Western influence in South Africa
While international opposition to apartheid grew, the Nordic countries – and Sweden in particular – provided both moral and financial support for the ANC. On 21 February 1986 – a week before he was murdered – Sweden's prime minister Olof Palme made the keynote address to the Swedish People's Parliament Against Apartheid held in Stockholm. In addressing the hundreds of anti-apartheid sympathisers as well as leaders and officials from the ANC and the Anti-Apartheid Movement such as Oliver Tambo, Palme declared:
Other Western countries adopted a more ambivalent position. In Switzerland, the Swiss-South African Association lobbied on behalf of the South African government. In the 1980s, the US Reagan and UK Thatcher administrations followed a "constructive engagement" policy with the apartheid government, vetoing the imposition of UN economic sanctions, justified by a belief in free trade and a vision of South Africa as a bastion against Marxist forces in Southern Africa. Thatcher declared the ANC a terrorist organisation, and in 1987 her spokesman, Bernard Ingham, famously said that anyone who believed that the ANC would ever form the government of South Africa was "living in cloud cuckoo land". The American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative lobbying organisation, actively campaigned against divesting from South Africa throughout the 1980s.
By the late 1980s, with the tide of the Cold War turning and no sign of a political resolution in South Africa, Western patience began to run out. By 1989, a bipartisan Republican/Democratic initiative in the US favoured economic sanctions (realised as the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986), the release of Nelson Mandela and a negotiated settlement involving the ANC. Thatcher too began to take a similar line, but insisted on the suspension of the ANC's armed struggle.
Britain's significant economic involvement in South Africa may have provided some leverage with the South African government, with both the UK and the US applying pressure and pushing for negotiations. However, neither Britain nor the US was willing to apply economic pressure upon their multinational interests in South Africa, such as the mining company Anglo American. Although a high-profile compensation claim against these companies was thrown out of court in 2004, the US Supreme Court in May 2008 upheld an appeal court ruling allowing another lawsuit that seeks damages of more than US$400 billion from major international companies which are accused of aiding South Africa's apartheid system.