Thatcher: Riddle of role in ending the apartheid era

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NINETEEN years after the end of apartheid, South Africans are still divided over whether Mrs Thatcher helped or hindered the system of white rule.

She supported the apartheid government when it was at its deadliest, said Pallo Jordan, a former African National Congress cabinet minister.

“Maggie Thatcher and Britain were important figures … they were defending [apartheid]South Africa, they were preventing international sanctions,” he said. Thatcher famously branded Nelson Mandela and his ANC movement “terrorist”.

Mr Jordan was at Mandela’s first meeting with Thatcher after his release from 27 years in jail, at Downing Street in 1990.

“What amused the old man more than anything else was that here she was engaging in a conversation with this man that she thought an arch-terrorist.” He said Mr Mandela’s inherent charm disarmed “the Iron Lady” .

But others argue Mrs Thatcher opposed apartheid and racism.

“Thatcher did more to release Mandela than any of the other hundreds of anti-apartheid committees in Europe,” Pik Botha, the last foreign minister of the apartheid regime, said yesterday.

FW de Klerk, the last apartheid-era president of South Africa, said in a statement that Thatcher was “a steadfast critic of apartheid”.

“She exerted more influence in what happened in South Africa than any other political leader,” he said.