Shenge hails Thatcher

2013-04-09 00:00

MARGARET Thatcher was a friend and a trailblazer who did what she thought was right in difficult times, Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi said yesterday.

He was paying tribute to the former British prime minister, who died yesterday morning at the age of 87.

“For me she was a great trailblazer with the courage of her convictions and believed in doing what she thought was right when it was difficult to do so.”

Buthelezi was referring to Thatcher’s opposition to economic sanctions against South Africa in October 1985.

“She was actually the voice of reason, in as much, I think, I was the voice of reason on that issue.

“The reason why she was against it [sanctions] was that it was to devastate the poorest of the poor.”

Buthelezi said he was devastated by her death. She had been the only woman to become prime minister in Britain and served three terms between 1979 and 1990, he said, “but in my mind she remains first and foremost a friend”.

“I have fond memories of her. She was one of the greatest figures of our times,” he told The Witness.

When they met in London in 1986, Thatcher was very forthright.

“I remember her facial expression when she talked about issues. You could see her firmness.”

He recalled the day when Thatcher paid him a visit in Ulundi when he was chief minister of KwaZulu.

“Never before had an international dignitary shown such respect for a black leadership,” said Buthelezi.

The last time he saw her was during a luncheon when she visited her son, Mark, in Cape Town in 2004.

Pik Botha, South Africa’s apartheid-era foreign minister, remembered Thatcher as someone with a strong personality.

“She had superb knowledge on issues that were taking place. She displayed wisdom and knowledge.”

The pair met in the early 1970s when Botha was a young National Party MP. He later worked with her on negotiations that took place in southern African countries.

“She taught me how to find a balance of interests in negotiations to avoid conflicts and ensure sustainable settlements.”

Botha credited Thatcher with insisting that Nelson Mandela be released from prison before the apartheid government could enter into negotiations with the then exiled ANC.

“She was for economic progress and economic stability, but also political freedom and fundamental rights,” Botha added.

Former deputy president F.W. de Klerk said Thatcher would be remembered as a leader whose policies and approach had had a significant impact on world politics.

“Although she was always a steadfast critic of apartheid, she had more grasp of the complexities and geo-strategic realities of South Africa than many of her contemporaries.

“She consistently and correctly believed that much more could be achieved through constructive engagement with the South African government than through draconian sanctions and isolation.”

The ANC in a statement expressed sadness at Thatcher’s death, but pointed out that she had refused to recognise the ANC as the representative of South Africans and had failed to isolate the National Party government after apartheid had been described as a crime against humanity.

ANC veteran Pallo Jordan told David Smith of the Guardian: “I’ve just sent a letter of congratulations. I say good riddance. She was a staunch supporter of the apartheid regime.

“She was part of the rightwing alliance with Ronald Reagan that led to a lot of avoidable deaths.

“In the end I sat with her in her office with Nelson Mandela in 1991. She knew she had no choice. Although she called us a terrorist organisation, she had to shake hands with a terrorist and sit down with a terrorist. So who won?”, he was quoted as saying.

Jordan told the Guardian that Nelson Mandela had not borne a grudge during that meeting.

“Nelson Mandela is a forgiving person. Whatever Thatcher did, she didn’t put him in jail, did she?”

In his reaction, Dali Tambo, son of ANC leader Oliver Tambo, told the Guardian: “My gut reaction now is what it was at the time when she said my father was the leader of a terrorist organisation.

“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.”

President Jacob Zuma offered his condolences to the Thatcher family and the people of Britain.

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