Saturday, 31 August 2019

Corbyn and Thatcher - The Apartheid Years

The sign of a true leader is foresight.

While other leaders act against public interest and then cry hindsight, the truly great are right from the very start. Jeremy Corbyn is one such man. A perfect example of his foresight, character and integrity would be his stance against South African apartheid and how this contrasts with Conservative hero Margaret Thatcher.

During the 1980s, protests outside the South African Embassy in London were common and coincided with intensified resistance to apartheid in South Africa. Officials of the South African government wielded strong influence over the British government at the time and pressured the Foreign Office to quell the anti-apartheid movement.

One could easily draw parallels to Israeli apartheid and attempts by the Netanyahu regime to silence pro-Palestinian voices. It would seem history has a way of repeating itself.

In June 1984, protests outside the South African Embassy were banned and the Metropolitan Police took the decision to arrest those who would defy that ban. But the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group were not so easily deterred. Many citizens and several politicians were arrested in a noble protest which had become about more than apartheid, but also the right to free assembly. Among those arrested was the MP for Islington North Jeremy Corbyn.

This act of civil disobedience ultimately led to the ban being overturned. The protests could continue in a place where they had maximum visibility and South African officials could not simply ignore them. Shame stared them in the face.

Jeremy Corbyn was prepared to jeopardise his own safety and personal freedom to help achieve the liberation of black South Africans. Perhaps we should listen when he calls for the liberation of Palestinians. Perhaps we should listen when he discusses any human rights issue. His record must earn our respect.

Let’s contrast the MP for Islington North with former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who said Nelson Mandela had a “rather closed mind”, following a telephone call with the ANC leader in July 1990, according to records at the UK National Archives. This call took place just five months after Mandela was released from prison, and while decent people around the world were celebrating his freedom, conservatives most certainly were not.

Both Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan viewed Mandela’s African National Congress as communists and placed them on terrorist watch lists while describing the South African government as cold war allies. They also suggested it was Mandela’s aim to turn South Africa into a communist state and spread communism throughout the world. Time has, of course, proven these claims to be absurd smears, used to justify continued oppression, yet the media so rarely hold conservatives to account. When we talk of the establishment, this is what we mean – rich and powerful people working together to control narratives and consolidate power.

“The South African government is under no obligation to negotiate the future of the country with any organisation that proclaims a goal of creating a communist state, and uses terrorist tactics and violence to achieve it,” Reagan said in a 1986 speech.

It would seem the right wing have a habit of demonising those who fight for social justice, portraying good guys as natural enemies. Something to consider as mouth-foaming conservatives scream “Antisemite!” at the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and Chris Williamson in the UK, and Ilhan Omar and the Jewish Bernie Sanders in the US. Only a fool would fail to see the irony of a conservative labelling a socialist as racist.

Reagan and Thatcher opposed sanctioning the South African government, even though Mandela and the ANC called for this action to hasten the end to apartheid. Clearly Republicans and Conservatives were not allies in the fight against apartheid, they were supporters of it, regardless of their attempts to rewrite history.

In 1981, Reagan told Walter Cronkite South Africa was “a country that has stood by us in every war we’ve ever fought, a country that, strategically, is essential to the free world in its production of minerals.” Just think about how the US and UK governments uncritically praise the Netanyahu regime and vehemently oppose BDS of Israel. And let’s not forget the US still had Mandela and the ANC on a terrorist watch list as late as 2008.

Conservatives so often occupy the wrong side of history.

“A considerable number of the ANC leaders are communists … When the ANC says that they will target British companies, this shows what a typical terrorist organisation it is,” Thatcher said in a press conference, prior to Mandela’s release from prison.

Thatcher’s support for the South African government should come as no surprise, given her cosy relationship with Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet – a man who Jeremy Corbyn campaigned to have brought to justice in yet another example of his foresight and moral character.

Corbyn also campaigned for gay rights during the Thatcher years and voted against the abominable Section 28 which banned the teaching of homosexuality in schools. Corbyn supported the miners’ strikes & fought tirelessly to save mine pits from closure. He campaigned against the UK arming Saddam in the 70s and 80s, and protested Saddam’s butchering of the Kurds. He campaigned for the Birmingham 6 & Guildford 4 whose convictions were eventually quashed.

Corbyn has built his life around taking principled, and often unpopular or even dangerous stands. Every step of the way, he has been opposed by conservatives and even “centrists” within his own party. But Corbyn has repeatedly been proven right.

Twenty years from now, when Palestinians are liberated and the world agrees their treatment at the hands of the Israeli government – the dropping of white phosphorous, the sniping of pregnant women and aid workers, the imprisonment of children, the cutting off water supplies, the continued land grabbing – was barbaric and illegal, Conservatives will surely try to again rewrite history and claim they fought the Palestinian cause all along.

But Jeremy Corbyn will, in his twilight years, be able to proudly say he took a principled stand, and once the smears had died down, he was again proven right.

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