In the build-up to South Africa’s independence, lots of negotiations were made, in a bid to reach a compromise deal that would grant the country democracy. And as such, it was Nelson Mandela, the great revered statesman, who was at the centre of these negotiations.
Five months after Mandela was released, he met Margaret Thatcher, who was the then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The meeting was to discuss sanctions, and it has been reported that Mandela was anxious about the meeting.
The man who prepared these two leaders to meet, Robin Renwick, said that Mandela did not want to fight Thatcher, but wanted to win her over to his side. Renwick was the British High Commissioner at the time.
The meeting was handled with a very cautious approach, with Renwick advising Thatcher on what to expect from the meeting, and also advised her not to interrupt him since Mandela had waited for three decades just for that opportunity.
He said: “She was trying to teach him Economics 101. She thought he didn’t understand the fundamentals. The meeting went on so long that the British Press in Downing street outside started changing ‘Free Nelson Mandela.’ When he got out onto the doorstep, he rightly paid tribute to all the efforts she made to secure his release.”
Although the meeting was spoken of in high terms by the press, being referred to as a “successful meeting with an excellent atmosphere” new details reveal that Thatcher had a contemptuous view towards Mandela, as she thought that he “had a rather closed mind” and that his intelligence did not match that of Robert Mugabe, the former Zimbabwean president.
In a private four-page note of a phone call, Thatcher’s private secretary for foreign affairs, Charles Powell, wrote:
“The prime minister commented to me afterwards that she was a bit disappointed with Mandela, who seemed to have rather a closed mind.”
Here are some of the quotes showing the thinking of the PM about Mandela:
“We are not proposing to tell the press about this discussion.”
“He is not as intelligent as [Zimbabwe dictator] Mugabe, but a great deal nicer
“The prime minister said Mr Mandela must understand how concerned we were by the ANC’s failure to suspend violence.”
“We had experience of armed struggle in that we ourselves suffered at the hands of the IRA. We had very much hoped the ANC would agree to suspend it by now.”
“In so far as Mandela understands anything about economics, his ideas were formed in the 1950s. He is an old-fashioned socialist, but has never been a communist.”“On sanctions, she could never accept the logic that we should be asked to relieve poverty and starvation where they existed in Africa, while at the same time being pressed to cause poverty, starvation and unemployment in South Africa.”