What to Do About South Africa

Courtesy Reuters

At its October 1985 summit in Nassau, the 49-member Commonwealth decided "to establish a small group of eminent Commonwealth persons" that would attempt to encourage the process of political dialogue in South Africa. The mandate of the Eminent Persons Group, as it is known, was set out in the Commonwealth Accord on Southern Africa, or the Nassau Accord. This accord called on the South African government to, among other things: "initiate, in the context of a suspension of violence on all sides, a process of dialogue across lines of colour, politics and religion, with a view to establishing a non-racial and representative government." The EPG’s mission was to encourage this process and "to leave nothing undone that might contribute to peaceful change. . . ."

Over the course of six months, members of the group met with a uniquely wide range of members of the government (with whom more than 20 meetings were held) and almost all the significant leaders of the black population, including Nelson Mandela, other leaders of the African National Congress and the Pan-African Congress (PAC), and the Frontline states. On the basis of these meetings and the guidelines set out in the Nassau Accord, the group developed a "possible negotiating concept" for getting a dialogue between the South African government and the black majority under way. The concept was presented to the government in March 1986, and subsequently to the ANC, the United Democratic Front and other groups in South Africa.

After meeting with the South African Cabinet Constitutional Committee on May 19, 1986, the EPG returned to London to frame its final report, made public on June 12. It concluded that the South African government is "not yet prepared to negotiate fundamental change, nor to countenance the creation of genuine democratic structures, nor to face the prospect of the end of white domination and white power in the foreseeable future."


The Commonwealth Group on South Africa reluctantly but unequivocally came to the conclusion that at present the South African government is not ready

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