Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference ending visit to Zimbabwe

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Sheraton Hotel, Harare
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments:

1600-1715. The transcriber noted "abysmal sound quality". A copy of the tape survives in the Thatcher MSS. In fact MT's voice is quite easy to follow. The questions are often much less clear.

Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3131
Themes: Women, Trade, Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), Commonwealth (Rhodesia-Zimbabwe), Commonwealth (South Africa), Defence (general), Executive, Civil liberties

Prime Minister

Ladies and Gentlemen:

For us, this has been a very good visit, very quietly impressive. We are immensely grateful for the generous hospitality which has been arranged everywhere we have been and for the very very warm welcome we have received. There is obviously a great bond between Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom and particularly for this Government, because of the history.

I had delayed coming here for some time and was very anxious to see how Zimbabwe was getting on with her development and I think you will agree that she is getting on very well indeed. We wanted to have some idea of how the aid which the United Kingdom has given was being used. That, too, I thought impressive. [end p1]

The land settlement scheme we saw this morning seemed to us extremely good in every way, not only for the variety of agriculture and the kind of village and rural life they were having, but also the education they were giving in the schools and the health service which they received.

We also saw British investment in Zimbabwe. As you know, most of it is pre-independence, but what we saw this morning was the first really big investment in Zimbabwe since independence.

We also set out to see the help we were giving with regard to military assistance for Mozambique and the training of the Zimbabwe armed forces. You will be aware that after independence, we set out to help to weld three armies into one loyal to Zimbabwe and after that, we were asked by the President of Mozambique if we could also help to train some of his army to tackle Renamo. You saw where we were doing that and I just felt very proud of everything the British Army is doing and the way in which it is carrying out its duties.

There, too, we are giving aid. We announced while we were here an extra £500,000 for particularly equipment for the Mozambique soldiers fighting Renamo. I also announced an extra £500,000 for the Zimbabwe soldiers who are helping in Mozambique, and among other aid we announced were £3 million for refugees from Mozambique and also £10 million of aid for Zimbabwe for normal purposes, either for [end p2] project aid or for land settlement, and £10 million for Mozambique. So we are keeping up our record of help—very practical help, steady help—and continual interest in this region.

I think if people are coming to invest here, they are going to look for three things, as I indicated at the gold mine earlier today:

They are going to look for a good economy and I think they find it in Zimbabwe, whether it be in the agricultural work or in the increasing industry or in the potential development.

They also look for a stable political system. That is extremely important if you are making major investments in a country in Africa, and I think they find great stability in Zimbabwe.

They will also, as I indicated, look for an investment code. If you can choose where to put your investment in the world, you are not going to put it into a country unless there is some sense of certainty that you will be able to get out a reasonable profit from your endeavour and be able to keep some of the other profit in order to invest within. Now, they have not yet got that investment code. There is to be a major investment conference in London in May for more investment for Zimbabwe and they indicated that they are likely to have a code of practice ready, and I think when they have got that, there will be a lot more people who will choose to invest in Zimbabwe because they will find it a good country to invest in. [end p3]

With regard to the politics, I think there is enormous hope for the politics of the region, again, like East-West in a way, more hope than I have seen for a long time. Perhaps the dominant factor is South Africa.

I now have a policy of seeing Ministers from South Africa. I think perhaps we isolated them for too long. I think it would have been better if we had seen more of them—they might then have seen how the rest of us live in a society which knows nought of differences between races and eschews racial discrimination.

I saw recently Pik Botha when he came to London and I shall see other Ministers if they come near London, to see exactly what is happening in South Africa, to see if there is anything we can do to help to influence it in the direction in which we wish it to go.

With regard to Mozambique, you will have seen the report on Renamo compiled by the United States. One of the most brutal terrorist movements that there is and the record of atrocities was utterly horrific to anyone who read them. Joaquim ChissanoHe really has a very considerable problem on his hands. I think he and other people are anxious to have some kind of reconciliation in Mozambique, but it is not easy to see how it can be brought about. In the meantime, we shall do everything we can to step up the training of his army so they can properly defend some of the villages and the railway lines and really make inroads into the people who are supporting terrorism and who are fighting a horrific battle. [end p4]

Namibia: again, two or three years ago, we would have been surprised had we forecast that we would be sitting here today and that the United Nations were already in there to have the kind of election I hope run in precisely the same way as we ran it in Zimbabwe nine years ago and, of course, the Cubans withdrawing from Angola again is very good news.

So throughout the region—Botswana has always been a very stable and good economy—there is more hope, there is an understanding that it is best to solve these problems as far as possible by negotiation. I think that is now understood for the greater part in South Africa, although obviously President Mugabe and I have differences of view on this. We have long known about them. I think I am right. I know that he hopes he is wrong, because it would be better if there were no violence there and it were solved by negotiation.

I think perhaps I have talked enough. What have we covered? We have covered an effective aid programme; we have covered the very good future, both economically and politically for Zimbabwe; and we have covered the greater political hope that there is in this region, which is good news for us all. [end p5]



Prime Minister

You will recall that I gave deliberate quotations of actual violent statements and violent attacks verbally from people belonging to the ANC on British firms. That statement was not in issue; no-one quarrelled with it, and that was the statement upon which I relied.

Question (Morning Herald)

Going back to what … said about the ANC and what you said about the ANC at the time, why is that you said on the BBC last week you would not be prepared to meet with the ANC until it renounced violence, that Mr. Mandela would have to renounce violence to be released from jail, but that you will meet with members of the South African Government, when they commit daily acts of very real violence against the black civilian population, including children? [end p6]

Prime Minister

If you look at the entire context, you will see we have tried always to try to settle things by negotiation. In the end, that was that settled things for Zimbabwe—a lengthy negotiation at Lancaster House by people being prepared to forswear violence for the ballot box.

We seek precisely the same thing in South Africa and I think that it can be brought about. It has to be done by no violence on any side in return for genuine negotiations to get a settlement which ends apartheid and enables all people in South Africa to take part in the government.

There has not been any renunciation of violence yet. As you know, Mr. Mandela has not yet been released and when he is released, obviously he has to be free to speak his mind and obviously people have to be free to say what they wish to say other than, of course, incitement to violence. I imagine the law there is against that as it is in the United Kingdom.

So if you look at the context, you will see that it is the context that brought about peace in Zimbabwe, but it is two-sided. It is genuine negotiations which affects all, in return for suspension of violence, trying to get through to a result which is satisfactory for all people of all races. [end p7]

Mr. Mills (BBC, Harare)

I have two questions.

Are you disappointed that you were unable to persuade President Mugabe to come into the “negotiations camp” , if I can call it that, as opposed to sanctions?

And did you discuss with him the possibility of Britain selling him Harrier jets or fighter aircraft?

Prime Minister

We did not have a long discussion on defence in any way. We just touched upon it very very gently, because we were actually discussing other things, which I have indicated.

No, not especially disappointed. I know President Mugabe. I have, in fact, if I might put it this way, fought off sanctions at three Commonwealth Conferences, one in Nassau, one smaller one in London and one in Vancouver, and I think fought them off successfully, and I do not know how you can do better for any people or any part of a people if you set out maliciously to destroy the economy and if you sit in a four-star hotel deciding whom you are going to condemn to poverty and starvation. It is not my way!

We spend a lot of money on relieving poverty and starvation in Africa, a great deal of money, because we dislike it wherever it occurs. If sanctions worked, they would only work by bringing about poverty and starvation and anyone who inherited South Africa [end p8] would inherit a wrecked economy and the prospects for all people there would be infinitely worse than they will be if we save that economy and come, as I believe we shall, to a negotiated settlement.

Do not forget, it will be a negotiated settlement for Namibia because the elections are first to a Convention which will decide the constitution.

My way will be very much better. You will have an excellent economy inherited by a new South African Government. The sanctions way is the way of poverty, starvation and destroying the hopes of the very people—all of them—whom you wish to help.

So I fought this off three times. The fact is that those who forced me and wanted to impose sanctions have not gone ahead and done so.


… what specific effects do you think sanctions would have on the Front-Line States and on the majority of the population in South Africa?

Prime Minister

I have indicated what I thought would happen in South Africa if they were effective. I think one of the reasons why people have not in fact imposed them from other states in Africa has been that they know full well it would have a very very bad effect on their own people, because the economies are intimately bound up in many ways one with another. [end p9]

We have been trying to give very considerable help so that some of the Front-Line States may have an alternative route to the sea and, indeed, we are doing a good deal, as you know, for the Limpopo Line.

I think since 1980, we have given, through the southern Africa …   . SADAC …   . £1 billion, one thousand million pounds …   . so we have been trying very hard to get alternative lines, but otherwise, yes, it would be very damaging and I am the first to understand why they have not imposed sanctions. But really, may I say I think that there is so much hope now that I think it would be absurd to impose sanctions now, to start to impose them at a time when South Africa has also been helpful in negotiating for the independence of Namibia! To start to impose sanctions when things are coming much further in the direction in which we wish them to go! I think it would be absurd.

I think the next major step is the release of Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of political organisations and then, I think that that unlocks the door to all kinds of negotiations and I think that there is a good chance that those will come about.

Jon Snow (ITN)

Prime Minister, you have talked repeatedly about wanting to see the Lancaster House methods applied in Namibia. Does the intention that you should go to Namibia on Saturday indicate that you want to play a leading role in ensuring free and fair elections inside Namibia? [end p10]

Prime Minister

If I am going anywhere, I make an announcement about it. I have no announcement to make. Namibia is quite different from Zimbabwe.

When Zimbabwe was Southern Rhodesia, the Commonwealth Conference at Lusaka in 1979 delegated wholly to Britain the responsibility for bringing Southern Rhodesia to lawful independence and we agreed that we would have a conference and we kept very closely in touch, not only with the Front-Line States, but with many other states in Africa. For example, Samora Machel was most helpful, and we kept in regular touch with him.

The history in Namibia is just very different. That is governed by the Resolution 435. There are various people who think they would like to alter that Resolution—there is no question of altering it. That Resolution has been passed to be observed meticulously and the observation of it means free and fair—scrupulously fair—elections and those elections will first be to a body which will determine the future constitution, so that is the method of determining the constitution.

So far as Lancaster House was concerned, we determined the constitution there and then had elections to a constitution that had already been agreed by the three main party leaders.

So it is a rather different system, but it is absolutely vital that Resolution 435 is strictly observed and that is our purpose in sending some of our army there under the United Nations auspices, to help see that it is observed. [end p11]



Prime Minister

We are providing assistance to the army in Mozambique and training them so that they may deal with Renamo in their country. It is not for us to go into another country and deal with it.

We are friendly with Mozambique, but we have never had responsibility for Mozambique, but we have never had responsibility for Mozambique, so we are doing, I think, a very constructive thing in providing training and we shall try to step up that training, and I think it is doing extremely well.

We have no responsibility for the internal matters in Mozambique. We are helping as much as we possibly can.


Prime Minister, did you receive any assurances from President Mugabe regarding the release from detention of …   . Walker and Mrs. Brown?

Prime Minister

One raises these cases because detention without trial is a matter of very very considerable concern, and I believe that Mr. Mugabe will look again at those cases through the normal routine procedures that he has, which is that a tribunal, I think, looks at those cases from time to time, and I believe that they will soon come up to be looked at again. But no assurance of their release. Obviously, we are very concerned about detention without trial. We believe that people should either be prosecuted or released. [end p12]


What will Britain do to ensure that South Africa does not continue to support Renamo?

Prime Minister

I think that most people—possibly not most in this room—but many many people accept that the South African Government is not supporting, officially or unofficially, Renamo in any way. That is what they have told me when I have tackled them. Most recently, I tackled Mr. Pik Botha about it when he came through London. The South African Government is not supporting Renamo in any way.

I believe the South African Government would like to see peace in Mozambique, so that the country can develop its resources, and she is not supporting Renamo in any way.

Question ( “The Guardian” of Nigeria)

During your recent meeting with the South African Foreign Minister, did you get the impression that the South African regime is now prepared to negotiate with the authentic black leaders on our terms?

Prime Minister

I think that they wish to bring apartheid to an end. I think they know that it will have to be brought to an end by negotiation—that it will obviously have to be brought to an end by negotiation with several representatives of Black Africa. [end p13]

I have urged them that I think that it is possible that negotiation might come about within the foreseeable future, to work out details of what such a negotiation would consist of, who should be there—that, too, also has to be a matter of consultation—and have some kind of ideas ready so that after Mr. Mandela is released, which I hope will not be too long, there would not be a vacuum but they would already have plans to carry forward.


Mrs. Prime Minister, once you said that Mr. Gorbachev was a man you could do business with. What do you think of him now and what kind of business do you expect to do with him here in southern Africa?

Prime Minister

I have not altered my view. It was a correct, initial impression. It has been proved correct on further acquaintance, not only by myself but with many other leaders in the Western World—they have echoed the sentiment again and again. The initial view—Mikhail Gorbacheva man I could do business with, a man of boldness, courage and vision—was right.

I think that the settlement would not have been reached in Angola without the active cooperation of the Soviet Union, and I believe that perestroika is working externally in that way and I [end p14] believe that the Soviet Union is seeking to solve some of the other world problems too by negotiation and I think that the Soviet Union in many ways is preferring that route to any support—or any previous support—of organisations which have included violence on their agenda.



Prime Minister

Well, if they were, I have not heard them. I have no such reports. I have not heard them until I heard you report a report of which I have not heard anything (laughter).


Prime Minister, I wonder if you could go back to the question before this that Ian Milson had.

Did you have any discussions over the last couple of days with the President about supplying Harrier jets to this country?

Prime Minister

No, I have not had detailed discussions on any defence contracts or possibilities.

Zimbabwe knows we are ready to consider any request from them.

I have not discussed defence matters in detail. [end p15]


Are you the only man in your Cabinet?

Prime Minister

I am much more important than that—I am the only woman!