Answering My Critics: Refuting the Lie That Thatcher Was Against Apartheid

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P.W. Botha with Margaret Thatcher

After my last piece at The Washington Times Communities — READ IT HERE! — Thatcher devotees have e-mailed me several quotes where the late stateswoman made negative statements about South African apartheid, as if that constitutes unimpeachable evidence that she was not sympathetic to the immoral regime. This argument is farcical. Suggesting that Thatcher was not sympathetic to the abhorrent apartheid regime, simply because one can find quotes of her saying unflattering things about it, would be as intellectually dishonest as someone finding a quote of Obama saying he wants abortions to be “safe, legal, and rare” as evidence of him being sympathetic to the pro-life movement. Skilled politicians are generally smart enough not to be ebullient in public about supporting evil. However, observant and perceptive people are capable of looking at the big picture and drawing valid conclusions.

I’ll do that for you here.

Unfortunately for the “Thatcher was perfect!” crowd, history is not determined by slapping together favorable quotes of political figures. Honest historians look at the full picture. To suggest that Thatcher did not prop up and support the apartheid regime is a blatant falsehood that only a remarkably skilled prevaricator can say with a straight face. Baroness Thatcher’s husband, Denis Thatcher, had economic dealings in apartheid South Africa, and this was one of the reasons why she did not support economic sanctions against the racist state. Thatcher’s explanation in her autobiography—The Downing Street Years—of her opposing sanctions because she cared about the disproportionate impact it would have had on poor, black South Africans is revisionist nonsense. This is the same Thatcher who supported UN sanctions against Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Why didn’t her “ideological” opposition to sanctions show up then? Her “explanation” of her opposition to sanctions against apartheid South Africa is an insult to readers’ intelligence. In addition to Thatcher referring to Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress as terrorists, she was also a staunch opponent of the anti-apartheid movement—as was the vast majority of the white right in the West.

If Thatcher was so anti-apartheid, why did she despise anti-apartheid activists so much? Surely she wasn’t so intellectually simplistic that she could not separate their socialism from their cause of ending black oppression! To Thatcher, capitalism was of paramount importance—even if racial oppression was occurring. In my view, there is little moral difference between the left’s support for the Soviet Union and the right’s support for apartheid. Both sides gleefully sat back and watched oppression occur just because their ideological goals were taking place.

Reagan, too, supported apartheid, which is clear if one looks accurately at the full historical picture, as opposed to pulling favorable quotes out of their historical contexts in order to whitewash his legacy. Reagan, like Thatcher, refused to impose sanctions against P.W. Botha’s government, and even vetoed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986! (This was subsequently overruled by Congress.) Reagan obviously wasn’t against sanctions as a matter of principle, inasmuch as he enthusiastically supported heavy sanctions against Iran during his tenure as POTUS. Obviously, Reagan supported South African apartheid, which is why he refused to impose sanctions against the segregationist state. There’s really no amount of right-wing lies and distortions that can explain this away.

And, yes, the white right’s support for apartheid was based on racism and white supremacy–and not just love for capitalism. While Reagan and Thatcher did not make the explicit racist case for apartheid (for obvious political reasons) it was made by conservative intellectuals, such as William F. Buckley, who in his National Review magazine effusively praised the apartheid regime because, in his view, whites ruling blacks was a fine system of government. The following paragraph from the racist, white supremacist publication American Renaissance is rather telling, inasmuch as the writer is longing for the National Review’s racist glory days, including when Buckley cheerfully supported apartheid:

In fact, the National Review of the 1950s, 60s and even 70s spoke up for white people far more vigorously than Pat Buchanan would ever dare to today. The early National Review heaped criticism on the civil rights movement, Brown v. Board of Education, and people like Adam Clayton Powell and Martin Luther King, whom it considered race hustlers. Some of the greatest names in American conservatism — Russell Kirk, Willmore Kendall, James Kilpatrick, Richard Weaver, and a young Bill Buckley — wrote articles defending the white South and white South Africans in the days of segregation and apartheid. NR attacked the 1965 immigration bill that opened America up to Third-World immigration, and wrote frankly about racial differences in IQ. There were always hints of compromise, but passages from some back issues could have been lifted right out of American Renaissance. Not so today. NR still supports immigration reform and is not afraid of the IQ debate, but Mr. Ponnuru’s article is just one example of its complete abandonment of the interests of whites as a group. What used to be an important part of the NR message it now dismissed as illegitimate “white identity politics.”

The facts I am stating may be unpleasant and startling to people who are deluded enough to believe that conservative luminaries are sinless lambs who are capable of shedding their blood and taking away the sins of mankind, but the facts are the facts! The right was sympathetic to the apartheid regime — and that sympathy had racism at the base.

Was Margaret Thatcher a racist? My answer is that she most probably was. Her daughter, Carol Thatcher, certainly is a racist, inasmuch as she casually referred to a black tennis player as a “golliwog”—a despicable racial slur popular among white British racists. (Denis Thatcher, Margaret’s husband and Carol’s father, also referred to blacks as “fuzzy wuzzies” — another British racist term used against blacks.) Margaret Thatcher defended her daughter’s use of the racist remark and attacked those angered by her remark by suggesting that they were engaging in “political correctness gone mad.” Yes, because using odious racist slurs against black people should, in Thatcher’s utopia, be considered a part of acceptable social discourse. This is the same Thatcher that I’m supposed to believe cried herself to sleep at night and cared deeply about the plight of poor, black South Africans under apartheid…

oh ok

Despite Thatcher’s failings on race, her contribution to capitalism and conservative politics cannot be understated. I can’t think of a female leader in modern political history who has had more of an impact than Margaret Thatcher. However, just because she had many fine points as a conservative politician and an influential leader does not mean people get to lie in order to whitewash her legacy on race.

From the spirited right-wing defense of apartheid in the ‘80s to the disgusting racist narratives that the American right adopted after the Trayvon killing more recently, the conservative movement has had some deplorable moments on racial issues. Pretending that the history of conservative racism doesn’t exist and that only liberals have a history of racism is intellectually dishonest and manifestly counterproductive to racial reconciliation. Both liberals and conservatives have embarrassing histories on race relations. Only the poorly informed and/or partisan liars would suggest otherwise. I am not the kind of conservative who feels compelled to lie for right-wing icons. I tell the truth—irrespective of whose ox is gored. Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and the white right in the West supported South African apartheid. That is a fact.

In summary, the notion that Thatcher was anti-apartheid is an outrageous lie straight out of the pit of hell. I’m sure if you give it a few years, Liars For Thatcher™ will whitewash her legacy even more by attempting to erase her support for, and friendship with, Chilean tyrant, Augusto Pinochet. Soon, they’ll be swearing up and down that Thatcher went to Chile in full “Xena: Warrior Princess” combat gear and bravely challenged Pinochet to a fight to the death, which he accepted and she won, and then she rescued poor Chileans from his brutality and tyranny—or something like that…