Johannesburg - She once called it a terrorist organisation. But even the ANC joined in the flood of tributes and condolences from prominent South African politicians and parties for former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who died on Monday, aged 87, after a stroke.
Nelson Mandela met Thatcher at 10 Downing Street in July 1990 after declining to meet her on his first visit to London in April that year, after his release from prison in February.
In 2010, WikiLeaks published a cable sent from the US embassy in South Africa in May 1990, claiming that Mandela had been furious with Zwelakhe Sisulu, one of his advisers, for persuading the ANC national executive committee to veto his plans to meet Thatcher on his first trip.
The cable, signed by US ambassador Bill Swing, said Mandela had wanted to meet Thatcher to give her his opinion of her strong opposition to Commonwealth sanctions against the apartheid government.
After the 1987 Commonwealth summit, when she had again resisted the push for sanctions, Thatcher had said “the ANC is a typical terrorist organisation… Anyone who thinks it’s going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud cuckoo land.”
On Monday, the Nelson Mandela Foundation reacted to her death with a bland statement, saying: “We have learnt of her passing and would like to pass on our condolences to her family and friends.”
President Jacob Zuma was among those who expressed condolences, and former president FW de Klerk praised her for the positive role her “constructive engagement” had played in South Africa’s transformation to democracy.
ANC spokesman Keith Khoza said: “We believe she was one of the outstanding leaders of the developed world, but she was also the first female leader who was very effective in the world. Her legacy in public service speaks of what she was able to do with her term of office.”
He praised Thatcher’s “trimming of government and improving its output”, and the creation of “arm’s-length agencies to deliver services more efficiently and economically”.
“Even though she didn’t recognise the ANC as a liberation movement, she was forced to acknowledge us when British people accepted the leadership of the ANC,” Khoza said.
“We disagreed with her in certain policy areas, but it doesn’t take away from what she achieved. The ANC doesn’t bear grudges.”
De Klerk expressed “great sadness” at Thatcher’s death.
“She will be remembered not only as one of Britain’s greatest prime ministers, but also as a leader whose policies and approach had a significant impact on politics throughout the world.
“Although she was always a steadfast critic of apartheid, she had a much better 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.”
This had enabled her to play a positive role in supporting transformation in South Africa, De Klerk said, adding that from his first meeting with her just after he took over as leader of the National Party in 1989 and throughout her tenure as premier, she had given strong and valuable support to him and all other leaders working for a “peaceful, prosperous and constitutional future for South Africa”.
IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi said he was “devastated” by the news of her death as he regarded her as a friend. “She is an iconic figure in world history.”
DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko tweeted that she might not share Thatcher’s ideological views, “but all women in politics today are beneficiaries of her legacy”.
Her association with the country ended on a dark note when her son Mark was convicted in January 2005 of complicity in an aborted plot launched from South Africa in March 2004 to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea.
Political Bureau and Foreign Editor