Margaret Thatcher and Us, A View from Africa, by Gabriel C Banda

KKMaggie1979_ZIS_Edit II                                Mrs Betty Kaunda and Dennis Thatcher, Aug 1979, Lusaka_Edit I




. Dancing Partners: KK and Margaret Thatcher dance, August 1979, Lusaka, Zambia, while Mrs Betty Kaunda dances with Dennis Thatcher; Pictures courtesy ZIS/ZANIS. Rights Reserved.

SOME lives, whether liked or not, have great impact on many other lives, near and far, right now, and into other generations.

Whether one supports or resents “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher’s policies and actions, she greatly affected and transformed the lives of people in UK and beyond. Mrs Margaret Hilda Roberts Thatcher’s approaches firmly shook the direction and balance of economies and societies worldwide.

Britain’s first female prime minister and a three elections premier from May 1979 to November 1990, we are still living with the results of Margaret Thatcher’s government’s policies and work.

In UK, Africa, and elsewhere, there are both praises and insults towards her life. Some think she helped society through economic and social restructuring while others feel she caused long lasting problems. Visiting Britain in her reign in the 1980s, I found these positions. At her recent death, on April 8, 2013, worldwide there have still been strong positions about Mrs Thatcher’s rule.

Some from Africa regarded Margaret Thatcher as a tough person, fixed, uncompromising, and even bullying. Women who were firm and determined sometimes earned the pet name “Margaret Thatcher.”

In Britain, she was very active in drastically changing the economic, social, and welfare systems. She introduced heavy deregulation of the economy and sought to remove government from public enterprises and reduce people’s access to public welfare resources that supported and cushioned many.

She was for a “market forces” economy. Her crusade was labelled “Thatcherism,” just as Ronald Reagan, the United States president who was her counterpart and friend in purpose, had “Reaganomics,” for a similar right wing thrust in economic practice.

She fought trade unions, with unionist Arthur Scargill and his mine workers her great opponents who had in turn drawn battle lines and fought to reverse her policies and bring down her rule.

Her poll tax reminded Africa’s people of the unpopular “hut tax” colonial Britain forced on Africans.

But Thatcher and Reagan’s approaches became part of the template of 1980s and 1990s IMF and World Bank imposed programmes that have had long term effect on economies and capacities of Africa’s societies.

Thatcher is also remembered as war leader for the 1982 Falklands island ownership dispute involving Britain and Argentina.

For Africa, Thatcher came in at a time when Africa’s governments were asserting their independence and often, sometimes as the Organisation of African Unity, OAU, bloc, challenged governments of Britain, America, and some western government on their positions on Rhodesia and Southern Africa.

Britain’s former African colonies belonged to the Anglophone worldwide Commonwealth group but wanted a relationship of equals with the former colonial controller. Many were members of the Non Aligned Movement group of nations dedicated to be independent from the “Cold War” polarisation of the Eastern and Western blocs.

But in Rhodesia, later to be Zimbabwe, white settlers, led by Ian Douglas Smith, had in November 1965 forcibly taken over authority from the British crown by declaring Unilateral Declaration of Independence, UDI.

Africa’s governments felt Britain’s prime ministers had for decades not only been soft on Rhodesia and white ruled racist regimes in Southern Africa, but also directly or indirectly cooperated with the regimes to survive through evading various worldwide sanctions.

The Commonwealth conference of August 1979, held in Lusaka, Zambia, and chaired by Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda, “KK,” was decisive over Rhodesia. Margaret Thatcher had been British prime minister only some three months.

African governments were concerned that the British government would use the Lusaka meeting to push them to harsh IMF economic policies. And Africa’s governments were greatly concerned that Britain would again block efforts towards genuine resolution of the Rhodesia question.

There was anxiety as many people expected Thatcher, openly tough, to be unyielding to views and governments of the South.

To “break the ice” and strike some harmony, the Zambian team arranged for Kenneth Kaunda to dance with Mrs Thatcher at a dinner dance. Mrs Betty Kaunda danced with Denis Thatcher. Kenneth Kaunda has to this day called Margaret Thatcher “my dancing partner.” Born October 1925, Mrs Thatcher was almost about a contemporary of Kenneth Kaunda, born April 1924.

At Lusaka, agreement was finally reached for Britain to get back control of the territory of Rhodesia and arrange a transition to elections and globally recognised independence into “Zimbabwe.”

Margaret Thatcher invited Kenneth Kaunda to be at London’s Lancaster House conference that worked out practical details of the transition. Kenneth Kaunda was on standby to intercede in case there were problems in the negotiations. Agreement was made, leading to elections and Zimbabwe’s independence in April 1080.

For those of us who were young persons conscripted into Zambia’s military for defence from attacks of the Rhodesia and South Africa militaries, Zimbabwe’s independence marked our demobilisation. After Zimbabwe’s independence, Zambia stopped conscription of those who had completed school.

But the Lancaster House agreement had indicated that Zimbabwe’s land problem could only be dealt with after ten years. Kenneth Kaunda believes the British government, under Conservatives Thatcher and John Major, followed their part over Zimbabwe’s land programme until the Tony Blair Labour administration took over and raised issues. As the 21st Century began, the land issue became a source of great conflict and political, social, and economic imbalance in Zimbabwe.

Yes, the 1979 agreements of Thatcher, Kaunda, and others had been turning points in negotiation processes and the future Zimbabwe. Margaret Thatcher strongly had her positions but, in the Zimbabwe question, she did yield and work out things with others of another view.

Although Kenneth Kaunda and Margaret Thatcher were strong and influential personalities with different positions on Zimbabwe and Southern Africa, they, with others, were able to work together from various angles and achieve agreement that finally moved things forward.

It is possible to put aside personal emotions and interests and focus on reaching agreement and action fair to those involved. Yes, it is possible to reach out to those with a position that appears to oppose ours and understand their situation. In most cases, it is possible to reach agreement that fairly considers the situations of all involved.

But in May 1987, when Kenneth Kaunda’s government in Zambia broke away from the harsh IMF and World Bank “Structural Adjustment Programme,” SAP, some governments of the western world, including Britain’s, put in reprimand and sanctions to compel Zambia to get back to the programme.

At that time, even Kaunda’s natural friends like Norway’s Glo Bruntland, a left leaning Labour prime minister who was her country’s first female prime minister and also was on three terms like Thatcher, put pressure on Zambia.

After independence from European forces, Zambia and others had made great strides in improving basic needs access and national capacity in various sectors. But the imposed “market forces” programmes reversed gains made in basics like health, education, food access, and infrastructure. Life expectancy began to decline. Social cohesion and communal goodwill were shaken.

In Europe’s Nordic societies, the welfare and public support systems still operate for the common good. Even in the UK, Thatcher transformed the economic and social system but still she had limits as up to now, the basic welfare system still exists and supports about everyone.

Up to now, the IMF and World Bank template against public support for enterprise, even where both publicly owned and private owned ventures can be helpful, demonises those who think of enterprises with public support, whether government or cooperatives or local authorities and councils.

Yet in Norway, government owns the Statoil petroleum business, with tentacles in many countries and continents, that has helped to make Norway one of the richest nations and with the highest quality of life indicators in the world. In other parts of the western world, utilities like city trams and bus transportation are publicly owned. But Africa and others are forbidden to venture into some enterprises that can help greatly.

Many persons remember Margaret Thatcher for various things they link her to. In Africa, some remember Margaret Thatcher and British prime ministers being soft on worldwide economic and other sanctions against apartheid South Africa.

Many in the world wanted to have sanctions as a way of avoiding a violent approach to the conflict of apartheid. Had British governments religiously followed worldwide sanctions, it is likely that the release of Nelson Mandela and the eventual political changes in South Africa would have come earlier.

Now, we know that some persons dealing with feminist and gender discourses found it difficult to place categories around Margaret Thatcher and her work.

Yes, for years after being pushed out of office by fellow Conservative Party members in 1990, the world still greatly remembers Mrs Thatcher.

This was a person who was prime minister but yet very practical in her household. At her Downing Street residence, she personally prepared the feeding of her family members. She would also prepare food for cabinet ministers who came for meetings.

And some in Africa remember that Baroness Thatcher’s husband, Dennis, and son, Mark, have had business interests in Africa. The Thatcher name came up around the 2004 events linking Mark, South Africa based, to an armed coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea.

And around the beginning of the 21st Century, I, as his Special Assistant, was with Dr Kenneth Kaunda, long after he had left presidential office, when he met Baroness Thatcher at London’s Heathrow Airport. We were in VIP lounges waiting for separate flights.

We were taken to her lounge. Kenneth Kaunda and Margaret Thatcher had a warm reflection of Rhodesia, Zimbabwe, and those events of the past.

I was somewhat taken aback to find that, in person, Margaret Thatcher was relaxed and showed great humour, cheerfulness, friendliness, and she let go of events of the past.

Yes, from various points of the world, we contribute to situations that will affect many others in other places and generations. Margaret Thatcher’s was example of strong determination and devotion for what one sets out to do. The result of such narrow pursuit can vary, from being productive or retrogressive, and having advantages or disadvantages when considered at different times. But all who seek to move and transform things can learn from Margaret Thatcher.

The Thatcher experience also shows the need for wide dialogue and consent in matters of the common good.  Yes, at her recent death, aged 87, from stroke, and through the funeral that followed, there were both cheers and jeers for Margaret Thatcher. For decades after her policies and actions, Mrs Margaret Thatcher is remembered, with fondness or bitterness, for contributions that shook the world.

In whatever situation we are in, in a family or as a government like Margaret Thatcher’s regime, what we do now has great effect on others, now and in future. Policies and actions in one place and one time will affect many others everywhere. Yes, we need to consider how our actions will affect economics, social balance, and development over generations.

Based in Lusaka, Zambia, Gabriel C Banda is involved in writing, social development, and peace issues.

Email:, Facebook:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s