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1991 May 15 We
Margaret Thatcher

Speech on receiving the Order of Good Hope from President De Klerk

Document type: speeches
Document kind: Speech
Venue: Banqueting Hall, Tuynhuys, Cape Town
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: Embargoed until 2230. Checked against delivery.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 1003
Themes: Commonwealth (South Africa), Foreign policy (Africa)

Mr F. W. de KlerkState President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for your very generous remarks.

(Ordeal to have speeches quoted back at you. Whatever said or done do again.)

It is a great honour to receive the Order of Good Hope—and to receive it from you, Mr State President who will undoubtedly go down in the history of this country as one of its very greatest statesmen and one who has created new hope for South Africa.

My last visit here was in 1972 when I attended the opening of the new Observatory at Sutherland. It was a memorable experience. Together we had gathered to launch a great adventure—one which would reveal to men more of the wonders of the universe and unlock its secrets. And, as we contemplate the vastness of our solar system, I suspect we gain a clearer perspective on daily differences and passing problems. [end p1]

But my memories are not just of the beauty of the stars, but also of the beauty of South Africa. Of its climatic contrasts, its azure skies, its wonderful flowers, its rolling veld, and its teeming game parks. This is a country of which it is easy to be proud, a country with which it is easy to fall in love.

The pleasure of returning to South Africa is increased for me by the events of the last two years.

You and I, Mr State President, have met on a number of occasions, as you indicated, and on each I have been impressed by your calm determination to secure South Africa's future by effective reforms. When we had lunch at Chequers last year together with many of our leading businessmen, I told you that we in Britain had waited long to be able to welcome a South African President in the way we had always wanted to welcome the leader of your country—and that now, at last, we could and did. That was possible because of the changes that you have brought about—changes which we had to believe in as I did.

These are momentous times for South Africa. It sometimes happens in the affairs of nations that what is morally right suddenly and dramatically converges with what is politically necessary. [end p2]

This has also happened in Eastern Europe and is happening in the Soviet Union, where the practical failure of a morally defective system was exposed. Now, as a result, we are seeing reforms which will both create a framework for prosperity and guarantee human rights.

In South Africa there is a clear understanding by all responsible political, business and community leaders that fundamental changes are required if the country is to continue to prosper. And there is a recognition that other changes in Africa and in the wider world provide South Africa with opportunities it could not have had even a few years ago.

But there is more to it than this. Not just pragmatism but idealism, a firm resolve to create a truly just, free, fully democratic country, that is what motivates South Africa's leaders today. The politicians who would relegate idealism to the side-lines of political debate know little of their craft. In the words of Winston Churchill:

“If deep causes of division are to be removed from our midst, if all our energies are to be concentrated on the essential task of increasing our strength and security, it can only be because of lofty and unselfish ideals …   .”

I am proud that in recent years Britain has been at the forefront of those associated with the progress of reform in South Africa. As candid friends we have urged the South African Government forward; and as loyal friends we have striven to give South Africans the room and time to bring reform into effect.

(Fighting tough battles: minority of one: who's afraid of that.)

British and South African servicemen fought together in two World Wars against tyranny. And, in the relations of our two countries, so often even the political scars have been more than salved by personal friendships, ties of marriage and of blood.

In supporting reform in South Africa, Britain has been faithful to her wider responsibilities too. We in Britain want to see South Africa succeed today, not least because South Africa's contribution to Africa could be so enormous.

South Africa, the strongest economy in Africa, accounts for nearly half the economic output of sub-Saharan Africa. It provides employment for hundreds of thousands of workers from the surrounding countries. Its transport links are vital to sustain the economies of its neighbours. South Africa is a big exporter of food and trades with forty-nine African countries. If they are to develop their economies and improve the living standards of their people those countries have the strongest possible interest in ensuring that South Africa should flourish. [end p3]

So it is in the interests of Africa and indeed the whole of the wider world that South Africa should succeed in resolving her problems.

And we are very much aware that she needs to overcome them fast enough to retain the confidence and curb the impatience of those who bear the scars of past sufferings and injustice: yet order has to be maintained in this period of transition and for that the Government will need goodwill and cooperation from all who bear responsibility in South Africa today. That is in the interest of all South Africans.

It is surely providential that at such a time as this South Africa has a President of outstanding wisdom, vision and courage. Other leaders too—Chief Buthelezi and Mr. Nelson Mandela, each in their different ways—have striven to make this, South Africa's hour, possible.

The world is hoping that you will be able to combine your efforts, as indeed you must, effectively to deal with the violence that is threatening negotiations. And I know that this is certainly your desire.

South Africa has never needed leadership more than now. And, as some of us know so well, leadership means shouldering responsibility for difficult and perhaps unpopular decisions. [end p4]

The poet put it so well:

“The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they while their companions slept
Were toiling upwards in the night” .

Mr. State President, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is with profound gratitude and a sense of humility that I receive from you the Order of Good Hope.