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If Blair were PM in 1986, would he have invaded SA?

Lance Claasen works in reputation management. He has over 20 years experience in media. He has worked for Kaya FM, 702 and Cape Talk. He is not to be confused with his twin brother Larry Claasen who is Deputy Editor of at Moneyweb.

The question of a humanitarian war is an interesting one. Can a war ever be fought on moral grounds? I don’t think so – not unless there’s something with which the world’s great defenders can grease their palms.

Tony Blair ducked, dived and denied all responsibility of any type of wrongdoing for his decision to back the USA of their invasion of Iraq. He justified it morally, saying that even if the evidence of weapons of mass destruction was false, Saddam Hussein was a bad man who did bad things to his own people and neighbouring nations. 

He claims he was justified in picking up arms, putting British soldiers at risk and ridding the world of an evil, oppressive regime. His intentions were purely moral in his mind.

As I listened to the former British Prime Minster dance his way through not answering questions at the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit held in Sandton, a couple of queries sprang to mind. There is one question in particular I would have asked if I had managed to get a mic in my hands.

If this were so, then how would he have reacted if he were in power in 1986 instead of Maggie Thatcher? What would his approach have been if the ANC had made the request for British to invade South Africa and rid us of the Apartheid menace that was oppressing black South Africans? 

The Apartheid government was illegally occupying Namibia, had invaded Angola and was busy destabilising all its neighbours. It also had a banned programme of weapons of mass destruction that included nuclear devices and a chemical weapons programme it was prepared to use on its own population. Arrested journalists, banned newspapers, engaged torture, detention without trial and in political assignations – the list goes on.

It had also unleashed its security forces to crush brutally any form of popular uprising that threatened Apartheid, despite the fact that the system had been declared a crime against humanity. 

I wonder if Blair the defender of human rights and democracy would have rallied to the aid of the oppressed in South Africa, or would he have opted for a more diplomatic evolutionary approach? Would he carry the courage of his convictions or duck, dive and divert any request from the ANC to help liberate black South Africans?

A cynic would suggest that it would not be enough to overthrow an oppressive government only because they were bad and horrible; that it would only be “necessary” to invade such a country if the government were bad, horrible… and happened to have extremely valuable resources that the great defender desperately needed (or just plain wanted). The jokes about gold lining South Africa’s pavements would not have been quite enough to stimulate such a high level of intervention. And besides, there would be no reason for any modern British government to invade the Apartheid state to liberate the oppressed in the eighties. Why would they, when they already did so in 1899, when they decided to liberate “uitlanders” from the oppressive regime of the Boer republics? And, of course, get their hands on the country’s tidy portion of mineral resources in the process. 

There would be no reason for the British to embark on a “humanitarian” war in Apartheid South Africa, because there would be nothing to gain. Why would Blair help free black people when the Empire already helped liberate the country’s resources over a century ago?

If, on the other hand, South Africa had been ripe for the exploiting, we may have had a very different history. Both pre- and post-liberation. We may have been forced into democracy much earlier; on the other hand, there may have been so many more innocent lives lost. We may have had the much-deserved moral support of a major international power; we also may have lost our independence to that same power. 

There is no way to tell whether a major military intervention would have helped or hindered South Africa. And even if such a war were helpful, there would be no way to predict whether it would not bring its own set of problems; its own set of moral dilemmas and its own lack of freedoms.

Because, sadly, there’s no such thing as a humanitarian war. There’s only a war where I help you – and then help myself to what you’ve got. DM


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