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1986 Aug 5 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

TV Interview for TV-AM (special Commonwealth Summit on South Africa)

Document type: speeches
Document kind: TV Interview
Venue: Marlborough House, central London
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Adam Boulton, TV-AM
Editorial comments: MT gave a Press Conference at 0100 and had returned to No.10 by 0145.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1423
Themes: Commonwealth (South Africa), Trade, Foreign policy (Africa)

Adam Boulton, TV-AM

Turning back to today's meeting, surely the outcome in the end has been very damaging? Britain still seems to be isolated in the Commonwealth.

Prime Minister

No, Britain is not isolated at all. Some of the measures we are proposing to take are measures which they have also agreed to—others are different. The ones we are proposing to take will have a bigger impact for us than they will for many of them.

We are not isolated. We have agreed today on what each of us does, and some of the things have a common factor with the United States. Bearing in mind we have to coordinate things, that is good. You cannot say we are isolated when we are one of twelve in the EEC, when we have met today and agreed on a large communique.

Adam Boulton, TV-AM

Mr. Mugabe, for example, this evening was still talking about Africans being treated as niggers, blacks, in South Africa. There still seems to be a lot of anger about the racism from Mr. Mugabe, for example. [end p1]

Prime Minister

Of course, there is anger about racism in South Africa. You and I would feel the same if we were not able to take part in the political development of the country and if we were discriminated against just because of the colour of our skins. Of course we would resent that. Of course it would be wrong, and that is why we are doing everything we can to help bring it to an end, and that is why it has got to end. There is no doubt about that.

What there is argument about is the means by which we do it and there is very genuine argument and discussion, but Heaven knows, I did help Mr. Mugabe enormously to come to power in Zimbabwe, so he knows that I cannot possibly take that view.

Adam Boulton, TV-AM

You have criticised sanctions for the damage they can do to economies, both here and in South Africa. What in fact do you think these measures introduced by Britain and by the stronger measures by the Commonwealth will have on Britain and South Africa?

Prime Minister

Well you say the stronger measures by the Commonwealth. In fact, if Europe agrees to implement the ones which are mentioned in The Hague communique, when the time comes to reconsider it, then I think those will probably have as big an impact as any other measures taken by any of the Commonwealth countries, so the effect of a fewer number of sanctions could in practice be greater.

I think the fact will be that we agree taking those sanctions. The question arises whether they will help to bring about internal [end p2] change. I do not believe they will, but some other people think they will.

Adam Boulton, TV-AM

Will these measures cost jobs here and in South Africa?

Prime Minister

These measures, if implemented, will cost jobs in South Africa if they are effective, particularly in coal-mining because Europe is a big buyer from South Africa, where there could be as many, I think, as 25,000 jobs at stake. I have to bear in mind that we in this country have lost about 35,000 jobs in the coal mines, but fortunately, people get good redundancy payments and proper social security so they are able to live reasonably. In South Africa, to one's great sorrow, there is no social security and this is why one hesitates to do these things and hesitates quite rightly for a long time.

Adam Boulton, TV-AM

You have yourself called sanctions immoral. Why then have you allowed Britain to go along with some limited measures now?

Prime Minister

Because what matters also—in fact we also have to take into account that we work with the Commonwealth, we trade with the Commonwealth. They give us a good deal of trade; we give them a good deal of trade. There are jobs in it both ways. That is one factor. [end p3]

We work in the European Community. We have a treaty relationship with it. Again, an enormous trading relationship, so it matters to us, again, for jobs.

And the third factor is that some of my colleagues in the Commonwealth think that unless we take some of these measures which they say that some of the black South Africans are prepared to endure, they believe some of the young black South Africans would say: “All right, we will increase the terrorism!” I am not sure that I wholly go along with that view, but it is a view of which I take note and recognise that they are as much entitled to their view as I am to mine.

Adam Boulton, TV-AM

Bearing in mind those points, would it not perhaps have been better if Britain had gone that step further and gone along with the other six here and introduced the stronger measures?

Prime Minister

No, I do not think we can, because some of those would have a tremendous impact on us and they would have virtually no impact on some of the other countries of the Commonwealth, although I accept that the Front Line States are in a different position.

One of them is one from which I must confess I absolutely recoil. It is a ban on all agricultural imports from South Africa. If that were implemented and if it worked—and in many cases I believe it would be circumvented; in other words, the stuff would go out through third countries and then come in—it would work only by putting out of work some 200,000 rural black South Africans with [end p4] no other way of earning their living in the rural communities and really that, I think, is unwarranted.

Adam Boulton, TV-AM

If the present climate prevails in South Africa, do you expect that Britain will be arguing at the EEC meeting for an adoption of the Hague Resolution?

Prime Minister

I said that we would not argue against an adoption of it, and that is an undertaking I gave to the Commonwealth. It is still up to the Community to consider what to do. Some of them may say: “No, we are not going to do it!” I will not argue for that, but if they say that they might say if certain changes had come about then the whole situation could have changed.

Adam Boulton, TV-AM

It seems that this meeting has had an constructive outcome, certainly from Britain's point of view. It appears that the Commonwealth looked over the brink of a split and pulled back from it and reached some more modest agreement. Do you regard that as a personal victory for your style. …

Prime Minister

I do not think I regard it as a kind of personal victory. In these meetings, we know one another fairly well. To some extent, we know what one another is going to say, we know one another's reactions, and we have to get over that. We have to give those reactions, and then we talk and we come to some agreement, and I [end p5] think that going through that process in the end, the relationship is cemented and it is better than it was at the beginning, and I think that has happened this time.

Adam Boulton, TV-AM

But it has been a very tough game?

Prime Minister

Yes, of course it has been tough. Negotiating is tough. I am satisfied with the position that we have reached. The bans on the import of coal, steel and iron ore were envisaged in the European communique, and we had to face that possibility for some time. What we said here is that we would not argue against them, and that is a very considerable step if they are implemented—a greater step than any we have taken before.

Adam Boulton, TV-AM

Finally, you said Sir Geoffrey Howe 's mission is not over. What steps will Britain be taking between now and the EEC meeting?

Prime Minister

Well as you know, we have to keep in contact with other countries, because if those sanctions ever have any chance of having any impact on the South African economy, unless they are concerted, unless other countries also agree to them, and there is no point in agreeing to anything if other people just pick up the business. So of course we shall keep in contact with them.

And then, too, we shall watch and see what happens during August. You know, the South Africans have a great big party [end p6] congress in August and they also have their Parliament assembling, and I think it highly doubtful that if they were going to do anything they would announce it to a foreign statesman, however well disposed, however much they may admire him. I think if they were going to do things they would probably save their announcements for another time.

Whether they are going to do anything, whether it will be big or small, I hope they are. I hope it will be enough to make us think very carefully about what we should do in the future and make us think very carefully in Europe, but I do not know. Obviously we will watch and see.