Saturday, March 14, 2015

How the Iron Lady helped free Nelson Mandela and end apartheid

Margaret Thatcher in Windhoek with Pik Botha, South Africa's Foreign Minister, in 1989. Robin Renwick is on the right Photo: AP

(via The Economist Magazine)

THIS is the chronicle of a diplomat who did more than any other to facilitate the transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa. Robin (now Lord) Renwick had previously pulled off a similar feat by coaxing Southern Rhodesia into becoming Zimbabwe. He was Britain’s chief behind-the-scenes Foreign Office fixer for Margaret Thatcher and her foreign secretary, Lord Carrington, in the twists and turns of diplomacy culminating in the Lancaster House conference of 1979.

It was natural, therefore, that Thatcher should pick him to be Britain’s ambassador to South Africa in 1987, with the job of ensuring that Nelson Mandela was freed and his country set on an irreversible path to democracy. Lord Renwick’s diaries, which draw on many of the dispatches he sent to Whitehall and which have now been published under a special waiver to the 30-year secrecy rule, offer a string of insights into the tortuous process towards that miraculous outcome.