Archive | April, 2013

Margaret Thatcher and ‘Constructive Engagement’: Buying into Apartheid

22 Apr

(Un)constructive Engagement

Over the next few months I will publish a series of posts on anti-apartheid grassroots activism in South Africa and Europe from 1978-91. If you’ve been following the blog, you’ll probably guess that the anti-apartheid and antiracist organization, Boycott Outspan Action, will figure somehow. But for now I’d like to introduce the series with a discussion on what was in many ways the counter-position to these forms of activism; the policy of ‘constructive engagement’. And through implementing this policy, I show how a historiography of Margaret Thatcher’s war on trade unions and labour movements might be extended from the UK to South Africa. By steadfastly adhering to ‘constructive engagement’, Thatcher actively pursued an influential international agenda of undermining South African trade unionism and supporting racial oppression and subjugation.  Anti-apartheid activists across Europe and the USA were incensed by this vote of confidence from various governments and multinationals for apartheid, and they were quick to hone in on capitalist motives. In Holland, Boycott Outspan Action’s lawyer, Willem van Manen, took no prisoners in satirizing Thatcher’s rather compromised position in ‘constructive engagement’:

'Constructive Engagement'. Van Manen 1988. Courtesy of du Plessis

‘Constructive Engagement’. Van Manen 1988. Courtesy of Boycott Outspan Action

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