Ahmed Kathrada, Prisonmate of Mandela for 26 Years, on ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’
Mandela was at the time in Pollsmoor Prison, serving a life sentence for attempting to overthrow the government, and had become an international symbol of opposition to apartheid. But Thatcher did not mention Mandelas detention once in the official discussion with Botha, choosing instead to raise the issue during a short pre-meeting held without note-takers. According to the late prime ministers own description of the event, Mandelas plight was noted only during a private audience requested by South Africa to discuss sensitive issues. In a report sent by adviser John Coles to Roger Bone, then private secretary to Sir Geoffrey Howe, Number 10 confirmed the issue was raised at a short tete-a-tete with little success. He wrote on June 2, 1984: The Prime Ministers talks with Mr Botha began with a tete-a-tete conversation which lasted some 40 minutes. No note-takers were present. The Prime Minister said afterwards that Mr Botha had stated that it was never possible for South Africa to satisfy international opinion. She took the opportunity to raise the case of Nelson Mandela. Mr Botha said he noted the Prime Ministers remarks, but that he was not able to interfere with the South African judicial process. In the broader, four-hour, officially minuted meeting that followed, Thatcher omitted their disagreement over Mandela despite Foreign and Commonwealth Office guidance to make the point. In a briefing paper written by the FCO for the prime ministers office ahead of the meeting, it was suggested that Thatcher include Mandelas release as a point to make. We all say in Britain we were against apartheid…
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It seemed from your speech at Mandela’s funeral that you feel there is room for improvement… Well, you know, my approach to this whole matter is that I don’t concentrate on individuals. Individuals come and go. My concern or worry would be if there is any attempt to change the fundamental policy of the African National Congress. Individuals have their own style of doing things, but they come and go. The policy is entrenched in the constitution of a country, and I’d be very worried if there was any attempt to change that constitution. Otherwise, I repeat, individuals will come and go. With regard to the movie Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, were you in any way consulted or involved with the making of it? And is it a movie that you’re happy with? I think that it’s a very good portrayal of the book. I have seen it several times. Two weeks ago, we saw it in Boston; a special premiere of the film was held in Boston, which I attended. So I saw it several times and I think it was a very good portrayal of the book.
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