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A mixed British farewell for the Iron Lady

IT was April 8 and I was browsing the net when I came upon the news on Yahoo News: Margaret Thatcher dead. The 87 years old former British Prime Minister, the news said, had died at the Ritz in London just seven hours before.

I suddenly felt sad even as I shared the news with the two other people around me, turning around the computer monitor for them to see the newsflash. My mind went back in a flash to the years when she dominated world headlines and at that very moment I felt the full weight of that often heard remark signified now by her passage: the end of an era.

Indeed the death of Margaret Thatcher marked the end of the era of that generation of strong-willed, even notorious leaders, an odd admixture of icons of freedom, corruption, dictatorship, global capitalism and religious fundamentalism from across Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Europe and the Americas- Muammar Gaddafi, PW Botha, Yasser Arafat, Ayatollah Khomeini, Saddam Hussein, Augusto Pinochet, François Mitterrand and of course the ex-cowboy film star, Ronald Reagan. For good or ill these people and others not mentioned here shaped the world.

There are yet others, though much enfeebled by age, but are still alive- George HW Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev and the biggest of them all, Nelson Mandela that has in the last few weeks given the world many anxious moments. From the moment of the first news flash I would follow closely news of Baroness Thatcher’s death as it developed.

By Rotimi Fasan
It wasn’t long before details streamed in of crowds of British people across different locations in spontaneous jubilation over the death of the woman they thought personified all the evils that had befallen them in the last three and half decades. ‘The witch is dead!’ they screamed and danced. The worst invectives were heaped on her and these continued for the next one week leading up to her funeral on April 17. Mainstream British media found themselves in a quandary as they appeared torn between self-censorship and reporting the news as it unfolded. If the radio and the television could put a lid on overwrought emotions boiling over, there was little that could be done to stem the heavy tide of imprecations raining online on this leader among leaders.

There was pain and anger from those whose only memory was of the ugly time they and their families suffered under the rule of Mrs.

Thatcher. In heartfelt pain they recalled thousands of miners who were thrown out of job; artisans who lost their trade and families forever riven by the cruel policies of the Tory government led by Margaret Thatcher between 1979 and 1990. Politics is all about compromise and the collective and this can’t be any more so than in a parliamentary government. But aggrieved Britons held Thatcher who was reputed for her bullying my-way-or-the-highway tactics personally responsible for their plight during her rule.

On the other hand, the British establishment from the Queen to Prime Minister, David Cameron and Ed Milliband, leader of the opposition Labour Party and   Members of Parliament and other heavyweights of the British aristocracy, and a few ‘commoners’ thought to have benefitted from Margaret Thatcher’s policies of privatisation and state divestment of public businesses- all of these rhapsodised about what a great leader Thatcher was.

They confessed a sense of personal loss on her passing and expressed their condolences to the Thatcher family on behalf of the British people. And as proof of their loss, they set aside a royal £11 million for the funeral that was all but in name a state funeral.

As first woman to be Prime Minister and the longest serving in more than 150 years, Margaret Thatcher surely deserved all the accolades coming her way. She won three general elections in a row and was never defeated in an election.

She seemed set to maintain her winning streak until the rug was pulled from under her by members of her own party tired of her ways in 1990. In tears the woman who went by the alias, Iron Lady, left No. 10 Downing Street having earlier sworn to fight to the finish to keep her position as leader of the Conservative Party.

In the wake of the general condemnation of the policies of the Conservatives under Thatcher and the wild jubilation that followed her demise, I looked back on the Thatcher era and remembered that even though she was a leader with vast global influence she was generally not enamoured of the weak and Africa in particular. In her policies and utterances, Mrs.

Thatcher had little pity for the poor and weak. Hers was a philosophy of might being right and she demonstrated this again and again in her stout opposition of sanction against then apartheid enclave in South Africa. She, in her policies, appeared to have a scale on which she measured humanity, and on this the rich White stood high with the poor Black well below. The ferocity with which she looked down on Black poor countries is the same with which she dealt with the ‘poor White trash’ of the British society. Not many mourned in Africa.

Even the Obama administration had no official representative at the funeral. As I watched the high profile funeral live on the BBC on a quiet Birmingham morning I seemed to attract bemused stares from my British hosts,  one of whom blurted to me in obvious pain and anger- “Rotimi, that woman divided Britain. I have no time for her funeral!” Ordinary Britons appear to have had the last word on Margaret Thatcher bringing to mind those lines from Achebe: Nobody wins a war against their own people.



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