UK journalist Michael Crick, a political correspondent for C4 news, prompted the leader of his country to go viral for all the wrong reasons on Tuesday when he took her to task for her lack of involvement in the movement to free Nelson Mandela.
Not mincing words, Crick asked: “Mrs May you’re about to visit Robben Island, you were active in politics in the 70s and 80s, what did you do to help release Nelson Mandela?”
When May responded by deflecting attention to the UK’s government at the time, Crick made it clear that he was probing her personal contribution.
“Did you run protests? Did you get arrested outside the embassy? Did you boycott South African goods? Did you do anything?” he asked.
In response, May stuck to the script, but her own lack of anti-apartheid activity at the time was made painfully clear.
“I think you know full well that I didn’t go on protests, Michael, but what is important is the work the United Kingdom government did to ensure that it was able to give support when that support was needed,” May said.
Crick continued, “Mrs Thatcher believed that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist. Were you a loyal conservative party member? Did you think the same thing?”
“What was important was the support the UK government was giving at the time, often support behind the scenes but in other ways too, to ensure that we saw the result that we did in relation to the ending of apartheid here in South Africa,” was May’s diplomatic but not altogether convincing answer.
“A government led by a woman who thought Nelson Mandela was a terrorist,” Crick countered.
“Now you’re going to be going to Robben Island, are you going to be feeling guilty for that? That at the time Nelson Mandela was on Robben Island you, Theresa May did nothing to help his release? You personally?” he continued.
“What I will be feeling, I think, when I go to Robben Island is to recognise the immense statesmanship of a man who spent so many years incarcerated and when he came out of his incarceration he had that breadth of vision and that calm approach that has enabled South Africa to be built into the country it is today,” said May.
She ended what was not an ideal interview for her by hinting at her country’s colonial past without confronting the issue directly.
South Africa is “a country with which we the United Kingdom have long historical links for obvious reasons, but also with whom we can forge a new partnership for the future,” she said.
May has not had an easy time in South Africa, where she hopes to secure new trade relationships ahead of the UK’s looming Brexit.
Despite the fact that many felt she would do her best to avoid the land issue, May was forced to confront it yesterday, telling a journalist from the SABC that she did back Ramaphosa’s policy of expropriation as long as it was to be done “legally”. Later she also went viral online after her attempts at dancing got her the wrong kind of attention on social media.