force on the Church and Corporate Responsibility, TCLSAC, ICCAF and a host of others who had fought hard to make sure the banks heard from their shareholders!)
Yet by late July the direction in which the Canadian government was moving on the issue of sanctions was an open secret. In an important article, the Globe and Mail's Foreign Affairs Reporter, Linda Hossie, underscored (July 20, 1993) the difference between the ANC's position ("sanctions to be lifted only after a transitional executive is in place and working to prepare for elections") and "Canada's position [which] is to lift sanctions as soon as there is agreement on the formation of the council." She also cited one veteran Canadian academic observer who reinforced the point that "waiting until the [TEC] is up and running will make the progress towards democracy irreversible . . . To settle for anything less is to risk a political reversal at the last moment."
As it happens, the government's push during the summer months to lift sanctions (as encouraged by the Canadian Exporters Association) did show itself to be unseemly. In July, South Africa exploded in the violence that produced a death toll that was the highest since August 1990 (another moment, ironically, when it had looked as though negotiations would bring peace). This turmoil, together with the resistance here at home, sidelined any announcement of a TEC and stalled Canada's end-the-sanctions plan - although External Affairs again "specified agreement as the trigger point [that would prompt it to end sanctions], not the establishment of an interim government."
Of course, only a few weeks were to pass before the ANC itself called for an end to sanctions. And it did so at a point when, in fact, only agreement on the TEC, rather than its full established, had been reached. Had the threatened erosion of the position of countries like Canada been one of the factors that forced the ANC's hand in this respect? We may have a clearer answer to this in time. What might be claimed now is that the Canadian solidarity movement had played at least some role - and not for the first time - in forcing our government to live up a little more firmly to its rhetorical commitments than might otherwise have been the case.
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