Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Marshall Plan for southern Africa’ revealed

Friday, 6 January, 2017 - 13:00

The documents, from the prime minister’s official papers, are now released as part of the regular transfer of declassified material to the National Archive. They shed new light on the British government’s approach to South Africa in the final years of the apartheid regime. Thatcher’s administration was consistently criticised through the 1980s for supporting the white minority government in Pretoria, declining to impose sanctions on it, and reportedly decrying the ANC as a “typical terrorist organisation”.

They also reveal just how serious South Africa’s financial predicament was as it attempted to negotiate an end to apartheid, and how the Thatcher government used the opportunity it presented to entice Pretoria into reforming the country and releasing Nelson Mandela. It did so by proposing a massive aid package for the whole region – a Marshall Plan-style rescue plan to keep southern Africa stable even as South Africa underwent enormous change.

This was a critical period for southern Africa. Talks with the African National Congress (ANC) had been underway for five years; negotiations over the future of Namibia – which South Africa ruled – had concluded with plans for the country’s independence. But South Africa, still the major player in the region, was rudderless.