While the public service record of Baroness Margaret Thatcher is praised to the skies in most western news accounts, the former U.K. Prime Minister was
recalled more critically among many South Africans.
For starters, the British Prime Minister, known as the Iron Lady, was a warm friend of South African dictator PW Botha who was welcomed at No.10 Downing
Street in 1984. With this, Botha became the first leader of the Apartheid regime accorded the privilege of a state visit to UK since 1961–the year South
Africa left the Commonwealth over their refusal to end white minority rule.
That same Margaret Thatcher labeled Nelson Mandela and those opposed to white minority rule “terrorists.”
Thatcher’s rule began in 1979 and encompassed critical years before Nelson Mandela’s release and the collapse of the racist apartheid regime. While she
claimed to oppose apartheid, many faulted her government’s efforts as not enough.
Years later, David Cameron, the current British prime minister, apologized for Thatcher’s policies on apartheid when he visited South Africa in 2006.
Cameron said his Conservative party had made “mistakes” by failing to introduce sanctions against South Africa, and that Thatcher was wrong to have called
the ANC “terrorists.”
Thatcher, the Conservative Party leader, died on Monday, April 8, following a stroke. She was 87.
Lesiba Seshoka, spokesperson for the National Union of Mineworkers, described her reign in Britain as the most difficult time for labor and for trade
unions in Britain.
“She will be remembered as one of the harshest leaders the trade unions in Britain had to face, and many more in the formal colonial countries faced the
wrath of her reign of terror,” he said.
Political commentator Susan Booysen, said Thatcher was one of the people who helped prop up the National Party at the time.
“The apartheid government thrived in her presence,” she said. “That type of international support really gave the National Party government a few extra
years of life… I think she also felt a type of brotherhood with very conservative elements in international politics.”
“We are aware that she had not been well for a long time so on that personal empathy level one can empathize with that,” Booysen said. “It’s the end of an
era. Her type of politics has long ended. It’s an exit for a person whose time has long passed.”
According to journalist Alistair Sparks, Ms. Thatcher had allowed a series of underground meetings that led to secret meetings between the South African
intelligence service and Mandela in prison.
“I wouldn’t want to exaggerate the role [of the group], but it did start a process,” he said.
“All of that, I must add, was never in Margaret Thatcher’s mind. I think it was an unintended byproduct of what she had intended – avoiding a campaign of
sanctions in South Africa.”
Former minister Pallo Jordan was less forgiving. “I say good riddance.. She was part of the rightwing alliance with Ronald Reagan that led to a lot of
avoidable deaths. In the end, she knew she had no choice. Although she called us a terrorist organization, she had to shake hands with a terrorist and sit
down with a terrorist. So who won?”
Among those with kinder words was former South African President FW de Klerk, the country’s last White leader and Mangosuthu Buthelezi, leader of the
Inkatha Freedom Party, a rival of the ANC, who posthumously praised his “dear friend” Thatcher as a voice of reason during apartheid.
But Dali Tambo (son of late ANC leader, Oliver) disagreed. “I don’t think she ever got it that every day she opposed sanctions, more people were dying, and
that the best thing for the assets she wanted to protect was democracy.”