Discussion with British Secretary of Defence

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Defence and Military Veterans

30 October 2002
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Meeting report

30 October 2002


British Secretary of Defence Mr. Hoon answered questions from the Defence and Foreign Affairs Committees on Britain's foreign policy with respect to the crisis in Iraq. Britain's relationship with the United States of America was brought under the spotlight. Members were concerned that Britain was being influenced by the USA.

Britain's policy towards Zimbabwe was questioned.

The South African Minister of Defence, Mr. Mosiuoa Lekota, introduced Mr. Hoon and said that the relationship between the two countries was very important. He stated that Mr. Hoon's visit was to discuss how the two countries could work together in future specifically in the area of defence.

Mr. Hoon said that Britain's relationship with South Africa was very important. He was the first Labour Defence Minister to visit South Africa and he hoped that they could build on the agreement which had been signed on 29 October 2002.

Mr. M Ramgobin (ANC) stated that he appreciated the partnership between the two countries. He remarked that Britain had a reputation of adhering to law and order and institutional democracy. He was therefore dismayed at Britain's role with the USA in respect to Iraq. He pointed out that this kind of stance could cause destabilisation in the region.

Mr. Hoon stated that September 11, 2002 was a wake up call for the world. The world had known what was happening in Afghanistan before then but the events of 11 September had shaken the world. In the case of Iraq therefore it was important that the world act before it was too late. It was known that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction and therefore they could not wait. Britain wanted the United nations to act on Iraq. He quoted the Secretary General of the UN, Kofe Annan, who said that ' a great deal could be done with diplomacy, but a great deal more with diplomacy plus force."

An ANC member noted that the Labour Party normally represented working class thinking, however it seemed as if the Labour government was acting in a more conservative manner. It also seemed as if the British government was the mouthpiece of the Bush Administration. He questioned the British government's condemnation of the Zimbabwe government yet it was silent on Pakistan which had also committed human rights abuses and was not democratic.

Mr. Hoon explained that he had come from a working class background, but that the government's aim was to improve people's situation. The government was there for the whole country and not just for one class. He felt that it did not help by making class divisions in British society. He rejected the idea that the British government was the mouthpiece of the USA. He remarked that Britain had disagreed with the USA regarding certain matters. He said that they had influenced the USA to go via the UN with regard to Iraq. Referring to Britain's policy towards Pakistan and Zimbabwe, he said that international relations was not an exact science and was not always consistent. There was concern for the citizens of both countries and the government wanted democracy to return to both countries. He stated that there was clear progress in Pakistan and he hoped that democracy would be restored in Zimbabwe.

Mr. R Jankielsohn (DA) welcomed Britain's support of NEPAD and wondered whether the events in Zimbabwe had affected Britain's approach to NEPAD. He asked if Zimbabwe had been discussed at all on his visit.

Mr. Hoon replied that Zimbabwe had been discussed by his government, but that they believed that the problems of Africa needed to be solved by Africans themselves. He said that Zimbabwe was not discussed on this visit.

Mr. G Oosthuizen (NNP) remarked that at the Lancaster House, Britain had made certain undertakings to assist in land restitution which were not followed. He felt that this was causing destabilisation and that there should be a policy to aid Zimbabwe in this process.

Mr. Hoon replied that Britain would continue to support and give aid to the people of Zimbabwe. He said that their approach to land reform was consistent as long as land reform was done consistently in Zimbabwe. In his opinion no real land reform was taking place in Zimbabwe.

Mr. Oosthuizen reiterated that the Lancaster House promises were not executed. Mr. Hoon said that the undertaking was subject to the rule of law being observed and that the Zimbabwean government was not observing the law. The British government however was still willing to give support.

Mr. N J Gogotya (ANC) followed up the discussion by enquiring how much Britain had contributed to the demise of Zimbabwe. Mr. B M Sigwela (ANC) added that if Britain had not reneged on the Lancaster House agreement, the crisis in Zimbabwe would not have happened.

Mr. Hoon stated that it was always Britain's aim to see Zimbabwe as independent and democratic. He reminded members that Zimbabwe would not be independent without Britain's help. He reiterated that land reform was not happening in Zimbabwe and that money given was being exploited by people for their own interests.

Adv. Z L Madasa (ACDP) referred to the situation in Iraq. He asked what the plan would be should Saddam Hussein be removed.

Mr. Hoon stated that no decision had been taken to attack Iraq. The EU was waiting for UN resolutions to be upheld and weapons destroyed. He said that he could not prescribe what would happen should Saddam Hussein be removed, although he said that he felt Iraq would be a better place without him.

The chairperson, Ms. Modise concluded the meeting by saying that South Africa was not happy with events in Zimbabwe. She also remarked that the attack on Afghanistan was not supported. The way the USA had used Pakistan to attack Afghanistan was also a point of concern. She stated that Britain's aid to Zimbabwe was admirable but that South Africa was not impressed with Britain's actions in the country. Britain's position on Sudan was worrying for South Africa. She added the Committee was anxious about developments in Angola, which had oil. All these concerns could cause destabilisation of the region and was therefore of importance to South Africa.

The meeting adjourned.


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