One of the more distressing aspect of the week of remembering Nelson Mandela has been the extraordinary claim that Margaret Thatcher was at the head of the anti-apartheid struggle. On the contrary she opposed the relatively modest sacntions imposed by the United States and fought tooth and nail at Commonwealth conferences to limit any pressure on the apartheid regime. In The Times (13 December) the last apartheid leader, FW de Klerk had the cheek to argue that Mrs Thatcher was instrumental in ending apartheid! I wrote this letter to The Times to set out the truth. The letter was published as lead letter in The Times on 16th December and was mentioned on the BBC
FW de Klerk protests too much when he says Margaret Thatcher helped abolish apartheid by rejecting sanctions (Comment 12 December). I worked in South Africa with independent black trade unions in the 1980s and was briefly detained. It was scarring to be in Soweto and Alexandra townships and see apartheid in operation. What changed was the realisation that the South African economy needed African workers to produce and serve and, more importantly, to become consumers. Employers were forced to recognise trade unions especially in German and Swedish firms which operated there. Trade union leaders of the quality of Cyril Ramaphosa emerged and intelligent white South Africans realised it was game over. The main sanctions player was the United States which banned the sale of Krugerrands and sent an African-American diplomat, Edward Pickering, to be Ambassador in South Africa. The US embassy became home to opposition leaders in South Africa. I do not recall anyone thinking the British government was playing any important role, one way or another, in the end of apartheid. It was the people of South Africa, including many white South Africans that came for realise apartheid had to go. FW Klerk was in post when it happened but it was going to happen anyway and Mrs Thatcher played no major part.