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Few tears in South Africa for Britain’s ‘Iron Lady’

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher

(GIN)—While the public service record of Baroness Margaret Thatcher is praised in most western news accounts, the former U.K. Prime Minister was recalled critically among some South Africans.

For starters, the British Prime Minister, known as the Iron Lady, was a warm friend of South African dictator P.W. Botha who was welcomed at No. 10 Downing Street in 1984.

With this, Botha became the first leader of the Apartheid regime accorded 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 others “terrorists.”

Thatcher’s rule began in 1979 and encompassed critical years before Nelson Mandela’s release and the collapse of the racist apartheid regime.

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.”

Ms. Thatcher, the Conservative Party leader, died 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.

“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.

“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,” Booysen said.

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 right-wing 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?”

 

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