1980-1989 | Backing Apartheid

Thatcher insists she can’t meet the ‘terrorist’ A.N.C.

Statue of Margaret Thatcher at London’s Guildhall (The Wub – CC BY-SA 4.0 – via Wikimedia) and of the ‘terrorist’ Nelson Mandela of the ANC (flowcomm – CC BY 2.0 – via Wikimedia)

17 October 1987

On 17 October 1987, at a press conference at the Vancouver Commonwealth Summit, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called the African National Congress ‘a typical terrorist organisation,’ adding that she would have ‘nothing to do with any organisation that practices violence. I have never seen anyone from the ANC or the PLO or the IRA and would not do so.’ Thatcher also insisted that there were more important issues than sentimental concerns over human rights. In the face of an internal insurgency, the South African government had to ‘maintain order and in those circumstances it is sometimes difficult to ensure that human rights are always respected.’  She recited the usual convenient pretexts of ‘maintaining order’ and opposing ‘terrorism’ to justify why she was the only Commonwealth leader at the conference to oppose widening sanctions against South Africa’s apartheid regime.1

Her reluctance to meet groups that practice violence hadn’t been so evident seven years earlier. On 7 October 1981, she had been enchanted by her meeting with the Afghan Mujahideen on the Afghan border and informed them that  ‘the hearts of the free world are with you’.2  Shortly afterwards, she invited Mujahideen terror leader Abdul Haq to Downing Street, where she warmly welcomed the warlord on 11 March 1986 and posed with him in front of the famous black door for a photograph. By then Haq had already made it clear that he didn’t care that thousands of civilians had been killed during his rocket attacks on Kabul. ‘We use poor rockets. We cannot control them. They sometimes miss. I don’t care about people who live close to the Soviet Embassy. I feel sorry for them, but what can (I) do.’ Haq had also planted a bomb at Kabul airport in September 1984, which killed 28 people including many people on their way to visit their student relatives. Haq claimed that the purpose of the bomb had been ‘to warn people not to send their children to the Soviet Union.’3


  1. John Campbell, Margaret Thatcher, Volume Two: The Iron Lady, Vintage Books, London, 2008, p. 329, ‘Margaret Thatcher: Press Conference at Vancouver Commonwealth Summit,’ The Margaret Thatcher Foundation accessed online at url https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/106948 and Elizabeth M. Williams, The Politics of Race in Britain and South Africa: Black British Solidarity and the Anti-Apartheid Struggle, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2015, p. 56.
  2. ‘Margaret Thatcher: Speech at refugee camp on Pakistan’s Afghan border,’ The Margaret Thatcher Foundation accessed online at url https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/104715
  3. David Holmes and Norm Dixon, Behind the US War on Afghanistan, Resistance Books, Chippendale, Australia, 2001, p. 62 and Sandy Gall, War Against the Taliban: Why it all went wrong in Afghanistan, Bloomsbury, London, 2013, p. 13.

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