Thatcher, the ANC and the "cloud cuckoo land" misquote

FT, Richard Dowden and the Huffington Post continue to recycle false and long refuted claim

The death of Margaret Thatcher seems to have led to a resurrection of the claim that the former British Prime Minister stated, in 1987, that "anyone who thinks [the ANC] is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land".

A report on the Huffington Post today claims that Thatcher "went so far as to describe the African National Congress in 1987 as terrorists. ‘Anyone who thinks it is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land,' she said of the ANC at the time."

On the African Arguments website meanwhile Director of the Royal African Society Richard Dowden began an article with the same quote: "She [Thatcher] once declared the African National Congress to be a ‘typical terrorist organisation... Anyone who thinks it is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land'."

A feature on the Financial Times website headed "Margaret Thatcher in her own words" also attributed the same quote to Thatcher: " 'The ANC [African National Congress] is a typical terrorist organisation . . . Anyone who thinks it's going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land.' 1987"

The first part of this quotation, though almost never placed in context, can be attributed to Thatcher. The second part cannot. As this website has observed previously:

At the Commonwealth Summit in Vancouver in October 1987 Margaret Thatcher opposed efforts to impose the stringent sanctions on South Africa that the ANC was demanding. In reaction the ANC's representative at the conference, Jonnie 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. (Christian Science Monitor October 19 1987) (In March the previous year MK commissar Chris Hani had 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.")

In a press conference Thatcher was asked by Alan Merrydew of BCTV News what her response was "to a reported ANC statement that they will target British firms in South Africa?" She replied that: "when the ANC says that they will target British companies. This shows what a typical terrorist organisation 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."

The transcript of the press conference [held on October 17 1987] contains no mention of the supposed cloud cuckoo land remarks. In fact this "quote" appears to stem from a comment her spokesman, Bernard Ingham, had made during the conference again in reply to question from the press. According to the Washington Post  (October 18 1987): "When a Canadian reporter suggested that the African National Congress might overthrow the white South African regime [by force], Thatcher's spokesman responded, ‘It is cloud cuckooland for anyone to believe that could be done.'"

The Margaret Thatcher Foundation - which has collected "Between 1945-90 every statement made by Margaret Thatcher ... as far as can be known" - also investigated the origin of this quotation back in 2006. The Foundation's website editor noted at the time that "The widely-quoted "cloud-cuckoo land" remark attributed to MT ... is apocryphal. As far as can be traced she never made a public comment even similar to this."

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