Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Baroness Margaret Thatcher’s funeral aptly captured both a period of history and the dilemma of our future. For me, it was a cathartic experience that brought back memories of an intense personal and political relationship that spanned several decades, as Lady Thatcher was not only a kindred political spirit, but also a true friend of mine.
The funeral was attended by many surviving protagonists of the decades-long struggle against Communism, known as the Cold War, including trade-union icon and former President of Poland Lech Walesa, former US Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Speaker Newt Gingrich and many others.
Former US Vice President Dick Cheney, former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, former Prime Minister of Canada Brian Mulroney, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and many other world leaders, complemented the presence of the entire British political establishment at one of the most solemn funerals of our time.
South Africa was represented only by me, former President FW de Klerk, Dr Mario Oriani-Ambrosini MP, and our Deputy High Commissioner Ms Bongiwe Qwabe. It was not surprising that no political representative from our ruling party was there.
This reflects the deep-seated political idiosyncrasies in our country. More often than in other countries, some of our lesser commentators tend to explain world history from the viewpoint and within the dynamics of our own history, reducing everything to a struggle in support of or against Apartheid. Reality was much more complex and harder to admit for some of the government-aligned pundits.
The entire Western world wanted to end Apartheid, which it unanimously declared a crime against humanity and against which it imposed economic and other sanctions. No Western country supported Apartheid or failed to push for its dismantling.
But the Western world also did not want South Africa to become a political, military or economic colony of the Soviet Empire, which would have merely moved our people from one type of oppression into another.
Because of the ANC’s strategic choices, the South African liberation was caught in this dilemma and could only succeed once Mikhail Gorbachev declared and began implementing perestroika and glasnost, which signalled the imminent and inevitable collapse of Soviet communism and its military and political ambitions in Southern Africa. By seeking and receiving political, military and financial assistance and training from the Soviet Empire, the ANC’s leaders and cadres committed themselves to their Soviet patrons’
agenda and ideology.
Hence the ANC’s commitment to sanctions, internal insurrection and the armed struggle as the tools of our liberation struggle, rather than negotiations; which I could not endorse. The very reasons that led me to reject sanctions have now been invoked by the ANC to reject sanctions against Zimbabwe, vindicating my position that sanctions hurt most the poorest of the poor.
World leaders like Baroness Thatcher, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Helmut Kohl, George H. Bush, and Giulio Andreotti, all of whom I have known personally, have been committed friends of South African democracy. They worked with me to develop the international policy framework which became known as “constructive engagement”, to ensure that we secured a negotiated, peaceful and non-communist outcome to our liberation struggle.
Without their committed assistance, we would not have our much-praised Constitution and democracy. This truth may be too hard to stomach for those who wish to simply turn our history into an exclusively national narrative impermeable to world events.
A lot of what has been written about Margaret Thatcher’s domestic policies highlights a dilemma now facing our own future. No one questions her commitment to make her country succeed, but some criticized her for the short-term social costs she imposed on the British people to achieve that success.
When she took power after the “winter of discontent”, the economies of Italy and Britain were in similar condition. Under Baroness Thatcher’s stewardship, the British economy changed direction and abandoned its unsustainable reliance on government subsidies and regulatory and financial assistance. The Italian economy maintained its course, falling deeper and deeper into a welfare state. Today, the results speak for themselves.
South Africans face a similar dilemma, which will not be solved to the success of South Africa as long as we continue to suffer under a ruling class that considers the word “Thatcherism” pejorative.
In truth, until the very end, Margaret Thatcher had a special love for our country and wanted it to succeed by achieving its own prosperity and social equality and by becoming a leader on its continent. It pains me that all she offered to us, including her life’s work and legacy, are neither understood nor appreciated by our ruling class.
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP