A friendly message to apartheid's British apologists and opponents

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The Independent Online
"To have emerged from prison with such apparent absence of any bitterness ... must be regarded as one of the more remarkable political achievements of our century" - Michael Heseltine, following President Nelson Mandela's address to the combined Houses of Parliament yesterday.

But what might Mr Mandela have said, were he slightly less forgiving? We have obtained the only copy of the speech Nelson Mandela never made.

"My lords, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for inviting me here. May I first say how fetching Madam Speaker and the Lord Chancellor look in their colourful tribal garments? No wonder the tourist trade to London is so brisk (just one of my rather rare jokes, that).

"I am not joking when I say that it is good to see Baroness Thatcher here. Not many understand her contribution to the liberation of the South African people. In fact I don't understand it either. How did it come about that someone whose speeches resonated with such an uncompromising passion for liberty and democracy, should have been so hostile to the struggle that the ANC and others were forced to wage?

"Over those long years, as I paced the yard at Robben Island, or sat in my room at Polesmoor, I pondered what I heard from Britain. First it was said that majority rule was a dubious concept in African conditions - look what had happened in most of 'Black Africa'. Although apartheid was 'repugnant', of course, could we be sure that one person, one vote would not be worse? I see a couple of blushes in the audience.

"Then there was the problem of what to do about it. Sporting boycotts would not work. They would cause resentment, bring about isolation. Oh, and interfere with the cherished freedoms of British sportspeople to go wherever they wanted. Some of you devoted vastly more time to campaigning for sporting ties with apartheid South Africa, than in arguing for change. And trading sanctions would be worse. They would hit the poor blacks (who somehow failed to appreciate this fact) disproportionately.

"After a while it became obvious even to the stupidest Conservative MP that things could not go on. So they found alternative 'solutions'. Like Mr Michael Colvin MP, one-time secretary of the party's Foreign Affairs Committee and former PPS to the Foreign Office ministers. In 1985 he warns against talking to South African terrorists (ie me), travels to Jo'burg five months later as a guest of the regime and discovers 'Homelands'. He's in Bophuthatswana in '86, and again in '87. The magic solution! Why not split the country up and let the blacks have the worst bits?

"That fails. So suddenly great prose poems are written about the nobility of the Zulus, the greatness of Chief Gatsha Buthelezi, the 'irrevocable' differences between Xhosa and Zulu. Inkatha is the true repository of democracy and the answer is partition! Tell me please, what do you think would have happened if Buthelezi had won the last election, and I had lost? Do you think I'd be swanning round the world with a fly whisk? Not likely. I and thousands of others would be pushing up the veldt with 'traditional weapons' protruding from every orifice.

"And now the same people in the same newspapers are talking about how we are bound to fail. Look at the crime! Look at the civil unrest! They just cannot bear to say, 'we were wrong, we're sorry'. Why not?

"So my greetings go to others. To the awkward squad who stood outside South Africa House every day for years. To that cantankerous MP, Bob Hughes, who campaigned through thick and thin, no matter how 'boring' others thought him. To the students who boycotted Barclays Bank. To the thousands who sent me greetings cards in prison.

"To those who were naive enough to believe that blacks can make democrats, too. Thank you."