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SA’s rulers deaf to Thatcher’s legacy

Baroness Margaret Thatcher's funeral aptly captured a period of history and the dilemma of our future. For me, it was a cathartic experience that brought back memories of an intense personal and political relationship that spanned decades, as Lady Thatcher was not only a kindred political spirit, but also a true friend.

The funeral was attended by many surviving protagonists of the decades-long struggle against communism known as the Cold War, including union icon and former Polish president Lech Walesa, former United States secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and many others.

Former US vice-president Dick Cheney, former Australian prime minister John Howard, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and many other world leaders complemented the presence of the entire British political establishment at one of the most solemn funerals of our time.

South Africa was represented only by myself, former President FW de Klerk, MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, and our deputy high commissioner, Bongiwe Qwabe. It was not surprising that no political representative from our ruling party was there.

It reflects our deep-seated political idiosyncrasies. Some of our commentators explain world history from the viewpoint and in the dynamics of our own history, reducing everything to a struggle in support of or against apartheid. The reality was much more complex.

The entire Western world wanted to end apartheid, which it unanimously declared a crime against humanity and against which it imposed economic and other sanctions. But the Western world also did not want South Africa to become a political, military or economic colony of the Soviet empire, which would have merely moved our people from one type of oppression to another.

Agenda and ideology
South Africa's liberation was caught in this dilemma and could succeed only once former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev began implementing perestroika and glasnost, which signalled the imminent and inevitable collapse of Soviet communism and its military and political ambitions in Southern Africa.

By seeking and receiving political, military and financial assistance and training from the Soviet empire, the ANC's leaders and cadres had committed themselves to their Soviet patrons' agenda and ideology.

Hence, the ANC's commitment to sanctions, internal insurrection and the armed struggle as the tools of our liberation struggle, rather than negotiations, which I could not endorse. My rejection of sanctions was based on the same reasoning now invoked by the ANC to reject sanctions against Zimbabwe: sanctions hurt mostly the poorest of the poor.

World leaders such as Thatcher, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Helmut Kohl, George H Bush, and Giulio Andreotti, all of whom I have known personally, have been committed friends of South African democracy. They worked with me to develop the international policy framework that became known as "constructive engagement".

A lot of what has been written about Thatcher's domestic policies highlights a dilemma about our own future. No one questions her commitment to make her country succeed, but some have criticised her for the short-term social costs she imposed on the British people to achieve that success.

When she took power in 1979 after the "winter of discontent", the economies of Italy and Britain were in a similar condition. Under Thatcher's stewardship, the British economy abandoned its unsustainable reliance on government subsidies and regulatory and financial assistance. The Italian economy maintained its course, falling deeper and deeper into a welfare state. Today, the results speak for themselves.

South Africans face a similar dilemma, which will not be solved successfully as long as we continue to suffer under a ruling class that considers "Thatcherism" to be pejorative. It pains me that all Thatcher offered, including her life's work and legacy, is neither understood nor appreciated by our ruling class.

Mangosuthu Buthelezi is the leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party.

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