A chance to meet old friends

2013-04-18 00:00

I AM thankful to the Thatcher family and the UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs for inviting me to attend Baroness Margaret Thatcher’s funeral.

As I stated at the time of her passing, apart from our strong political ties, she was for me a real friend.

I could have not missed the opportunity to pay tribute to her along with thousands of people who wished her farewell in her last journey inside St Paul’s Cathedral, in the streets of London and around the world.

The funeral was a huge operation. VIP guests were required to be at Lancaster House by eight, although the funeral service only began at midday.

I felt that only the British could organise and conduct such a huge and complex operation so well and in such a style.

We were seated in the cathedral by 10 am, with the warning that no toilet facility would be available there.

As groups of participants arrived in procession, including Her Majesty the Queen, one was left in no doubt that this was a very sombre and dignified occasion.

For me it was also a wonderful opportunity to renew old acquaintances. They included former U.S. secretaries of state Dr Henry Kissinger and Prof. George Shultz. After the service I met former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, whom I last met when he awarded me Charlton Heston’s Courage under Fire award.

I also met Mr Lech Wałesa, the founder of Solidarity, the great Polish trade union.

I reminded him that when the great U.S. trade union AFL-CIO created the prestigious George Meany Human Rights Award, he was its first recipient and I and the late Dr Neil Aggett were the second co-recipients.

From our own country, we were joined by our former president F.W. de Klerk and his wife, Elita, and by our Deputy High Commissioner, Bongiwe Qwabe.

Former president De Klerk and I met UK Prime Minister David Cameron, whom I reminded of my special bond with Baroness Thatcher. When he inquired about the nature of such a bond, I replied that Baroness Thatcher had supported me when I campaigned against economic sanctions and disinvestment against South Africa.

I did so because when Prime Minister Cameron visited South Africa shortly after having been elected Conservative Party leader, he apologised to our ruling party for Baroness Thatcher’s support of my campaign against sanctions and disinvestment.

The Right Reverend Richard Chartres described what Lady Thatcher had stood for.

He stated that this was a time for truth that transcends political debate, quoting Baroness Thatcher stating that we are all interdependent and part of a greater whole.

For me this resonated with our belief in ubuntu-botho.

He quoted a letter from a nine-year-old boy to Baroness Thatcher, in which the boy queried whether anyone but Jesus could do no wrong. In my mind, this resonated with one of St Paul’s letters stating that none is without sin.

I sat in the cathedral between my friend Dr Kissinger and Israeli Prime Minister Mr Benjamin Netanyahu, separated by Dr Oriani-Ambrosini [of the Inkatha Freedom Party] and an aide.

I told Netanyahu that we must remember that we all acknowledge Abraham as our father, including those who believe in Jesus the Jew and the Muslims who too regard Abraham as their father. He agreed with me.

I was grateful that I had the opportunity to offer my condolences directly to Lady Thatcher’s son, Mark, who pounded his heart when he told me that he knew the depth of my relationship with his mother.

I regret that I did not talk to his twin sister, Carol.

After the funeral I reflected how, given the chance, I would walk my political path the same way I did, and would be proud to do so with Baroness Thatcher again.

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