Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference in Malawi

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Sanjika Palace, Blantyre, Malawi
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments: 1800-1830.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3444
Themes: Commonwealth (general), Commonwealth (South Africa), Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Northern Ireland, Terrorism

Prime Minister

High Commissioner, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I wonder if it would be useful if I tried to sum up the visit to Malawi.

First, it has been a very deep, friendly welcome of an unusual depth and an unusual quality of friendship. Perhaps that is because of the history of Malawi, the fact that the Hastings BandaLife-President lived in our country for a very very long time, knows our customs, was faced with a country which had no natural resources, set about improving its agriculture and concentrating on really the only product—the produce of the soil—which could be used to give Malawi its standard of living. The Life-President, as you know, paid a very successful state visit to Britain a few years ago and I was very anxious to come here and see precisely what had been achieved. [end p1]

I was a Member of Parliament in 1959 and therefore was in, as it were, at the birth of Malawi, so as I said at lunchtime, I felt something of a midwife to the birth of this country. It had been part of the Central African Federation that did not fit anyone's needs or requirements and so it split into three parts—and Malawi was born.

What we have seen, I think, after twenty-five years of independence, is very very impressive. With a quite large population, rather larger than either Zimbabwe or Zambia, and the achievements with few or no natural resources other than its people and the soil, have been remarkable.

And so I would like to thank all of those many people who have been at every place we have been to, indicating their welcome. I think we have never seen as many smiling, happy faces and it has been wonderful.

I think the second point which I would like to make and which has struck us all extremely forcibly is that with quite a high population here for the area of the country—and they still have quite a number of problems here—with all of that, they have nevertheless not thought twice about giving a very friendly and warm welcome to the refugees. They have not said: “Well, we too have problems. We cannot take as many of you!” They found people coming across the borders, trying to escape from terrible atrocities, and the number of refugees they have taken—well over 600,000 already—is, I think, the highest percentage of refugees-to-population than any other country in the world. [end p2]

Of course, they have received help; of course, we have given some, but that does not alter the tremendous sense of humanity which extends across borders and which they have extended across the border to people who are in need of help.

I think those of us who were privileged to go to that refugee camp saw something that no amount of writing or no pile of papers or documents could have given us—this great sea of faces—and what struck me very much was they cheered, not when one said one is going to give more aid—although I have not the slightest shadow of doubt that that is helpful—but they cheered when we said that we hoped one day that conditions would be all right for them to go back to live in their homes in peace.

I think we should see that the world knows what Malawi is doing in order to help these people and see if the world, too, can contribute in greater measure to this, which is really a problem of mankind and not of one particular country.

Finally, I just would like to thank the Life-President for all the facilities he has let us have. It is an immense privilege just to be able to helicopter over a country like this and see things we could not have seen otherwise and to have had a programme as concentrated as we have had.

So it is a message of great appreciation, great congratulation and of grateful thanks.

Now, can we take questions? I wonder if our Home Press would allow the Malawian Press to ask first and then we will come on to the Home Press! [end p3]


Rt. Hon. Prime Minister, next week, Namibia is about to start the process which would lead to political independence, which has come about after the signing of the Accords in New York, between South Africa, Angola and the US.

At the signing ceremony in New York, Mozambicans expressed fear that now all the attention has been directed towards its sub-regions, their problems would be sort of put second-rank …   .

I was just wondering the other day, in your talks with President Chissano, if you made any assurances towards this kind of apprehension.

Prime Minister

I am not in a position to give assurances about the future of Mozambique. We are in a position to offer military training to the Mozambique Army, which we are doing as you know and we saw it and it was very impressive, and we are in a position to offer, as we did, an extra amount of help to the refugees on the Mozambique side of the border—£3 million—and also £3 million extra to them on this side of the border. [end p4]

The problem of Mozambique is rather different from that of Namibia. Namibia, as you know, was occupied by South Africa and therefore it was a United Nations Resolution of very long standing that was signed to seek independence for Namibia.

Now, Mozambique has independence and she has a very considerable internal problem. It is an internal problem of the terrorist kind, therefore of a kind which is not confined to Mozambique, which afflicts other countries as well. But I think it would be a mistake to try to find too easy a similarity—indeed one which is not there—between Namibia and Mozambique.

Obviously, most people would like the problem in Mozambique to be settled. Whether it can be settled by negotiations between the Government of Mozambique and between those who represent Renamo, you would need to know precisely what are the objectives of Renamo and precisely what are their demands, and that is not a problem with which we can help—it would be one which President Chissano, if he wishes to ask for help from any other country, I am certain he would find a ready response. But I think in the first place, it would be for him to try to ascertain what are the specific objectives of Renamo and what kind of negotiations they would be prepared to enter into in return for suspension of violence while those negotiations continue.

In the meantime, we help with money and with training and with money for the lines of communications as well. [end p5]


His Excellency the Life-President of Malawi is recognised all over the world as a senior statesman and I was wondering whether your Government or the West in general has ever considered seeking his assistance in the search for peace in this part of Africa.

Prime Minister

The Hastings BandaLife-President is usually very prominent in our Commonwealth Conferences. He has taken a very similar line, I think, towards South Africa to the one I have taken: that you do not help a people by destroying their economy. I hope he will be at the next Commonwealth Conference which is in Malaysia in October and I am sure he will give us the benefit of his advice.

He was, I may say, most helpful when we were dealing with the question of bringing Zimbabwe to independence.


Rt. Hon. Prime Minister, as you appreciate, the problem in Mozambique has affected Malawi, be it directly or indirectly. How soon do you hope you could assist in the situation and how far are you going to stick to the negotiation table if, for instance, President Chissano is not willing to talk to Renamo? [end p6]

Prime Minister

We are trying to help Mozambique, I think, in the only way we can. We have made available a considerable amount of aid to Mozambique first because she is a poor country, and we do try to slant some of our aid specifically towards poor countries; secondly, because she has this tremendous internal problem; and thirdly, because the communications to the sea for both Zimbabwe and Malawi lie through Mozambique, so we are helping to build the railway lines. The railway lines then have to be defended, so we are giving help in extra military training.

Chris Patten was through the region ahead of me by a few weeks and made the assessments which enabled us to offer an extra £10 million to Mozambique during this visit, also an extra £3 million for refugees on that side of the border and some extra assistance with training and equipment for the Mozambican Army. That is quite a good effort of helping Mozambique and since I have been here we have offered an extra £3 million for the refugees this side of the border from Mozambique and some very practical assistance in clothing and blankets which we were told was what was needed.

So we are doing, I think, as much as we can without interfering in any way. I am quite certain that President Chissano, if he wishes to have any further assistance, will not now hesitate to ask for it. [end p7]

It was quite a striking visit, I thought, to Nyanga, of President Chissano and of course President Mugabe and myself. It was quite a unique occasion and we were all quite pleased to be there to witness something and some cooperation of that kind, but I do not think you can necessarily find someone just going in; you have to be very very careful. As I said on BBC External Services: these are people's internal affairs. When they ask for help in practical terms, we give it; if we felt that help could be given through United Nations and it was asked for, we should not hesitate to try to comply because it is really a very serious and an appalling situation with Renamo in Mozambique.


Given the very strong language that you have used about Renamo the …   . that you have derived this …   . all these refugees coming across the border, whether it is not perhaps time for the international community to ask more about who is supporting Renamo?

I know you have been given undertakings by the South African Government that they are not supplying Renamo, yet the United States State Department has recently—ten days ago—indicated very strongly that there were still supplies coming in. [end p8]

Prime Minister

They did not say from the South African Government, if my recollection is correct. Quite clearly, supplies are coming in from organisations or through individuals and what I am concerned about is not only who is doing that, but to get the message across of the appalling things which are happening there, because you ask some of these people what they have seen and what has been happening and to get the message across to anyone who might be contributing; that this really is not a kind of political organisation fighting for certain political rights, but that the methods it is adopting are such that no-one should support them and for that they have only to read the report by the United States Government on the activities of Renamo, which I think was an eye-opener to many people in that government because when I first went and talked about this to the United States Congress—I can tell you exactly when it was; I cannot tell you the date, but I can tell you roughly the time: Samora Machel had helped us enormously over bringing Zimbabwe to independence. When he came in turn and asked for help with his problems, we did not hesitate to give it to him. I saw him quite frequently and we were always constructive. He had a different sort of politics from mine but he had a real problem of mankind if I might put it that way and I felt that he was trying to keep links with the West that ultimately could help him and so we helped. His death was a tragedy. [end p9]

President Chissano then took over. The United States did not quite know him as they had known Samora Machel and I, over there on a visit, was asked about him and did everything I could to enable him to see the Ronald ReaganPresident, which he eventually did, and urged him also to go and talk to Congress. But at that time, that report of the United States was not out and it was quite clear that there were some people in America who thought that Renamo was a kind of organisation fighting for political liberty, and I do not think you fight for political liberty the way they are doing at the moment. And so I think what we have to do is to try to get over to people the kind of organisation which it is, and for that there is a lot of evidence and you will find—what was I told just since I have been on this visit?—two priests had been killed. We were told that four nuns were taken; ultimately they were released but the stories they told were such that one would not wish to repeat them. And also, sometimes, you have to be very careful the way you put in food because sometimes, if food goes to a particular voluntary organisation, then unless arrangements are made to defend that point and food is dispersed … they gave an example where Renamo had come and taken seven tonnes of food which was being distributed by the Red Cross. They had taken hostage some of the Red Cross people, then boasted they had taken them and they were eventually set free.

I think it is time we tried to let people know the kind of organisation it is. [end p10]

I think, in the meantime, we are giving extra aid, we are giving extra military training. I think there is a bigger awareness in the region, partly because of what I spoke of at lunch. There is a feeling that it is time to try to settle as many things as you can by negotiation, but just before you enter into negotiations with Renamo you want to know what their objectives are and what they would be prepared to give up in return for negotiations.

I cannot go further than that. I am sorry it is a lengthy reply, but I think you will understand the nature of the problem.


The South African Foreign Minister has just announced that you will go to Namibia from Malawi. Why have you decided to include Namibia at this last stage?

Prime Minister

I have no announcement yet to make about Namibia. The situation is no different from what I indicated yesterday, that is to say, I have not yet made a decision as to whether or not to go. [end p11]


Rt. Hon. Prime Minister, Malawi has demonstrated seriousness in settling its economic problems by embarking on an economic recovery programme. There is a problem that a lot of countries, including Malawi, are facing difficulties with debts. Would your Government consider assisting Malawi's economic recovery programme by increasing the grants that you offer to the Malawi Government and also finding a way of helping ease the debt burden for this country?

Prime Minister

I think that Malawi is very very good at repaying her debts, paying interest on her debts and repaying her debts. During this visit, we did add—again, Chris Patten had been through and made the assessments just a few weeks ago—another £10 million to the relief for Malawi, so I hope that that will help. That is in addition to the £30 we offered in 1987 and it is grant, not loan.

I remember some African Heads of Government—not your Hastings BandaLife-President here who is much too astute to do such things—coming to me and saying, “Oh, it is not grants we want. It is credit” , and I said: “Brother, if I were you, I should take grants! Credit has to be repaid!” [end p12]

Robin Oakley (The Times)

I understand that Mozambique is sending observers to this year's Commonwealth Conference. What would be your attitude if Mozambique was to apply for membership of the Commonwealth?

Prime Minister

I am not aware that she would be entitled to send observers. She has never been a member of the Commonwealth and I know full well that there are some people who are self-governing colonies within the Commonwealth who do not wish to go to full independence because they find the status of self-governing colony still gives them access to defence and access on foreign affairs they would not otherwise have. Sometimes, they have applied for observer status and it has not necessarily been granted, so I am not aware of that.

I think that we might have, as I indicated the other day, if Namibia wanted to come in when she was independent we had said some time ago that it would be quite a good thing but you know, it is a situation where every single member of the Commonwealth has to agree and we had problems last time with Fiji. [end p13]


Rt. Hon. Prime Minister, South Africa is at the centre of the southern African countries and the Zambian President, Dr. Kaunda, is Chairman of the Front-Line States and I can see that in your recent visit to southern Africa you have left out two countries. Is there any reason why you did not include them in your tour?

Prime Minister

First, I have been to Zambia. I went to Zambia on my very first overseas visit beyond Europe after I became Prime Minister because we had the Commonwealth Conference there. Commonwealth Conferences in those days lasted rather longer than they do now. It was generally days. I had not been to Zimbabwe, I had not been to Malawi and I had promised to go to Morocco and I called in at Nigeria because we were refuelling there. It is not bad for five or six days and I am sure I could not have packed in anything more.


Since you have fought a kind of long-drawn battle trying to convince some African leaders, indeed the whole world, that negotiation is the best way of solving problems in South Africa, now some ten years later, where are you? How can you assess the impact of your stand? [end p14]

Prime Minister

Let me give you the answer straightaway!

Yes, I do believe in that and as a result of believing in that, first we brought Zimbabwe to independence and second, Namibia is on the way to independence. That is not bad. One success per five years in diplomacy is quite good going!


Mrs. Thatcher, you have seen a number of leaders in the last few days and in a general sense, you talked about breaking the log-jam with regard to southern Africa. How strongly do you rate the possibility of a major obstacle or something going wrong?

Prime Minister

I think the question can be asked several different ways. I think you are saying: how confident are you that the log-jam will be broken?

There are always obstacles, obviously. I just believe that the chances of breaking that log-jam now are much much greater than they have been for a long time and I think there are three reasons:

First, because other things have been done by negotiation; second, because the attitude of the Soviet Union to the way in which she conducts some of her overseas matters has changed radically and it is quite clear that she is starting to try to negotiate. We could not have done Angola without that view on her part and as you [end p15] know, there was a meeting of Soviet and British academics with some of the ANC in which it was made perfectly clear that they did not believe that now was the right time to try to solve matters by violence or having violence on the agenda.

And the third thing: I think we have been talking about matters for quite a time internally in South Africa. There have been quite a number of changes. Let us not underestimate or underrate those. There have been quite a number of economic advances for black South Africans, very considerable advances. Ironically enough for those who believe in sanctions, the foremost advances have been made by foreign investments in South Africa and those companies have deliberately been training black South Africans for not only craft and technical jobs, but for the top management as well. They also have been setting up housing estates not subject to the Group Areas Act and providing finance for black South Africans to buy houses.

If you take together what has been happening in South Africa and I think the expressed willingness to change on the part of the new group at the top of the South African Government who will take over when President Botha has relinquished his office, then it is my view that they are ready and wanting to get a fundamental solution underway and they are willing to take the necessary steps.

You will ask how long that will take. I cannot tell you. Very much less a time than I would have said a couple of years ago. [end p16]


Prime Minister, if the South African Government are not backing Renamo any more could they not do more to stop supplies going into Mozambique?

Prime Minister

That I cannot tell you. I have tried desperately to stop supplies coming to Northern Ireland. You would think it would be simple. You and I know it is not, so we speak as a country which knows what it is like to fight terrorism; we speak as a country which knows what it is like to try to enlighten others who provide funds or other things for support. We can tell them that the IRA will put bombs under school buses, that they will put bombs which will affect many civilians and we can tell them all kinds of things, but still it is not easy even with us to stop weapons getting to those who wish to use them to maim and kill.