Apartheid’s victims will shed no tears3

by Ronnie Kasrils
 It is often said they only speak well of you after your death. Well, sometimes – but not always in politics. At the time of Hugo Chavez’s death a month ago Fidel Castro observed of Venezuela’s late president: “If you want to know what kind of man he was, look at who was crying at his death and who was celebrating.”

The demise of Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s prime minister from 1979-1990, is a case in point. The extent to which she tore Britain apart is illustrated by the extremes of love and loathing expressed from elite to street.

Corporate big business hailed her as a goddess of wealth creation who smashed trade union power, while Britain’s working class refused to shed a tear – many in fact not withholding their delight at her demise.

National Union of Miners (NUM) general secretary Chris Kitchen reflected the mood in stating: “She deserves no respect from the NUM or any of the working people she put on the dole … she will never be forgiven for the disaster she inflicted on the mining industry, on our communities, and on the miners.”

Such division of emotion was echoed internationally from as far afield as the US, where she was a firm ally of Ronald Reagan, and from Ireland to Argentina, Chile and South Africa.

The idea that it is wrong to speak ill of the dead was manifest in South Africa where – unsurprisingly – former National Party leaders such as FW de Klerk and Pik Botha, whose odious regime Thatcher had protected from sanctions, were expansive in their praise.

ANC spokesman Keith Khoza referred to her as “a force for good in the world,” but veteran member and former minister Pallo Jordan eschewed mealy-mouthed niceties.

“I say good riddance. She was a staunch supporter of the apartheid regime. She was part of the right-wing alliance with Reagan that led to a lot of avoidable deaths.”

Jordan was recalling how Thatcher had supported apartheid when it was heightening repression at home and abroad, killing our people through death squad activity and in cross-border raids in the region, invading Angola and supporting terrorist bandit movements there and Mozambique. For her, Mandela and the ANC were “terrorists.”

I first heard of Thatcher when she was minister of education in the Conservative government of Edward Heath (1970-74).

I had returned from an ANC mission in Africa to London where my wife and two young sons were based.

The young lads were making posters proclaiming “Margaret Thatcher – milk snatcher” for a school protest.

Britain’s working people and their families were livid. The new education minister was cutting free morning milk for schoolchildren brought in by the post-war Labour government. This was a cruel and tasteless blow to Britain’s poorer classes but nothing compared with the fate she had in store for them when she was later to ascend to the highest political office in 1979 with just 40 per cent of the vote.

It was her “transformation” of Britain that really marks her perfidious legacy and the reason why she has been so lauded by the wealthy elite and so reviled by ordinary honest working-class people.

As the Morning Star’s obituary pointed out Thatcher was a proponent of unbridled free-market capitalism who “pursued crazy monetarist policies, destroyed millions of manufacturing jobs, slashed public spending and devastated Britain’s industrial heartlands. She launched a full-scale onslaught in 1984 against Britain’s miners, branding the mineworkers’ union and left-wing trade unionists as ‘the enemy within’ and mobilising the police and secret service to harass, infiltrate and destabilise the left.”

Thatcher cut pensions, introduced vicious anti-union laws and privatised large public companies dirt-cheap, which prompted former Tory prime minister Harold Macmillan to accuse her of “selling off the family silver.”

When she came to power Britain’s financial services sector represented 3 per cent of the economy. Her policies upped that to 40 per cent.

She believed she was invincible and relished the Soviet journalistic description of her as the “Iron Lady.”

She was seen at her most heartless during the hunger strike by Irish Republican prisoners protesting at the withdrawal of their political status in 1980-81.

Ten men, including Bobby Sands, were to starve to death demanding their right to wear civilian clothes.

Thatcher remained obdurate and unmoved. This reflected her use of increased security and military repression in Northern Ireland.

They were certainly dancing in the streets of Buenos Aires last week, recalling the over 300 young men despatched to a watery grave on Thatcher’s orders during the Malvinas/Falklands war of May 1982.

They were conscripts on board the Argentinian warship the Belgrano, torpedoed outside the British exclusion zone as it was withdrawing from the conflict.

That was a war which could have been settled diplomatically – but the Iron Lady was eager to bare her jingoistic fangs for patriotic approval.

I can say two good things about Thatcher.

First, and this refers to the first time I actually met her in the flesh, she found time to attend to her constituency duties as an MP even while she was prime minister. Our London home was in her north London constituency.

On a rare occasion when I was home from ANC duties in Africa I was pulled in by the local anti-apartheid branch for a meeting with her at her constituency office.

We were raising the perennial issue of sanctions against apartheid, which she steadfastly rejected – lecturing us on the virtue of constructive engagement with the regime.

She was haughty and immovable, as she was on insisting that the ANC was a terrorist organisation.

She hated the IRA with a vengeance and saw all genuine freedom fighters in that light. Yet she was the woman who lauded the Taliban when they were doing the US’s work in seeing off the Soviets in Afghanistan and was full of praise for dictator Augusto Pinochet for “bringing democracy to Chile.”

When I declared myself as an ANC member she coldly responded that she was seeing me as a constituent – and that was that.

The other point I can state as a positive about her is that she was a champion of her class – unlike the Labour Party and other such sell-outs which invariably leave their people in the lurch.

Her abiding legacy is that with the likes of Reagan she sowed the seeds of today’s global capitalist crisis.

Their successors are attempting to pass on the inevitable banking and financial sector debts to the ordinary taxpayer.

It is clear that one can judge Thatcher’s life by looking at who has cried and who has celebrated her death. Zapiro’s cartoon of the Iron Lady’s metallic corpse being lowered into her grave captures the mood with his caption – “rust in peace.”

  • Ronnie Kasrils is a veteran ANC and South African Communist Party (SACP) anti-apartheid revolutionary and was on the SACP central committee from 1986-2007. He was South Africa’s intelligence minister from 2004-2008.

One thought on “Ronnie Kasrils on Thatcher

  1. Pingback: British Thatcher fans mistake satirical song for tribute | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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