A surprise visit by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to Namibia tomorrow – the day the territory's independence process is formally implemented- will round off her week long African safari. Thatcher would not confirm the Namibian visit at a Harare press conference late yesterday, but her Downing Street office said the trip is definitely on. Thatcher aides in Harare said she intends to spend a few hours in Windhoek on Saturday afternoon to show her support for the negotiated deal. Further details of her programme were not available at the time of going to press.
In Harare, Thatcher also announced she intends to meet South African government leaders as part of her new diplomatic strategy to foster negotiations to bring an end to apartheid. "I now have a policy of seeing ministers from South Africa," she said at the press conference marking the end of her two-day stay here. "I think perhaps we isolated them for too long. "I think it would have been better if we had seen more of them – they would have seen how the rest of us live in a society which knows not of differences between races, and eschews racial discrimination. "I recently saw Pik Botha when he came to I London," she said, "and I shall see other ministers if they come near London – to see exactly what is happening in South Africa, to see if there's anything we can do to help influence it in the direction we wish it to go."
Thatcher's aides announced she intends to meet South African Finance Minister Barend du Plessis "sometime in May", with other' ministerial meetings to follow. It has been speculated she is interested in meeting new National Party leader FW de Klerk, although the aides did not mention him by name. Thatcher gave only a broad indication of how she thought the accelerated talks would help bring about negotiations in the troubled Southern African continent. She said when she met Foreign Minister Pik Botha in London they agreed that "we have to work out de tails of who will be there" at the (hoped-for South African) negotiating table.
She continued: "We have to have some ideas ready so that when Nelson Mandela is released there will not be a vacuum, and so that there are plans to carry forward." In the course of her visit to Zimbabwe Thatcher cited a suspension of violence on "all sides" in South Africa, and the release of Mandela, as prerequisites for such preliminary negotiations. But she stopped well short of calling for an end to the State of Emergency and the release of all political detainees – issues top of the agenda put forward by anti-apartheid groups such as the United Democratic Front and the Congress of South African Trade Unions. In an interview before her departure from London.
Thatcher registered her support for a one-person-one-vote system in South Africa, but made it clear she also favoured a federal system instead of a unitary state. At the Harare press conference, Thatcher also enunciated her continued unwavering opposition to economic sanctions against South Africa, describing them as "absurd" at the moment. It has been pointed out that her position is notably similar to that of Pik Botha himself. He has made it clear that the settlement over Angola and the independence timetable for Namibia are positive signs of Pretoria's good faith towards the region.
On the other hand, it is precisely that position which appears to have brought Thatcher into conflict with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe this week. Officials described meetings between Mugabe and Thatcher as "friendly", and the two appeared to respond well to each other. Nevertheless, Mugabe and other frontline state leaders remain highly skeptical of South Africa’s intentions over Namibia. At her Harare press conference Thatcher insisted that Pretoria must stick "meticulously" to the letter of the Namibian independence timetable, and implied she trusted the South African leaders in a way Mugabe does not.
The Zimbabwean president refused this week to budge from his support for sanctions, and also declined to endorse Thatcher's call for increased dialogue with the South African government. After an increasingly close friendship between the two – which stretches back to the days following the Lancaster House conference of 1979 – many observers in Harare believe the gulf between Thatcher and Mugabe widened again this week – Andrew Meldrum and Peter Murray, Harare.
This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.