Africa, Europe, Headlines

SOUTH AFRICA-BRITAIN: Mandela, Former ‘Terrorist’, Guest Of Queen

LONDON, Jul 10 1996 (IPS) - Guess who’s coming to dinner — and at the Queen’s too? Only a man once dubbed a ‘terrorist’ by the British establishment, who just a few years ago would have been persona non grata in Britain — had he not been imprisoned for all of 27 years.

For the duration of South Africa’s president Nelson Mandela four day state visit to Britain, he will stay at the finest address in the land, Buckingham Palace, London home of the British monarch.

Teas with Queen Elizabeth II aside, Mandela’s itinerary also includes meetings with prime minister John Major, opposition Labour party leader Tony Blair and especially business leaders.

The visit will culminate on Friday with a walkabout in one of London’s Afro-Caribbean quarters, the borough of Brixton in the south of the city, where he will be joined by Prince Charles, heir to the throne. Before that he will be showered with no less than eight honorary degrees by as many British universities.

During his ‘meet-the-people’ tour of Brixton — one of the most deprived areas of London — the charismatic South African leader will thank locals for their support for his country’s liberation struggle against illegal white minority rule, official South African sources said.

“You have yourself provided leadership, and by your willingness to embrace your former captives, have set the course towards national reconciliation and freedom for all the people of South Africa,” the Queen told Mandela before a gathering of august dignitaries Tuesday night.

Mandela’s reply was diplomatic, as ever. “As we approach the twenty-first century, our relationship is one of friendship, fortified on South Africa’s side by a wealth of respect for yourself, for Britain and the Commonwealth.”

But Jabulani Ndlovu, a member of the African National Congress (ANC) who mixed 11 years anti-apartheid campaigning in London with life as a student and cook, was more freely able to consider the irony of this weeks’ literal ‘red carpet’ treatment.

“These are the same people who were blocking international sanctions against the apartheid regime,” he snapped, “the same people who were baying for the blood of Mandela the terrorist, the same people who were giving succour to De Klerk and Buthelezi, the very ones who tried to make institutional racist oppression respectable.”

Throughout the 1980s, when the anti-apartheid struggle was at its height, Britain under Margaret Thatcher stood alone in steadfastly resisting sanctions against the racist enclave.

It was at this time that a MP in Thatcher’s Conservative party, Teddy Taylor, opined that “Mandela should be shot,” but not before Thatcher herself had said: “The ANC is a typical terrorist organisation… Anyone who thinks it is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land.”

“Are you trying to tell me they have changed overnight? Tell me something else, please.” said Ndlovu. “Ndlovu means elephant in my mother tongue, and elephants never forget. Mandela should do away with these foolish things and do what he has really come here to do, that is to meet the business community and encourage them to invest in our country.”

The primary objective of the ANC leader’s visit to Britain is to drum-up British investor interest in the South African economy, hence the top billing given to his address Wednesday to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

Foreign direct investment in South Africa, despite the ANC government’s efforts to foster peaceful change and create an enabling environment for business, has been much lower than expected. Mandela will call on the captains of British industry to look again at the “enormous opportunities” available.

His message to Britain — by far the largest single investor in the country — is that new International Monetary Fund-inspired measures put in place in June offer investors as good a deal as they could hope to find in any other emerging market.

How successful this rallying cry will be remains to be seen, as the Mandela trip follows upon the heals of stiff criticisms of his government’s economic policies in the pages of Britain’s media.

The London Times and the Telegraph have in recent months suggested that the government was bending to the will of activists seeking ‘revolutionary’ change.

R.W. Johnson, the Times’ South Africa correspondent claimed Mandela’s government was presiding over “a Wild West society it cannot control” and cited ‘observers’ who blame the situation “on ministerial incompetence and affirmative-action appointments”.

But the final word always goes to the business community itself, and they express more confidence than the Times’ Man In Johannesburg.

“Government incentives for investors are constantly improving and the stock market is performing much better than expected,” said Rob Fisher, an executive with investment house Robert Fleming.

“Last year there was a bull run in the market and, despite a few hiccups, things are improving. Don’t pay mind to the doomsday merchants.”

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