THE late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who ruled from 1979 to 1990 has been described as a workaholic, a zealot, and a leader who, even in death, continues to divide and polarise opinion like few others before her.
Editor’s Memo with Stewart Chabwinja
It is unsurprising that after her death more than 20 years after a tearful exit from No 10 Downing street, Britain is divided over precisely what the legacy of Thatcher, who espoused competition, private enterprise, thrift and self-reliance, is.
Her supporters credit her with curtailing the inordinate influence of powerful trade unions while restoring Britain’s stature in the world.
But critics say she was so obsessed with free market policies to the extent of having no qualms about the poor paying the price for her policies.
So polarising is her legacy that there were violent skirmishes in UK cities as detractors celebrated her death, with plans for more such bashes this weekend as admirers mourned.
Meanwhile, while anti-Thatcher songs moved up the charts, trending social media posts derided the “Iron Lady” –– a moniker she revelled in.
On the surface, it is rather surprising that some sections in Zimbabwe –– a former British colony –– Thatcher has received near-glowing tributes for her policies. This is despite the general consensus that on Africa, inflexible Thatcher who abhorred consensus politics often got her policies wrong.
Probably in deference to Thatcher’s government’s plans to fund the land reform, and ostensibly to spite Blair for allegedly dishonouring the agreement, Zanu PF secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa said his party had good working relations with her and had no problems with her policies on Zimbabwe.
It was Thatcher who, in 1979, wheedled the then Rhodesia’s warring parties into signing a flawed Lancaster House agreement which protected parochial interests of the minority white population, including on land ownership and racialising the electoral system through 20 reserved white seats for a period of 10 years.
This was after she had to be dissuaded from recognising a Zimbabwe-Rhodesia puppet regime led by Bishop Abel Muzorewa.
After the agreement Thatcher virtually adopted a hands-off approach over Zimbabwe’s internal affairs. This, it has been argued, allowed then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe to lay the foundation for dictatorial tendencies without scrutiny.
Having secured the short-term future of her kith and kin she was eloquently silent over the political disturbances of the 1980 polls which ushered Zanu PF into power.
There were also Mugabe’s attempts to introduce a one-party state to ring-fence his rule, charges of institutionalised corruption in the late 1980s by the likes of former Zanu PF heavyweight, the late Edgar Tekere, and various allegations of human rights abuses and economic mismanagement whose debilitating effects would be felt years later.
Maybe most damning was Britain’s silence as Mugabe’s government launched the Gukurahundi massacres in which 20 000 people from Matabeleland and the Midlands were murdered. Mugabe has since grudgingly conceded the killings were “a moment of madness”.
Elsewhere in the region, South Africa’s struggle for freedom exposed Thatcher’s lack of commitment and grasp of the liberation cause, preferring instead to safeguard Britain’s economic interests. She famously called world icon Nelson Mandela a “terrorist”, while referring to herself as a “candid friend” of apartheid stalwart PW Botha.
In fact, she is on record as declaring, in 1987, that those who believed the ANC would rule South Africa were living in “cloud-cuckoo land”, and infamously resisted sanctions and trade embargoes against the country arguing they would hurt the common people.
She watched as South Africa destabilised the region by, among other things, bombing Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, occupying neighbouring Namibia and sponsoring Renamo bandits in Mozambique.
Thus Africa in general, and southern Africa in particular, is unlikely to have fond memories of Thatcher. While it is deemed unAfrican to celebrate someone’s death, former cabinet minister and ANC National Executive Committee member, Pallo Jordan reportedly could not resist stating of Thatcher’s death: “I say good riddance. She was a staunch supporter of the apartheid regime.”