Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Astronomers tell us that when a star dies, we may still, for thousands of years, see the light it put out while it was living. Yesterday, one of the brightest stars in the firmament of the twentieth century died in London. Yet generations to come will continue to see her light. She has become an indelible part of human history.
Baroness Margaret Thatcher was, to me, more than an iconic figure of British politics. She was more than the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. She was more than the woman who reversed her nation’s decline as they staggered away from World War II. She was more than the victorious leader in the Falklands War, and more than the Iron Lady.
She was, first and foremost, a friend.
It was therefore painful to hear news reports in South Africa last night speak of Baroness Thatcher as having “sided with Apartheid”. How fundamentally untrue! The tenuous basis for this accusation can be gleaned from a statement released by the ANC yesterday, that, “The ANC was on the receiving end of her policy in terms of refusing to recognize the ANC as the representatives of South Africans and her failure to isolate apartheid after it had been described as a crime against humanity.”
The Party that claims it will rule until the return of Christ appears to have taken Christ’s example when He said, “Whoever is not with me is against me.” The ANC has long perpetuated a dichotomous image of South Africa’s past in which the ANC is the righteous protagonist and Apartheid the arch-villain. Any other characters are sublimated to bit-parts firmly behind one side or the other. As a result, whoever disagreed with the ANC, must necessarily have sided with evil.
I shudder to think of the statement the ANC will release upon my own passing; for my hand is evident in Baroness Thatcher’s wise opposition to the call from the ANC’s mission-in-exile for international sanctions and disinvestment against South Africa. Indeed, I visited Prime Minister Thatcher at 10 Downing Street in the eighties as part of my tours to Heads of State to discuss the real impact of sanctions in the fight against Apartheid.
She listened attentively and asked many searching questions. I found her grasp of the complexities of South African politics quite remarkable. She understood that the founding fathers of our liberation movement had worked from the premise of negotiations and non-violence. She understood that sanctions and economic disinvestment by the Commonwealth, and other nations, would cause the minority-dominated economy of South Africa to contract and reorganise itself, giving rise to monopolies and cartels. And she understood that those who would suffer the most would be the poorest of our people.
Thus, during the 1987 Commonwealth Summit, she again resisted the call for sanctions.
Prime Minister Thatcher was not the only voice of reason during that difficult time. President Ronald Reagan of the United States also received me with warmth and great interest to hear a perspective on the complex struggle that was different to the one-sided tale of the Nationalist regime and the equally one-sided tale of the ANC in exile. He too opposed the ANC’s call for sanctions. It is somehow fitting that his wife, Mrs Nancy Reagan, will lead the list of international dignitaries honouring Baroness Thatcher during next week’s official funeral.
I was warmly received by many Heads of State, including US Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H. Bush, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the Prime Minister of Holland Den Uyl.
Within Africa, I was received by President Kenneth Kaunda in Lusaka and President Julius Nyerere in Dar es Salaam, when I visited to thank them for giving sanctuary to our political exiles. I was a guest of President Hastings Banda at the celebration of Malawi’s independence, and was invited to Liberia by President William Tolbert. I was humbled to receive plane tickets from President Olusegan Obasanjo to visit Lagos, Nigeria in 1976, where I spoke at the Institute for International Affairs on the very day Pretoria granted so-called “independence” to Transkei.
None of these leaders had any confusion about who I was. They regarded me as a freedom fighter. Indeed, when President Olusegun Obasanjo visited Mr Nelson Mandela on Robben Island, Mandela told him, “Buthelezi is a freedom fighter in his own right”.
In 1989, I again travelled to London to visit Prime Minister Thatcher, the Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe and the Minister of State in the Foreign Office, Lynda Chalker. Again we discussed sanctions and how progress could be made in constitutional negotiations in the face of intense black-on-black conflict stirred by the ANC’s People’s War.
At that stage, however, I was pleased to be able to inform the Prime Minister that the Government was becoming more receptive to my insistence that Mandela be released and political parties unbanned, so that everyone with a stake in the new South Africa could gather around the negotiating table.
In that year, Prime Minister Thatcher presented a peace plan for South Africa which hinged on negotiations and the denunciation of violence. She sought support for the peace plan from leaders across the world, saying that she was “pinning her faith on Russia’s glasnost policy curbing the ANC’s armed struggle and tipping the movement into talks with the South African Government”.
The ANC, however, rejected Thatcher’s peace plan. The rules of the People’s War, which the ANC had learned in Vietnam, led them to believe that negotiations should never be allowed to substitute People’s War, but could only be pursued in tandem with the creation of widespread terror.
Prime Minister Thatcher had already spoken of the ANC in terms of a terrorist organisation, which is a slight they are never likely to forgive.
I myself never spoke of them in that way. But God help us if the ANC, adept as it is in rewriting history to favour itself, now seeks to rewrite the history of Baroness Margaret Thatcher as a leader who “sided with Apartheid”
simply because she would not recognise the ANC’s mission-in-exile as the representative of the oppressed majority in South Africa.
Baroness Margaret Thatcher is credited with being one of those world leaders who brought down Communism. That is part of a legacy that is long and detailed and worthy of acclaim. Nevertheless, for my own part, I will remember her not only for what she did during her remarkable life, but for the friendship we shared as human beings.
I was honoured to be invited to Baroness Thatcher’s 80th birthday party in London in 2005. We talked about her visit to Ulundi during Apartheid and how frustrated the South African Government had been to see an international dignitary honouring a black leadership. With a sparkle in her eye, she conveyed to me how she missed those times.
There will be many more times to miss as we remember the life of Baroness Margaret Thatcher in the coming days. Her legacy cannot be contained in simplistic terms. She was a complex woman, serving her nation during a complex time. She deserves our admiration and respect.
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP