On April 27th, South Africa celebrated the 30th anniversary of the end of apartheid, as it is 30 years since the beginning of the first democratic elections in which all South Africans could vote. That vote ended white minority rule, elected Nelson Mandela president, and brought massive positive changes in human rights, housing, education, healthcare, freedom of movement, and more. Afterwards, April 27 became Freedom Day and was designated a public holiday to celebrate the end of the appalling apartheid system1.

Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser was an implacable opponent of apartheid. This followed his position on the path to independence for Rhodesia which gained independence as Zimbabwe in 1979. Opposition to apartheid formed part of the common ground Fraser shared with his successor as Prime Minister, Bob Hawke. In 1985, Hawke put Fraser forward to head the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group to investigate apartheid and ways to end it. The group’s conclusion was for global economic sanctions to be imposed, which put them at odds with the administrations of Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the US2.

For Nelson Mandela’s inauguration as President in 1994, then Prime Minister Paul Keating sent both Hawke and Fraser to the event to represent Australia2.

Almost two decades later, on leaving Australia to attend Mandela’s memorial service in December 2013, then Prime Minister Tony Abbott claimed that both sides of Australian politics campaigned for an end to apartheid and very much supported the new democratic South Africa that Mandela, more than anyone, brought into being3. However, like most of Abbott’s utterances, this was a lie.

In the crucial years of the 1980s, the Coalition, led by John Howard, only talked about its opposition to apartheid, while doing everything it could to see that nothing was done to bring the system to an end. In the decade when the co-ordinated international campaign to free Mandela and introduce democracy reached its peak, conservative leaders around the world, including the usual suspects, Thatcher and Reagan attempted to rally support for the apartheid system. Like them, Howard and the Coalition were members of the anti-sanctions club. While proclaiming opposition to apartheid, they gave no teeth to their policy on it3.

Indeed, in Parliament, Howard stated that the proposition the white regime could be removed by the imposition of economic sanctions, or that the imposition of sanctions would bring about a major change in the attitude of that regime, was a very questionable one. And yet, Nelson Mandela himself was a supporter of sanctions and after becoming president, credited them as a major factor leading to the democratisation of the country3.

It is widely agreed in South Africa that sanctions played a part in bringing down the regime. Financial sanctions, which began in the mid-’80s and which saw banks in Europe and the United States sever ties with the country, hit particularly hard. South African finance minister from 1984 to 1992, Barend du Plessis said investment sanctions were ”the dagger that finally immobilised apartheid”3.

As Paul Keating said “I think it’s a Prime Minister’s duty; one of the primary duties of a Prime Minister is to protect the country from prejudice. [John] Howard was happy to let the racism virus out. And it’s like a flu virus, you never get it back. You know, when someone at the top of the system…you see Bob before me, Malcolm Fraser before him, Gough Whitlam, John Gorton – none of us would play around with this issue. None. The only one to do it was a little guy from Bennelong”4.

Malcolm Fraser quit the Liberal Party in December 2009, after previously criticising it for becoming one of “fear and reaction” and said it was unrecognisable as the party he joined in the 1950s. He had also been an outspoken critic of the Coalition’s border protection policies5, which were also based on engendered fear, largely about race and religion.

The Liberal Party still is the party of “fear and reaction” as Fraser suggested. Ever since Howard, they have used division, often on the basis of race, to try to generate fear in the community, and they are almost entirely reactive in that they seem to believe that politics is not about policy but only about politicking.


  1. https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2024/4/27/south-africas-post-apartheid-democracy-is-sustained-by-protest
  2. https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/malcolm-fraser-took-strong-stance-against-apartheid-20150320-1m3tmy.html
  3. https://www.smh.com.au/opinion/howards-coalition-paid-lip-service-to-sanctions-against-apartheid-20131214-2ze1y.html
  4. https://blotreport.com/2018/07/17/paul-keating-quote-5/
  5. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2010-05-26/fraser-quits-liberal-party/841616

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