Joe Biden’s bruising speech on apartheid in face of Reagan and Thatcher

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Mr Biden’s political career is one of the longest in the world, having spanned 50 years. In this time the President-elect has fought for many social and political issues. The Democratic politician was particularly angered by the South African National Policy.

He viewed the US’ administration at the time, under President Ronald Reagan, as being too quiet on the white nationalist system of legislation.

At the time, Mr Reagan’s cabinet had refrained from fully committing to a solution to the problem.

In the UK, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – a close ally of Mr Reagan – took a similar backbench approach to speaking out against apartheid.

She, in the end, slapped tough economic sanctions on the country for its dealings, but many, like Richard Dowden of the Royal African Society, have said that her intervention came to defend economic liberalism, not human rights.

Mr Biden, furious with a policy document drawn up and released by Mr Reagan’s Secretary of State, George Shultz, slammed Mr Reagan and the Republicans during a Senate hearing in 1986.

Here, he said: “What disturbs me more than the policy is the rationale for the policy.

“The rationale for the policy you set out for principles that you adhere to.

“You say on page 14 ‘we must not become South Africa’s problem, we must remain part of their solution, we must not aim to impose ourselves, our solutions, our favourites in South Africa’.

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“Damn it, we have favourites in South Africa – the favourites in South Africa are the people being suppressed by that ugly white regime.

“We have favourites.

“Our loyalty is not to South Africa it’s to South Africans – and the South Africans are majority black, and they are being excoriated.”

Apartheid began in 1948 when the country’s white nationalist party came to power and began implementing a segregationist system of legislation against non-whites.

Under the policy, the majority of the population – non-whites – were forced to live in separate areas from whites and use separate public facilities.


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Such segregationist and racist policies had become a central aspect of South Africa since its colonisation, with controversial systems passed such as the Land Act in 1913.

The Population Registration Act of 1950 provided the framework that cemented the apartheid ideology, classifying all South Africans by race – often splitting mixed race families apart.

It wasn’t until the early Nineties that South Africa’s President F W de Klerk changed the National Party’s apartheid tack, under severe pressure from the global community and a race war at bursting point.

Some of this pressure indeed came from Mr Reagan and Ms Thatcher.

However, in 2018, on the publication of a slew of the former head of the Diplomatic Service, Sir Patrick Wright’s diaries, Ms Thatcher was alleged to have believed South Africa should be a “whites-only state”.

Extracts from the diaries, that were published by the Mail on Sunday, include claims that Ms Thatcher expressed a desire for a “pre-1910” South Africa.

Mr Biden has also faced controversy over his rhetoric surrounding apartheid.

Although championing the policy’s end, during his Presidential campaign trail earlier this year, Mr Biden claimed to have been arrested during a visit with Nelson Mandela in apartheid South Africa – a story which he later admitted was not true.

Speaking to CNN in February on being asked about the event, he said: “When I said ‘arrested,’ I meant I was not able, I was not able to move.

“The cops, the Afrikaners, didn’t let me go with them, they made me stay where I was.

“I wasn’t arrested, I was stopped.

“I was not able to move where I wanted to go.”

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