Letter: Commons tribute to Mandela

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The Independent Online
Commons tribute to Mandela

Sir: Your survey of Hansard (9 July) is flawed when it suggests that the first time Nelson Mandela's name was mentioned in the House of Commons was in 1983. One notable earlier occasion was Prime Minister's Question Time on 18 July, 1978. Hansard records:

Miss Joan Lestor: Will my right Hon Friend find time in his busy schedule to go to South Africa House and see whether he can get it opened in order that he may deliver birthday greetings to Nelson Mandela on the occasion of his 60th birthday, after 16 years on Robben Island, greetings which the South African authorities refused earlier today to accept?

The Prime Minister: I have long been, as I know my Hon Friends are and I hope many Opposition Members are, an admirer of Nelson Mandela. Whether or not South Africa House accepts the greetings, I should like on behalf of Her Majesty's Government to send him formal greetings from this Despatch Box.

Jim Callaghan's response came at a time when under the stewardship of David Owen, as Foreign Secretary, the Labour government was moving, albeit hesitatingly, towards a tougher policy against apartheid and, in response to the Soweto uprising and the murder of Steve Biko, was contemplating various forms of economic sanctions.

Historians may now wish to try and assess how much pain and suffering could have been avoided if the apartheid regime had not been protected internationally over the following decade by the constructive engagement policies of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.


London N12