When Paul Staines was first threatening bloggers with libel actions last year over the republication of a 1986 report from The Guardian, not much was made of a second report from the following year:
…Between 6pm and 8pm tomorrow some 150 selected members of the Young Conservatives will be guests at the South African Embassy for a drinks party. According to the invitation, the host is the Counsellor at the Embassy, a Mr. C. Raubenheimer, and the shindig is to mark the departure of a Mr. P. Goossen…The invitation list was drawn up with the help of David Hoyle, chairman of the Conservative Student Foreign Affairs Group, who devotes a lot of his time arranging support for the Nicaraguan contras.
The paper names several of those who were invited:
…Andrew Rosendale, chairman of the Young Conservatives in London; Paul Delaire Staines, who once…[cut!] (1)
A couple of names here are spelt wrongly: “David Hoyle” is of course “David Hoile”, who in 2001 managed to get the Guardian to retract a claim that he had once worn a “Hang Mandela” sticker – only for a photograph to emerge shortly after (Hoile is now a lobbyist on behalf of the Sudanese regime). “Andrew Rosendale”, meanwhile is “Andrew Rosindell”, at the time Chairman of the Greater London Young Conservatives and now a very right-wing MP in Essex. The GLYC had for a long time been supportive of South Africa: in August 1985 (just days before the notorious “state of emergency” was declared) it sent a delegation to the country (to meet “moderate” groups that claimed to be independent of the regime) (2), while the following November the vice-chair of the organisation, Adrian Lee, appeared in Tatler sitting under an “I (Heart) South Africa” banner (3).
One has to be extremely cautious when writing about this subject. While detractors claim that these kind of links amounted to support for the apartheid regime, the “libertarians” of the 1980s Tory right – and their American “Young Republican” counterparts – make an important distinction: they were, they insist, simply anti-ANC. Apartheid was abhorrent (and decried as “racial socialism”), but it only continued because of the Communist-backed and terrorist ANC. If South Africa were to enjoy greater support from the west, then apartheid would wither, so those wanting positive change in the region should support Chief Buthelezi and Inkhata in South Africa, Jonas Savimbi and UNITA in Angola, and the MNR in Mozambique – thus we see here Paul Staines posing with a pro-UNITA t-shirt next to a UNITA representative. Right-libertarians accused of having supported apartheid tend to threaten to sue; the left-wing blogger Charlie Pottins was at the receiving end of one such threat back in 2006.
Staines has entered into a bit of self-criticism over the anti-Mandela posturing of the era, writing in the libertarian Free Life magazine in 2000:
I never wore a “Hang Mandela” badge but I hung out with people who did. Why? What did we gain from doing so? Did we make ourselves more popular by calling for the death of a man who was fighting injustice by the only means available to him?
However, Staines doesn’t go so far as to wonder whether the right-libertarian movement as a whole may have been hoodwinked by a regime which knew that hard-right racialist arguments would no longer win South Africa support, just like some left-wing groups were manipulated by the Soviets. In 1995, the former South African spy Craig Williamson was quoted as saying that
We couldn’t convince Americans that apartheid was right. The only chance of manipulating things to survive just a little bit longer was to paint the ANC as a product of the international department of the Soviet Communist Party. (4)
The apartheid regime developed various “front” organisations, which were supposedly independent but were the secret beneficiaries of government funds. One of these was the National Student Federation (NSF), which developed close links with Republican students in the USA. This is explored in a book by Russ Bellant, who notes the role of one now-notorious American figure:
In 1983…Jack Abramoff went to South Africa as a chairman of the College Republican National Committee to begin an ongoing relationship with the extreme right National Student Federation (NSF). The NSF noted this as a “grand alliance of conservative students…an alliance that would represent the swing to the right amongst the youth in America and Western Europe.” After an exchange of trips between College Republicans and South African student rightists, the College Republican National Council passed a resolution condemning “deliberate planted propaganda by the KGB,” and “Soviet proxy forces” in Southern Africa, without mentioning apartheid or racism. (5)
In the UK, the NSF cultivated the libertarian Federation of Conservative Students. Searchlight profiled the FCS in 1985, and noted that
…at this year’s conference, there were two delegates from a new student organisation in South Africa, the NSF, and Mr Peter Gossen, a visitor from the South African Embassy (venue of several luncheons for FCS members last year). (6)
It should be noted that the NSF’s head, Russel Crystal, denies there was any link with the security services – or at least, if there was one, he had not been aware of it. Buthelezi himself was also part of the strategy: in 2006 James Sanders published a fascinating book entitled Apartheid’s Friends, which details the secret support given to Buthelezi through “Operation Marion”:
The name of the operation reflected its deeper function: ‘marion’ was a shortened form of the English and Afrikaans word ‘marionette’: a ‘puppet moved by strings’. (7)
Abramoff also headed the International Freedom Foundation, which had a branch in the UK directed by a libertarian named Marc Gordon (now based in South Africa). South Africa was named as the source of its funding in Private Eye as early as 1987 (8), and later it was shown that the money had been channelled via the USA through Jack Abramoff and Russel Crystal (9). A 2000 report in Searchlight notes that
According to the former South African spy Craig Williamson, the IFF grew out of a meeting in 1985 at Jamba, the headquaters of UNITA, attended by right-wing Americans, Nicaraguan Contras, Afghanistan Mujahideen and South African Security police. (10)
The British IFF also financed the Mozambique Solidarity Campaign, which, according to a 1989 report in the New Internationalist, shared offices with the International Society for Human Rights (11). The British ISHR was run at various times by Adrian Lee and by Paul Staines.
The British libertarian right’s links with southern Africa in the 1980s is a story that has never been told in full, and indeed I’ve had to self-censor some interesting details for legal reasons.
This blog entry now has a sequel; see here.
(1) Edward Vulliamy, “People Diary”, in The Guardian, 24 September 1987.
(2) Stephen Cook, “Young Conservatives for South Africa”, in The Guardian, 10 August 1985.
(3) Camilla Desmoulins, “Tory! Tory! Tory!”, in Tatler, 280 (10), November 1985, pp. 166-167. I’ve seen a copy to check this, by the way.
(4) Quoted in James Sanders, Apartheid’s Friends: The Rise and Fall of South Africa’s Secret Services, John Murray: London, 2006, p. 189.
(5) Russ Bellant, Old Nazis, the New Right, and the Republican Party, South End Press: Boston, 1991, p. 82.
(6) “How the Libertarian Right Hijacked FCS”, in Searchlight, May 1985, pp. 10-11.
(7) Sanders, Apartheid’s Friends, p. 266.
(8) See Private Eye (674) 16 Oct 1987 p. 9.
(9) Ken Silverstein, “The Making of a Lobbyist: Jack Abramoff’s start in South Africa“, in Harper’s Magazine, blog 17 April 2006.
(10) Nick Lowles and Steve Silver, “Sound as a Pound?”, in Searchlight (306), December 2000, pp.4-8. The Jamba conference was co-organised by Abramoff and Jack Wheeler, whom I blogged here.
(11) Paul Fauvet and Derrick Knight, “What is Renamo?“, in The New Internationalist (192), February 1989. It should be noted that the very negative spin put on the ISHR in this article was disputed by its UK General Secretary, Robert Chambers, in a subsequent issue. As far as I can see the ISHR, while conservative, is quite respectable.
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