Daniel Mpala looks at the legacy of Margaret Thatcher.
Margaret Thatcher died on the 08th of March 2013 at the age of 87 and she will be laid to rest this Wednesday. Even in the wake of her death, she’s still generating as much controversy as she did during her prime. There have been all sorts of mixed reactions to her death, with her death being cause for elation; riots, demonstrations and impromptu celebratory street parties (Bristol, Glasgow, Belfast, London), tributes, reflection and even a chart topping song (Ding Dong The Witch is Dead). It is rather peculiar for someone’s death to incite such a spectrum of emotions as hers did. This got me curious and led me to do a great deal of reading on her life, her political career and personality. Most people my age, (I was born in 1991 a few months shorty after she left office) are keen to know about the legacy she left, particularly from a Southern African perspective.
The daughter of a grocer, Maggie as she is affectionately known in England, ascended through the political and social strata to become the first and only female Prime Minister in 1979, an office that she held for 11 years. She is remarked for her wit and intelligence (she was a chemist and lawyer by profession), assertiveness, stubborn nature and for being outspoken. She is credited to have been a hard worker, rumoured to have slept for only 4hrs a day during the time she was Prime Minister. In her tenure as Prime Minister she implemented crucial educational reforms; she introduced poll tax (single flat rate per capita tax on adults- this was later on abolished; embarked on a Rent to buy scheme which sought to get council tenants to buy homes by having them sold at a discount; a champion of free markets and trade, she also embarked on extensive privatisation and battled and reined in the powerful labour unions ; she was also instrumental in helping to bring about the end of the Cold War. In 1982 during her term in office, the UK fought the 74 day Falklands War with Argentina which is arguably one of the best defining moments of her leadership. Her time in office was however fraught with riots and protests due to the animosity she garnered amongst many.
And what of her legacy in Southern Africa, in South Africa and Zimbabwe? What legacy does she leave behind here? Should her death be marked by the same vitriol as seen online and on the streets of Belfast, London, Bristol and Glasgow? Or should her life be celebrated? In South Africa, her interaction with the ANC pre -1994 was fairly awkward at first, with her describing the ANC as a “typical terrorist organisation” Even up to this day elements within the current British parliament acknowledge that her stance on apartheid was wrong and misguided. Thatcher defied international pressure to impose economic sanctions on South Africa as other international countries were doing at the time and in-line with the American policy of disinvestment. This might have pro-longed apartheid. Speculation is rife that her husband’s business interests might have been a motive for this. Vehement in her refusal to impose these sanctions, she is said to have argued that economic sanctions would help little but harden attitudes, that apartheid was more a sin against economic liberalism than humanity. Instead she believed sanctions would adversely affect black people more, hurt British business interests as well as the other African countries. Although her relationship with apartheid presidents Botha and De Klerk raised a few questions, she seemed to help black South African political activists, a case of note being Mandela, where her influence was instrumental in his release from jail. Thatcher also provided security for ANC activists in the U.K during apartheid. However her tolerance for the apartheid government and her placing precedence on “British jobs over African lives and pennies over principles” might have been behind the ANC’s initial decisions not to allow Mandela to meet with her as it was still angry about Thatcher’s handling apartheid. These two later met. In response to her death, the ANC said in a carefully worded statement that, “The ANC was on the receiving end of her policy in terms of refusing to recognize the ANC as the representatives of South Africans and her failure to isolate apartheid after it had been described as a crime against humanity, however we acknowledge that she was one of the strong leaders in Britain and Europe to an extent that some of her policies dominate discourse in the public service structures of the world. Long after her passing on, her impact will still be felt and her views a subject of discussion.” The relationship between the ANC and Thatcher was clearly uneasy and difficult. One might be forgiven to think that they never really saw eye to eye, but, nonetheless, the ANC seems to sympathise for her loss. Conversely, not everyone within the ANC seems to bear the same sentiments. Pallo Jordan, an ANC stalwart who was at one time part of an envoy to the U.K, was a bit less sympathetic of her passing. On talk Radio 702, he said of Thatcher’s death, “ Many lives were lost (as a result of the apartheid regime.) I don’t think it’s a great loss to the world. I say good riddance”.
Up north, in Zimbabwe, prominent politician and Zapu leader Dumiso Dabengwa is said to have hinted that Thatcher’s government knew of the Gukurahundi massacres of 20 000 civilians that took place there after independence between 1982 and 1987 and never did anything about it. She however was key in negotiating a ceasefire that led to Zimbabwe’s independence after she managed to advise the belligerents to sign a peace settlement, ending years of civil war. What is unusual is the odd, intimate relationship that has recently come to light with the de-classification of a number of letters between Thatcher and Mugabe. These letters suggest that Thatcher was compassionate and supportive of Mugabe . Thatcher’s government also had pledged to give Mugabe’s government £75million in addition to the £30million it had already handed over to coup Zimbabwe land redistribution on condition that there would not be any farm invasions. Then again, Margaret Thatcher and Robert Mugabe had not always been top mates. As with Mandela, Thatcher at one time called Mugabe and his party terrorists. In response to Baron Carrington who had suggested she meet leaders of the Patriotic Front , she wrote that, “No – please do not meet leaders of the ‘Patriotic Front’. I have never done business with terrorists until they become Prime Ministers! MT”. Relations between the two later warmed up after Mugabe became Prime Minister. Mugabe even visited her at 10 Downing Street numerous times, in meetings where they supposedly spoke “ informally and like old friends”. In response to her death, ZANU PF national chairman Simon Khaya Moyo said she was a mature leader and a better negotiating partner.
It is thus clear that Margaret Thatcher left quite a legacy, She is a role model for most women as she proved that women do indeed have what it takes to lead a country. However the question remains, how does one remember or view the legacy of someone who seemingly tolerated apartheid and ignored massacres? Someone who placed emphasis on economic interests over human rights? Should we be reminiscing in grief at her passing or instead take to the streets and celebrate? It really is confusing isn’t it? On the one hand there’s so much she did for South Africa and Zimbabwe yet again on the other there are a lot more evils she turned a blind eye to. How are you going to remember Margaret Thatcher?