The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

1987: Thatcher Responds to ‘Further Intensification of the Armed Struggle’

Posted on | December 6, 2013 | 79 Comments

When Margaret Thatcher died in April, the British Left reacted with the kind of ugly viciousness you would expect of the British Left. This is worth remembering today when liberals are demanding that everyone must now forget the reality of who Nelson Mandela was.

Thatcher’s death, in fact, was the occasion for the Left to recycle a misquote about South Africa intended to smear Thatcher. Her enemies claimed she said, “The ANC is a typical terrorist organisation… Anyone who thinks it is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud cuckoo land.” The first sentence is a decontextualized misquote; the second is a distorted misattribution.

In the 1980s, the leadership of the ANC (African National Congress) included Marxist revolutionary Chris Hani, who was both an official of the South African Communist Party and the Political Commissar of the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (also known as “MK”). Hani, who had engaged in guerrilla warfare in Zimbabwe, set up “an underground infrastructure” for MK inside South Africa.

This background is necessary to understanding the Cold War context of the situation in South Africa during the ’80s, a context to which I alluded Thursday evening in recalling Mandela’s anti-American rhetoric. Liberals would now have us forget both those words, and the historic context of Soviet-backed “wars of national liberation” that characterized Moscow’s policy in the Third World.

Along with Ronald Reagan, Thatcher was a leader of worldwide opposition to communism and, in the 1980s, the West was under intense pressure to impose economic sanctions on South Africa, pressure which both Reagan and Thatcher resisted.

My conservative friend Joel Pollak’s reaction to historic evidence of Mandela’s alliance with communists reminded me that Pollak, born in 1977, can be excused for forgetting — as he was only a child at the time — when left-wing students on American university campuses staged protests demanding “divestment” from South Africa.

These protests were the kind of childish radical tantrums Pollak would certainly abhor. The “shanty wars” at Dartmouth, where conservative students were suspended for attempting to dismantle protesters’ huts on the campus green, were memorialized in a 2006 book, The Dartmouth Review Pleads Innocent. Pressure for “divestment” and sanctions against Johannesburg was a perfect example of how Western liberals enthusiastically embraced Soviet policy aims during the Cold War.

It was predictable: If the KGB wanted something, the hippie scum at American universities would march in favor of it, and whatever the Kremlin opposed, the hippie scum would denounce as an intolerable abomination. Hell’s bells, the fact that the United States doesn’t have more nuclear power plants today can be blamed on those idiotic Commie stooges in the “No Nukes” movement of the 1970s and ’80s.

Historical context is everything, you see, and in 1986, the communist leader of the ANC’s military wing, Chris Hani, warned that the ANC was “going to step up attacks against those factories, transnational corporations and monopolies, which exploit and maltreat the South African working class and in the process it is more than probable that white civilians will lose their lives.”

Communist ANC leader Chris Hani.

This was an outright threat of terrorism which Western leftists found perfectly acceptable, at a time when Fidel Castro had 40,000 Cuban troops in Angola where, with the Soviet Union’s active support, Cuban solders were fighting South African troops deployed in support of anti-communist UNITA insurgents in a bloody civil war.

The sanctions and “divestment” campaign against South Africa was therefore an effort to advance Soviet foreign policy aims in Africa by sabotaging the economy of a key Western ally.

Quod erat demonstrandum.

In October 1987, at a summit conference of the British Commonwealth held at Vancouver, ANC official Mfanafuthi Johnstone “Johnny” Makatini “said Britain’s refusal to support these measures would result in ‘the further intensification of the armed struggle’ and also in attacks on British corporations in South Africa.” At a press conference in Vancouver, Thatcher answered a question about these threats:

“When the ANC says that they will target British companies, this shows what a typical terrorist organization it is. I fought terrorism all my life and if more people fought it, and we were all more successful, we should not have it and I hope that everyone in this hall will think it is right to go on fighting terrorism. They will if they believe in democracy.”

You can read the rest of Thatcher’s October 1987 press conference and find a handy lesson on the nature of liberal media bias in the fact that so many of the media questions amounted to parroting Johnny Makatini’s demand for sanctions against South Africa. Thatcher said “apartheid is a totally repugnant system and must go,” but also pointed out the political, military and diplomatic reality:

So far as Britain is concerned, we believe that sanctions would only harden attitudes rather than promote progress . . .
There is a very considerable Soviet influence throughout Africa. There are main Cuban forces, as you pointed out, in Angola, but I understand that there are Cuban people or forces or advisers in something like twelve other countries in Africa and also there are of course East German advisers and, of course, as you know, a considerable number of the ANC leaders are communists. . . .
I will have nothing to do with any organisation that practices violence. I have never seen anyone from ANC or the PLO or the IRA and would not do so. Nor will we have any truck with any of the organisations; we never negotiate with hostage taking or anything like that. But please, I hope you will fight terrorism and violence and not in fact embrace it.

The status of the ANC as a terrorist organization — comparable to the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Irish Republican Army — was quite clear to Thatcher, as was also the communist allegiance of many ANC leaders, who sided with the Soviets in Angola. The same Johnny Makatini who at Vancouver threatened “intensification of armed struggle” and attacks on British companies in South Africa, turned up a month later at an ANC meeting to denounce South Africa’s “criminal warpath” against “the People’s Republic of Angola.”

If it walks like a Communist duck and talks like a Communist duck . . .

Having supplied the proper historical contest to Margaret Thatcher’s (accurate) description of the ANC as a “terrorist organization,”  what about the “cloud cuckooland” part of the quote her enemies falsely attribute to her? This leftist smear stems from a question asked of Thatcher’s spokesman, Bernard Ingham, about the potential for a violent revolution in South Africa in 1987:

“When a Canadian reporter suggested that the African National Congress might [forcibly] overthrow the white South African regime, Thatcher’s spokesman responded, ‘It is cloud cuckooland for anyone to believe that could be done.'”

Wait a minute: Haven’t the liberal myth-makers told us that Mandela’s ANC was a peaceful movement? Why, then, would a reporter have asked in 1987 whether the ANC might stage a violent revolution? Well, if it walks like a Communist duck . . .


IRONIC FOOTNOTE: Chris Hani, the Marxist revolutionary who in the 1980s threatened violence against “white civilians,” was assassinated in 1993 by a Polish immigrant, Janusz Walus, using a pistol loaned to him by a pro-apartheid official, Clive Derby-Lewis. Hani’s assassination increased tensions and fears of further violence. Nelson Mandela gave a speech calling for peace: “Now is the time for all South Africans to stand together against those who, from any quarter, wish to destroy what Chris Hani gave his life for — the freedom of all of us.” The crisis sparked by Hani’s assassination is credited with hastening the first post-apartheid election in 1994 that elected Mandela president.