Margaret Thatcher on apartheid: Sixteen quotes

The late British PM's views on race discrimination, sanctions and the ANC

1. Article in the Finchley Times, December 8 1977

In her reply Mrs Thatcher assured the [anti-apartheid] protestors that the Conservative Party was totally opposed to apartheid. Her letter said: "We believe that the objective for South Africa must be rapid progress towards equal human rights for all South Africans, Furthermore, we have strongly condemned the recent repressive measures adopted by the South African authorities.... [However] In my view, isolation will lead only to an increasingly negative and intransigent attitude in the part of white South African".

2. Speech to the House of Commons July 25 1979

The policy of apartheid, with its emphasis on separating peoples rather than bringing them together, and all the harshness required to impose it on the South African population is wholly unacceptable. Within South Africa, as in the outside world, there is a growing recognition that change must come. It is in everyone's interest that change should come without violence. We must work by fostering contact, not by ostracism. We must be ready to acknowledge and welcome progress when it is made, even when it may appear slow and inadequate. We must not drive the South Africans into turning their backs on the world. We need to recognise the immensity and complexity of the problems they face. We must encourage progress in working out solutions to those problems.

3. Speech at Monash University (1981 Sir Robert Menzies Lecture) October 6 1981

Democratic governments have to maintain relations with many governments of whose actions and policies they disapprove. But that does not mean that members of governments, or for that matter heads of government, should refrain from exercising moral judgement.

Let me give some examples of what I mean. I cannot accept that any government is justified in pursuing policies which are based on discrimination against one citizen as opposed to another on grounds either of race or religion. It is a basic principle of civilised society that all citizens are equal before the law. A system based on apartheid cannot be defended. Nor can systems, whether clerical (as in Iran) or anti-clerical (as in the Soviet Union), which deny freedom of worship to some or all of the population.

4. TV Interview for CBS May 31 1985

 I think that we have to have talks with people, even if we disapprove of their policies, and I think that we might perhaps sometimes influence some of them more either to understanding our views and try to influence them towards our views, if we talk to them. We cannot if we do not. I disapprove of apartheid. You cannot determine a person's rights by the colour of his skin, but that does not prevent me from talking to Prime Minister Botha and making my views clear.

5. Statement to the House of Commons on her meeting with South African Prime Minister PW Botha, June 5 1984

On Namibia, we agreed that early independence for Namibia was desirable and should be achieved as soon as possible under peaceful conditions. We also agreed that all foreign forces should be withdrawn from the countries in southern Africa so that their peoples can settle their destinies without outside interference. The withdrawal of South African forces from Angola is an important first step in this process.

On the internal situation in South Africa, I expressed our strongly-held views on apartheid. I told Mr. Botha of my particular concern at the practice of forced removals and raised the question of the continued detention of Mr. Nelson Mandela . Mr. Botha gave me an account of his government's recent constitutional measures and of the appointment of a Cabinet committee to make proposals for the political future of the black population outside the homelands.

I believe that the South African Prime Minister now understands much more clearly where Her Majesty's Government stand on all the major issues. My talks with Mr. Botha are part of the process through which we and other western and African countries must continue to press for the sort of changes that we all want to see in southern Africa.

6. TV Interview for CBS, July 26 1986

I think a policy of sanctions would harm the very people in South Africa you are trying to help. Mrs. Helen Suzman, who's fought against apartheid all her life, from within South Africa, also takes that view, and I agree with her. I agree with a policy of trying to influence South Africa by other means. The present Government is moving forward in the direction we wish them to go, faster than any other. I remember when Mr. Botha came round Europe, many people received him, so did I. I particularly asked him to stop the policy of forced removals, British people feel extremely strongly about it, and thought if we could get that done away with we should be doing something, and after a time, yes, they have in fact stopped the policy of enforced removal. That was something very positive. There are many other things that are going on. Sanctions will harm, not help.

7. TV Interview for ITN (Nassau Commonwealth Summit), October 20 1985

I made it abundantly clear that we are totally against apartheid. Moreover, if you were to try to apply full economic sanctions, that would not persuade the government of South Africa to negotiate-far from it! They are a very strong country economically, South Africa. South Africa is the strongest economy in the whole of Africa: 25%; of the population, 75%; of the income. She could in fact manage, even if full mandatory sanctions were applied, for a very considerable time, perhaps indefinitely. That is not the way to persuade her to do what we want her to do, which is to come to a regime that will be stable. I do not believe the present one is, and that I think is a judgment the world has made on it. To be stable, you really cannot judge people by the colour of their skin. You have got, in fact, to make provision for able people, from whatever background, to be able to get into government and for black South Africans therefore to be able to take part in government.

8. Speech at Lord Mayor's Banquet, London, November 11 1985

My Lord Mayor, I detest apartheid. I couldn't stand being excluded or discriminated against because of the colour of my own skin. And if you can't stand a colour bar against yourself, you can't stand it against anyone else. Apartheid is wrong and it must go. Major changes are taking place in South Africa. We should welcome and encourage them.

The right way to deal with legitimate grievances is not by violence but by a genuine dialogue between the South African Government and the black community. For that dialogue to succeed there must be a suspension of violence on all sides. The whole Commonwealth agreed on that.

Economic sanctions are not the way to promote peaceful change. Sanctions do not work. Indeed they make problems worse. They would be a blow to all those firms and people who are in the forefront of efforts to end apartheid by giving black Africans more jobs and greater opportunities. Our goal is a future for South Africa which guarantees people of all races their political rights and freedoms and which preserves South Africa's economic success.

9. Remarks following statement on Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Nassau) to the House of Commons, October 29 21985:

I agree with my right hon. Friend that the South African Government have taken more steps than were taken by any of their predecessors to start the process of dismantling apartheid. A considerable number of measures have been taken-the Mixed Marriages Act and section 16 of the Immorality Act have been repealed, almost all job reservations have been removed and forced removals have been suspended, the abolition of influx control and pass laws has been recommended to the President by his advisory council, and a common 819citizenship for all South Africans has been restored. These are considerable steps towards the process of removing apartheid-a process which will need to continue, and to which the dialogue is directed.

10. Interview with Hugo Young of The Guardian, July 8 1986

I do not like apartheid. It is wrong. I like valuing people for what they are, not for their colour or their background. Apartheid is wrong and it has to go, and it is going and I have seen President Botha when he came over ... I did receive him. He came down to Chequers and we had, I think, a whole day discussing things, including internal things in South Africa for a very long time, and we had then a long discussion about enforced removals, because this was a thing which was totally and utterly particularly repugnant to us and, as you know, we had a long correspondence about it and long discussions, and as you know, those have been stopped now. And a number of other things have been stopped. So things are coming in the right direction. Naturally, one wishes them to come faster. So the objective is the same. It is how to achieve the objective.

Press Conference after Commonwealth Summit, London, August 5 1986

We continue to believe that the goal of dismantling apartheid and establishing democracy in South Africa will be reached in the end by negotiation. It is that goal, in the context of a suspension of violence, which we seek. Racial justice with peace, not amid an economic wasteland, but the growing prosperity which a non-racial South Africa could enjoy.

11. Speech at opening ceremony of 32nd Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference, Westminster Hall, Westminster, September 25 1986

And over the past years the Commonwealth has in practice tolerated and accepted a very wide range of governments and policies. To cite an example: we all detest the system of apartheid in South Africa and want to see it demolished as soon as possible, but we don't quite agree how best to do it. There is nothing unusual in agreeing the end but disputing the means.

12. Press Conference at Vancouver Commonwealth Summit, Canada, October 17 1987

Just before you, I just remembered I did not answer the second part of the previous question put to me about the ANC, when the ANC says that they will target British companies. This shows what a typical terrorist organisation it is. I fought terrorism all my life and if more people fought it, and we were all more successful, we should not have it and I hope that everyone in this hall will think it is right to go on fighting terrorism. They will if they believe in democracy.

13. Speech to Foreign Press Association, London, January 13 1988

You will expect me to say something about my recent visit to Africa. It was, first of all, a thoroughly interesting and stimulating experience. I was received very kindly in both countries and the welcome from ordinary people exceeded all expectations. One purpose of my visit was to emphasise that there was no difference between us over the aim of getting rid of apartheid-only over the method by which that aim can best be achieved.

The idea that the collapse of apartheid can be achieved by a concerted push from outside to destroy the South African economy is, I believe, an illusion. Punitive sanctions would make the problems worse and do untold damage to black South Africans and their children as well as to South Africa's neighbouring states and their peoples. Moreover, it is progressive foreign companies in South Africa which have been in the forefront of dismantling apartheid. It would be a tragedy to prevent them from continuing what they do in this respect. I believe that the path mapped out by the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group offers the best prospect of progress towards negotiations between all groups in South Africa, against the background of a suspension of violence on all sides.

14. Written Statement on South Africa ( Southern Africa: The Way Ahead, Britain's View ), October 22 1989

In Britain's view there have been important and positive changes in South Africa since the last meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government in Vancouver. Seventy per cent of white South Africans voted for change in the recent elections and there is now a government firmly committed to the concept of negotiations. Peaceful political activity by the black majority has been accepted and eight of the political prisoners whose release has long been a goal of Commonwealth countries have been set free.

In this new situation, Britain believes that the Commonwealth should concentrate now on encouraging change rather than on further punishment. Whatever their intention, the effect of sanctions is punitive. All the evidence is that they bear hardest on the poorest and weakest members of South Africa's black population, depriving them of the dignity of jobs and the ability to care for their families. South Africa's population is growing very rapidly and the country needs economic growth to provide a decent standard of living for its people. Sanctions, in particular financial sanctions, have the effect of deliberately depriving South Africa of access to the funds which it needs in order to grow. They thus put out of reach the possibility of improving living standards for all South Africans. Sanctions contribute to poverty and misery in South Africa, whereas Britain's efforts are directed to helping relieve poverty and misery throughout Africa as a whole.

15. Article for Sunday Express, December 28 1989

In southern Africa, which I visited earlier this year, freedom and democracy are on the march. After the successful election in Namibia the release of Nelson Mandela, which I hope to see in 1990, would surely speed the end of the decaying system of apartheid in South Africa. And we are working hard for peace and reform in Angola and Mozambique, too.

16. Press Conference on South Africa (De Klerk measures), Downing Street, February 2 1990

Good Morning. I wanted to say a word of congratulations to President de Klerk for his far reaching, bold and courageous proposals to get negotiations going in South Africa, to bring an end to apartheid and to get a government which all South Africans can believe in and agree to. It opens the way for negotiations peacefully, which is what we have always wanted. It means that the approach that Britain has taken to this, which is not one of isolating South Africa but keeping contact with her and talking to her, of not having comprehensive sanctions, that approach of contact rather than isolation is now paying off and will be helpful to all of the people of South Africa and to the Front Line States.

Quotes extracted from speeches, transcripts and statements collected by The Margaret Thatcher Foundation

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