1980-1989 | Backing Apartheid | Backing repressive regimes

Thatcher welcomes Apartheid leader P.W. Botha

Protesters outside South Africa House in 1989 – R. Barraez D’Lucca

2 June 1984

On 2 June 1984, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher greeted the apartheid leader of South Africa, P.W. Both, at her official country estate at Chequers.  An estimated 40,000 protesters, furious at the government’s implicit endorsement of the regime, took to the streets of central London.

Contrary to subsequent assertions, there is absolutely no reference in the public minutes of the four hour long discussions that Thatcher even raised the issue of the imprisoned African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela. It was also claimed that Mandela was discussed briefly in a private discussion, though it seems only because Botha raised the case of four South African officials in Britain charged with breaking the UN embargo.1 Emerging from the talks, Thatcher publicly praised Botha and the apartheid regime for achieving a high rate of economic growth in South Africa and ‘maintaining stability’ in the region. She made no demands or even requests that might have made her guest feel uncomfortable.2

The Caribbean Times unequivocally denounced the meeting. ‘We.. emphatically condemn,’ the newspaper declared, ‘the British prime minister for extending the invitation and for the implied contempt shown to the black people of Britain.’3  There was also dismay at Thatcher’s decision among many in South Africa. Bishop Desmond Tutu argued that the visit had given Botha and his government a cloak of respectability. ‘We are most distressed as it looks as if he has succeeded at projecting an image that he is changing things and they are respectable – that apartheid is respectable.’4


  1. James Lyons, ‘Margaret Thatcher “didn’t mention Nelson Mandela”  in talks with South African Apartheid leader P.W. Botha,’ The Daily Mirror, 3 January 2014 accessed online at https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/maggie-thatcher-nelson-mandela-was-2982096 Alan Travis, ‘Margaret Thatcher “made no case” for Mandela’s Release,’ The Guardian, 3 January 2014 accessed online at https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/jan/03/thatcher-mandela-release and Jon Nordheimer  ‘Pretoria Leader has British Talks,’ The New York Times, 3 June 1984 accessed online at https://www.nytimes.com/1984/06/03/world/pretoria-leader-has-british-talks.html
  2. ‘Margaret Thatcher’s meeting with P.W. Botha: The Minutes,’ accessed online at http://www.politicsweb.co.za/documents/margaret-thatchers-meeting-with-pw-botha-the-minut
  3. The Caribbean Times, 18 May 1984 cited in Elizabeth M. Williams, The Politics of Race in Britain and South Africa: Black British Solidarity and the Anti-Apartheid Struggle, I.B. Tauris, London, 2015, p. 181.
  4. Cited in “Flight to Fury for Botha,” The Liverpool Echo, 2 June 1984, p. 1.

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