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 April 8, following a stroke. She was 87.
“The apartheid government thrived in her presence,” Political commentator Susan Booysen 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.
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.”