“The Thatcher government repea

“The Thatcher government repeatedly refused to close the ANC office in London”: read our Q&A with Robin Renwick

On the anniversary of De Klerk’s speech in parliament, we reveal fascinating new insights from Lord Robin Renwick’s new book: ‘The End of Apartheid – Diary of a Revolution’ into the UK government’s role at the end of apartheid.

“The Thatcher government repea

Your book sets itself apart from other biographies of the time as it includes previously unreleased information from Downing Street’s records. How did those records shed light on Margaret Thatcher’s role in the anti-apartheid movement?

The book is based on the Foreign Office and Downing Street records at the time, not yet otherwise publicly released. These show that from 1984 onwards Margaret Thatcher repeatedly pressed PW Botha and FW de Klerk to release Mandela and repeal all the anti-apartheid laws. She engaged far more directly and actively with them about this than any other foreign leader. De Klerk said afterwards that she had made far more contribution to the end of apartheid than any other overseas leader. Mandela said that: “We have much to be thankful to her for”.

The role of individual personalities seemed key in dismantling apartheid structures. Are there any popular misconceptions about those involved behind the scenes?

De Klerk was regarded as the very conservative leader of the National party in the Transvaal. But he detested the increasing political reliance on the military and police and he was a pragmatic conservative who knew that the status quo could not be maintained without an ever-increasing use of force. This is what led him to surprise nearly everyone by taking South Africa in a strongly reformist direction.

In your view, what was the chief factor among PW Botha’s cabinet that led to a groundswell of opposition to apartheid policies?

There was increasing opposition among the verligte Nationalists to PW Botha’s increasing reliance on General Malan, the army and police. The opposition within Afrikanerdom was led by people like Professor Johan Heyns of the Dutch Reformed Church, Peter de Lange of the Broederbond and Anton Rupert.

The book also reveals how the Government went to some extraordinary lengths to protect members of the ANC living in London. Could you elaborate on your findings contained in the Downing Street papers?

The Thatcher government repeatedly refused to close the ANC office in London so long as it operated within the law. An attack on the office was organized by Craig Williamson of the Security Police in 1982. Botha was repeatedly warned by Thatcher of the serious consequences for South Africa if there were any further attacks on the ANC in London.

Are there any lessons to be learned from South Africa’s negotiated settlement for other conflict zones around the world? Did South Africa set an example?

South Africa did set an example. Most people outside the country were expecting an ever worsening situation, heading towards civil war. Instead of waiting to the bitter end, De Klerk had the courage to take his own supporters in a completely new direction. Mandela set an example of inclusiveness and magnanimity. As Thatcher said, SA was fortunate to have two outstanding leaders at the same time. Whatever problems the country has now, they are infinitely less dramatic than the disaster that would have followed if De Klerk and Mandela had not led the way to a peaceful outcome.

The End of Apartheid: Diary of a Revolution is available at Biteback Publishing.