The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1994Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Press Conference in Pretoria – 22 September 1994

Below is the text of Mr Major’s press conference in Pretoria, held on 22nd September 1994.


Let me say something about the visit to South Africa over the last few days. I am now very near the end of my visit. I think it has been a remarkable visit and I have to say on a personal level that it has moved me like few other visits I have made in the past. I do not think that anyone, with any sense of history at all, could fail to be aware that this is a quite extraordinary moment in South Africa’s history. And in the last few days what we have seen is a country that is crossing from a very troubled past into a future that I believe has a substantial amount of hope and opportunity.

I have been extraordinarily impressed by the determination from President Mandela, Deputy President Mbeki, Deputy President De Klerk, and other senior officials, to make sure that those hopes and those opportunities for South Africans are met. They are under no illusions about the size and scale of the task, they know there will be set-backs as well as advances, but they are determined to proceed and I hope and I believe they will succeed.

My purpose in coming was to renew and refresh an old friendship, but it was also to extend cooperation to South Africa, and to ordinary South Africans. The visit has been rich in symbolism, frankly it could scarcely have been otherwise given the intertwine nature of Britain’s long relationship with South Africa. But I think it has also established a practical framework for cooperation, and it has also set in train important programmes of partnership across a wide range of activities.

I think that the balance sheet of this visit has been quite extraordinarily positive, and perhaps I might remind you of just some of its main features.

President Mandela and I signed four important agreements. Firstly an agreement on promoting and protecting investment. Investment from overseas self-evidently is going to be one of the keys to South Africa’s future prosperity, Britain is already the largest investor in South Africa and I want to encourage British businessmen to move forward from that base, to come to South Africa, to increase the investment they have got here, or to make an initial investment if they have not previously been in this country. And everything that I have heard from the businessmen who are with me has been optimistic about their view of the future for South Africa and the business prospects of those who invest in South Africa. I find that enormously encouraging because investment flows will dwarf any other government to government assistance, however generous it might be, in improving the quality of life and the prospects for people in South Africa. What the agreement I signed has done is to provide would-be investors in both our countries with the security of a proper regulatory framework for their investments.

Next we signed an agreement on development cooperation. Together with the South African government, we have identified those areas where 550 million Rands worth of aid, which we will commit over the next three years, can most usefully be spent. We will work with the South African government in education, in health, in agriculture, in local government, and in helping South Africans set up and run small businesses. Lynda Chalker, who has been with me throughout this visit, and has played such a role in it, will provide any further details that any of you may wish to have.

I am delighted also that British business will be playing its own role. Under the Soweto Skills Initiative, 30 British firms, so far, have agreed to invite businessmen from Soweto for training in Britain, and at the end of that training they will bring back the experience and the skills they have gathered to South Africa to help build its new future.

We signed also an agreement on Cooperation in Science, Technology and Engineering. As of course you will know, I have been accompanied on this visit by Sir Michael Atyer, the President of the Royal Society, and by Professor Sir William Stewart, my Chief Scientific Adviser. They have reached agreement on this trip with their opposite numbers on how to carry forward this pooling of scientific knowledge in appropriate areas. The British Cabinet Minister responsible for science, David Hunt, will follow up with a visit to South Africa in the very near future.

Finally, we have signed an agreement which provides a framework for the assistance that we are giving in integrating the South African Armed Forces. I have only this morning visited the British Military Advisory and Training scheme at Walmanstall, and I have to say to you that I was deeply impressed by the remarkable progress that they are making. Britain has a very long history of achievement in assisting the Armed Forces of Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and many other countries, in integrating a comprehensive defence force, and I am delighted that the South African Government chose to invite the British Army to undertake this particular responsibility in South Africa. I agreed this morning that if the South African Government wished the BMAT team to stay on beyond the original date then they will do so for as long as they are needed and can usefully assist in South Africa.

Yesterday, as many of you I think will know, I opened the Round Table Business Seminar, conducted by the CBI and the South African Chamber of Business. On our side that was attended by a team of senior businessmen, under the leadership of Howard Davies, the Director General of the CBI. I attended only the beginning but I am told by the businessmen that it was a very successful event and a number of the senior businessmen have identified new opportunities with South African partners. When the businessmen rejoin me on the aircraft this evening we will debrief and round up on the results of their meetings with their South African partners, I do not yet have them all but I know that it has been, from their point of view, a successful occasion, and I am very keen to ensure that the momentum given by trade to this visit should be sustained and built on, not just in the short term but in the long term.

The CBI and the Chamber of Business have themselves decided to draw up an agreement which, for the first time, will put their cooperation on a permanent footing. All this will give a tremendous impetus to our “Opportunity South Africa” campaign which will bring a number of high powered trade missions to South Africa over the next 12 months.

In my speech the other day to the South African Parliament, I explained why I thought that sport should play a key role in the assistance that we wish to give to the townships in South Africa. Yesterday, unless I very much missed my mark, many of you here this morning were as moved as I was by the boundless enthusiasm of those youngsters at Alexandra.

The coaching sessions you saw were but a part of the sports initiative for the townships. Overnight I can report to you two further important developments. As some of you may know, in Cape Town Sir Colin Cowdrey, who is here with me this morning, and I met leading figures from the Western Province Cricket Association. Sir Colin is President-elect of the Lords Taverners who are engaged in pioneering work to develop cricket in the townships. As a result of our Cape Town meeting, the Lords Taverners have decided to donate in excess of 100,000 Rand to provide a Lords Taverners mini-bus to help the young township cricketers of the Western Cape. I am extremely grateful to Colin, and also to Brian Bullock, the Chairman of the Lords Taverners, who is also with us here this morning, for their generosity. It was typical of the way in which the Taverners deal with matters of this sort, and the speed with which they reacted is something for which I am extremely grateful and I am delighted to see them both here this morning.

Secondly, at dinner last night here on this lawn, again I think attended by a number of the people present here this morning, a most enjoyable occasion, I mentioned at my table to a group of distinguished businessmen, that what was needed at Alexandra Park was a Club House on the cricket pitch, not a novel idea of mine but one that was mentioned to me by Ali Baka [phon] during the course of the day. “What we need”, he said, “is that sort of building on the cricket pitch”. Well, with an instinctive generosity, and I assure you, little arm twisting on my part, five of the businessmen present agreed to pledge 55,000 Rand each to the cost of a pavilion at Alexandra Park. Those companies are: Anglo-American, Anglo-Vaal, Sasol, Glaxo and Racall, and I am extremely grateful also to them for their generosity and we will put those arrangements for the construction of that pavilion in hand as speedily as possible.

In my speech to parliament I announced that Her Majesty The Queen would be delighted to accept President Mandela’s invitation to visit South Africa in the spring of next year. I can tell you this morning that Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, will also pay an official visit to South Africa in a few weeks time, in November.

This visit has I think set relations between Britain and South Africa on a course which will improve, increase and develop our cooperation right across the board. The way is now open, not only for further government to government contacts, important though those are, but for businessmen and people in all walks of life to extend and to thicken the many bonds that tie our two countries.

Let me, before I take your questions, end on a personal note. The enduring memory that I will take back from this visit is of the prospects for South Africa and for the young South Africans that we have seen on so many occasions over the last few days. Ultimately it will be up to South Africa and South Africans to make those prospects a reality. I have come here not only with the promise, but with the practical demonstration that Britain will help South Africa give its people the future that I believe they deserve.

It has been a most enjoyable visit and I shall leave here with a great deal of regret and look forward to returning at, I hope, not too long a distance in time.


QUESTION (Simon Walters):

What do you say to some people back in Britain who might say why don’t we spend the money that we are spending in South Africa on trade and aid and the development of sporting links in poorer parts of Britain where they need these things? How would you relate this visit to people back home?


I think the first thing I would say to the British nation, who are a pretty open-hearted and generous nation, is: “Come and see for yourself what that will mean to the townships through the expenditure of those resources!” and from what I know of the open-heartedness of the British, I doubt that very many people would close their hearts to the self-evident need that you can find out here.

As far as assistance in the United Kingdom is concerned, you will know the amount of trade assistance that exists and I needn’t detail it to you.

As far as sport is concerned, starting within a very few months as a result of the legislation to establish a national lottery, within two or three years British sport will have an almost guaranteed sum of around £300 million sterling each and every year to develop sport in the United Kingdom and if you can put that in context, if you just think back over the last decade and imagine what the expenditure of £3 billion sterling would have done to British sport, I think you begin to see the tremendous opportunities that open up so I don’t believe anyone will begrudge the assistance we have been able to offer.


You spoke yesterday about maintaining those trade barriers. Do you believe South Africa should scrap the [indistinct] rand?


I had in mind the trade barriers around the world. When we sought to improve the access for South African products for example to the European Union, we made some progress under the generalised system of preferences but not enough – it was a move forward but not sufficient.

The relevant point is that closed trade barriers whether here or elsewhere – it is not for me to look at individual matters, the South African Government will themselves look at it over a period of time and they must take their time and do it thoroughly – but as a general principle, if one closes trade barriers both sides lose. Protection doesn’t work, protection simply inspires counter-protection, diminishes the flow of trade and diminishes the prospects for employment, growth, tax yields and prosperity for people and that is a trend that is increasingly recognised.
I am keen to see the European market fully open to South Africa; it is opening – there is more to be done.

QUESTION (Kevin Brown, Financial Times):

One of the themes of your visit here has been economic liberalisation. In the light of the talks that you have had and the RDP White Paper which has been issued this morning, do you think you have been instrumental in persuading the South African Government to speed up their programme of economic reform?


I think they have in mind to pursue a programme of economic reform. I would not be so impertinent as to suggest that I had been instrumental in speeding it up.

What I have been clear about in the discussions is that the South African Government are well aware of the need to create the right climate for the private sector and for private enterprise; they see no ideological barrier to creating that. They have to look at economic reality and the speed and pace at which they can move but the direction of their movement is not only clear from the discussions, I think it is clear from some of the agreements I signed with President Mandela and I think that there is a degree of confidence that business can have over the direction in which policy is moving.

QUESTION (Paul Reynolds):

Did you find the remarks of Lady Thatcher on investment in South Africa unhelpful in that she did say that investment was not in fact coming in at the moment which appeared to conflict with your repeatedly optimistic views?


I wasn’t sure that what was said to me yesterday about Lady Thatcher’s remarks was in context and for this reason: over a long period of time she has encouraged British firms to maintain their investment in South Africa. Right through recent years and throughout the period that she was Prime Minister she encouraged and sanctioned a great deal of direct assistance into the townships in South Africa. That she wishes South Africa well and has done continually I don’t believe there is a shred of doubt. I think the statement she issued to correct some misunderstanding last night answers the point thoroughly.


[Indistinct] South Africa while there are still unresolved [indistinct] deeds of the South African arms industry?


I think the circumstances have changed if you look at what has happened in South Africa. Take for example in terms of the changed atmosphere where I was this morning to illustrate the point I am making. I was at the military training centre this morning.

What is actually happening is the incorporation into the South African Defence Force of people who were sworn enemies of the South African Defence Force. That is an astonishing sea change. You only had to have sat with me in the dining room where Harold Macmillan made his famous “Wind of Change” speech and see politicians who had been total opponents a few years ago seated at the same table talking to realise the remarkable changes there have been in South Africa.

I think it is right to take the approach that has been taken and support it even in the area you suggest.


[Indistinct] South Africans who breach their laws stand trial. There is still an unresolved court case in Britain – South Africans jumped bail in the 1980s of £400,000 and came here. Britain seems unconcerned about this.


I have indicated I have got a good deal of faith in the prospects of South Africa and in the South African Government. I can’t answer for other governments, I can only answer for mine.


You talked about a visit rich in symbolism and following up what you said there about reconciliation among groups that once were opposed, do you see any symbolic parallels with what has happened here and what you are trying to achieve in Northern Ireland?


Not really, no. I can see why some people may think there is. think the circumstances are different but what is not different is that while tremendous progress – remarkable progress – has been made here, we are making progress now in Northern Ireland as well and we must continue to do so but I don’t think the underlying basis of the disagreement is remotely similar so I don’t see necessary parallels. The parallel I do see is that in both South Africa and in Northern Ireland welcome progress is now being made.

QUESTION (Colin Brown, The Independent):

Following on that point, having had negotiations with the leader of the ANC who is now the President, would you hope at one stage to have negotiations with Gerry Adams?


That is not imminent, is it? What we are waiting to hear at the moment is confirmation that what they are seeking to intimate, namely that they have given up violence for good, is really their position. I am waiting for them to make that clear. If it is their position, then I hope they will make it clear. As I have said before, I am not hung up on them using any particular set of words to do so.

I just want it to be unambiguously clear so there is confidence amongst the people who in due course will need to sit down and talk with Sinn Fein that they are not going suddenly to decide to pick up arms and renew violence again. They can do it how they wish in the words they wish but I think those people who will have to negotiate with them and the people who live in Northern Ireland will want to have that assurance. I think they are moving towards it and I am very pleased about the fact that they are moving towards it.

In due course, once they have cleared that hurdle, there will be a short period of up to three months and at that stage at official level we will engage in discussions with Sinn Fein about how we can bring them into the political talks proper; they will then sit around the table at the political talks proper and whether Mr. Adams represents Sinn Fein is a matter for Sinn Fein but he may well be there.


Prime Minister, do you think your visit here has improved the chances of Jarrow getting the order for the corvettes?


That is a matter for the South African Government, I can’t comment on that. I can only say it is a very fine product.


Prime Minister, you have been here and preached your distinctive economic message. You have obviously had a good response from the business community but I wonder, knowing your experience of difficulties at home where unemployment, poverty and social disparities are far less acute than they are here and you have an enormous amount of political trouble at home and a lot of side effects from the consequences of your economic message, can people here be expected to be as patient in wanting the rewards of the good life as you seem to expect them to be with the message you are advocating?


I think what the South African Government wish to achieve is something that is permanent and something that is going to last. I think you are quite right that expectations are very high and some movement will need to be made towards those expectations. That is very well understood by the South African Government and it is the principal reason of course why it is so necessary to encourage the flow of inward investment because if you look at what people would most wish to see in South Africa, I believe apart from the maintenance of the peaceful climate that exists, what they would most wish to see is a growth of jobs as speedily as possible. A growth of jobs requires investment; it doesn’t matter to the person who is unemployed whether that investment comes domestically or whether it comes from one of the substantial number of overseas companies who are investing in this country, what is needed is the money, the investment, to create the enterprises, to create the jobs, to create the security for South Africans.

I said earlier – and you intimated that you had that point in mind in your question – that there were going to be many difficult decisions to be taken in the future, there were going to be setbacks as well as advances. What I think is appropriate in the atmosphere that exists is that that process of advance can be visibly seen to be continuing. I think if that is the ease then the South African Government although of course they will face difficulties will have every chance of carrying their programme successfully through.


You just mentioned the peaceful climate in South Africa. How concerned are you about the potential for political instability in the Zulu camp?


It is an area of concern. What is remarkable when one steps back of course is that the area of concern is now only there and I think that is a problem that can be dealt with. One has seen the changes. It is not all that very many months ago that you might have been asking me whether the Zulus would take part in the elections and yet with the right political leadership they did and now Chief Buthelezi has a very significant role in the Government as the minister responsible for home affairs. Of course these points will arise from time to time, this one in Kwazulu [phon] and conceivably others elsewhere, but if the good sense prevails that has prevailed in remarkable fashion over recent months, then I don’t think it will be a permanent problem.

QUESTION (German Press Agency):

Could you expand on your preventive diplomacy that you outlined in your speech to Parliament and can you tell us what the response of the South African Government was to this? I am sorry if you answered this before but I was not present.


No, I haven’t answered it before and I am afraid I am not in detail going to answer it right now for this reason: the British Ambassador at the United Nations may be conducting further discussions about this today and the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, will set out in much greater detail what we propose when he speaks to the United Nations early next week.

I trailed the fact that we are actually looking at this initiative. I think it is an important initiative. In principle, it has been warmly welcomed by the South African Government but I would prefer not to get into the details of it until we make a full announcement.


Prime Minister, do you feel that a high profile visit like this to South Africa will help you domestically with your opinion poll ratings when you get back home which are still running at a record low?


I have no idea. Time will tell but that wasn’t the purpose of the visit. I seem to remember having that question from Paul Wilenius just before the last election! Remind me of the result of the last election, Paul!

QUESTION (Jeremy Thompson, Sky News):

I will save you and bring you back to Africa, Prime Minister! You talked in the Parliament about your desire to help in South Africa and particularly in trying to turn the tide in Africa itself. Are you really optimistic that things can change for the better in this Continent?


I think they most certainly can. If you look at what the position was a few years ago, the number of wars that existed south of the Sahara most of which with the exception of Angola have now been completed, if you look at what has happened in South Africa which few people would have predicted just a few years ago, you can see what advances have been made.

What I think is not a pipe dream but more of a probability is that the South African example will have an impact northwards in the African Continent. South Africa is a potential giant in the African Continent not only economically but politically and diplomatically over years and I think its example will spread elsewhere.

I am not predicting that all the problems are going to go away tomorrow, that would clearly be absurd. What I am saying is that I think that with the example of South Africa, with the example of what has actually happened in the last five years – we all have a great tendency to look at today’s problems and forget what yesterday’s problems were that have been solved – I believe that there is every prospect that we can make quite remarkable advances in the Continent of Africa – I speak particularly of sub-Saharan Africa – over the last years of this century and the early years of the next and profoundly hope that that will be the case.