South Africa used "back channels" to challenge UK's apartheid stance – FCO files

Newly-released Foreign Office papers show that the-then South African prime minister P.W.Botha went through former British intelligence officer to "convey a message about his disquiet at the UK attitude" apartheid

By Jonathan Owen

26 Aug 2016

South Africa exploited unofficial routes to express its anger to British government officials over Britain’s stance on apartheid, according to newly released papers by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

In one such case, P.W.Botha, the-then South African prime minister, met with former British intelligence officer, John Bruce Lockhart, who reported back to Ewen Fergusson, deputy under secretary of state at the FCO.

In a memo to an official in the FCO’s Southern African Department, dated 15 November 1984, Fergusson referred to a series of lectures Lockhart had given at the Department of Strategic Studies at the Rand Afrikaans University.

More stories from the FCO files
Foreign Office staff thought Margaret Thatcher was smarter than Ronald Reagan – FCO files
Diplomats asked to dig up info on Geoffrey Howe's dinner guests, FCO papers reveal
Thatcher kept FCO officials in the dark over Reagan security briefing, new files show
FCO files reveal British officials were ordered to thwart Yasser Arafat visit
Libyan Embassy siege prompted major shake-up of Whitehall's counter-terror team, new files reveal
Top US official wanted British record of Thatcher-Reagan meeting – because American notes weren't up to scratch

“At that time he was invited to see the prime minister, Mr P W Botha. He reported on his visit to me and I sent a copy of his letter to Sir John Leahy. This was one more example when the South African prime minister used 'back channels' to convey a message about his disquiet at the UK attitude to South Africa.”

Fergusson referred to a lunch meeting he had with Lockhart, where the former intelligence officer requested information on the anti-apartheid movement in the UK.

A reply from N.J. Thorpe, from the FCO’s Southern African department, dated 20 November 1984, stated: “We have no general, unclassified background paper on the Anti-Apartheid Movement. Not am I aware of even a classified paper on this and related movements.”

He added: “The department could, of course, try to prepare something appropriate for Mr Lockhart’s background information, but this would inevitably be rather impressionistic, and based on our general knowledge of the AAM rather than on hard factual information.”

In a personal letter to Lockhart dated 29 November 1984, Fergusson said: “We would not classify the AAM as a communist front organisation as such, although it has, from its foundation, been strongly influenced by communists and communist sympathisers.”

He added: “As for the ANC office in London, which the South Africans persistently criticise us for permitting to remain here, the government’s standpoint is that we do not proscribe organisations, but only individuals when they contravene our law. While I was in South Africa I defended our adherence to the principles of freedom of speech and respect for the rule of law in this context!”

Fergusson concluded: “We have no evidence, at least none that would justify action by the government, to connect the ANC office here directly with terrorist activity directed against South Africa outside the UK.”

Read the most recent articles written by Jonathan Owen - BEIS permanent secretary seeking £130k successor for their old job

Share this page
Read next
Partner content