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Thatcher left Mandela to rot in prison

PMs glossed over issue in controversial talks

Newly released cabinet papers put paid yesterday to longstanding Tory boasts that Margret Thatcher used her controversial courting of South Africa's apartheid-era government to help win the release of Nelson Mandela.

Government minutes from 1984, published under the 30-year rule, show that Thatcher made little or no effort to secure Mandela's freedom during her first official meeting with South African prime minister PW Botha.

The documents record a summit between Thatcher and Botha, supposedly to discuss the country's policy towards its black population.

Yet the British PM did not mention Mandela once during the official discussion.

In a report sent by adviser John Coles to Roger Bone, then private secretary to Sir Geoffrey Howe, Number 10 suggested the issue was raised at a short "tete-a-tete."

No note-takers were present during the discussion but Coles says the issue was raised by Thatcher, who was rebuffed by Botha who claimed he was unable to "interfere with the South African judicial process."

In the officially minuted meeting that followed no further mention was made of the matter - apparently despite Foreign Office advice to do so.

Thatcher went on to infamously brand Mr Mandela and the ANC as "terrorists" in 1987, while the ultra right-wing Federation of Conservative Students notoriously wore "Hang Nelson Mandela" badges in the early 1980s.

In the wake of Mandela's death Prime Minister David Cameron and other senior party figures have rushed to distance themselves from their previous stance.

But in a special parliamentary session former Labour cabinet minister Peter Hain claimed the Tories were attempting to "rewrite" the history books and attacked the Thatcher government for its "craven indulgence to apartheid rulers."

"We all say in Britain we were against apartheid, and doubtless we were," Mr Hain said.

"But some of us did things about it and others didn't.

"But it really does stick in the craw, when Lord Tebbit, Charles Moore and others similar claim their complicity with apartheid, for that's what I think it was, somehow bought its end."

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