Why The US Had Nelson Mandela On A Terrorist Watch List

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Written by Ann Brown

Last week the world celebrated what would have been Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday. Former President Barack Obama even spoke at an event in South Africa. Mandela was remembered as a man who worked for freedom and peace and pushed South Africa toward a democratic, post-apartheid future.

Yet, as we look back at the honorable life and mission of Mandela, one can not forget that he was once considered a terrorist by the United States, and he remained on U.S. terrorist watch lists until 2008.

Why? It all has to do with the African National Congress (ANC), the political party with which Mandela was associated as well as the United States’ actions during the Cold War.

“Since its founding in 1912, ‘the ANC fought against apartheid for decades through rigorously nonviolent means, mostly labor strikes and public service boycotts,’ TIME later reported. But, ‘The ANC’s policy of nonviolence received a sudden and brutal setback in 1960,’” TIME reported.

In 1960 there was the Sharpeville Massacre when South African police killed 69 Black protesters. Following this, the government banned the ANC. So the organization went underground and Mandela took charge of the military wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation). TIME has described the group’s activities as  “low-level guerrilla war.” By 1964, Mandela had been arrested and was convicted of sabotage and treason. He was imprisoned until 1990, when cries from all over the world were calling for his release.

During Mandela’s imprisonment was also during the Cold War for the United States. And Mandela’s ties to communist governments such as Russia and Cuba, caused the U.S. to consider him a terrorist. The ANC was receiving funds from Communist nations, and   looking at the bigger picture and the situation of Blacks in South Africa, the U.S. looked at Mandela as “a person on the wrong side of the Cold War,” as historian Robert Trent Vinson, author of “The Americans Are Coming!: Dreams of African American Liberation in Segregationist South Africa,” explained.

President Reagan in 1986  warned of “calculated terror by elements of the African National Congress,” including “the mining of roads, the bombings of public places, designed to bring about further repression, the imposition of martial law, and eventually creating the conditions for racial war,” as TIME reported. And, the Department of Defense listed the ANC in a 1988 report as one of several  “key regional terrorist groups” worldwide. “Indeed, ANC actions during this period would include nighttime raids that destroyed fuel storage tanks and nearly two days of fires in 1980, a bombing at a bar in Durban that left three dead and more than 60 wounded, and a car bomb that killed 19 outside of the headquarters of the country’s Air Force in Pretoria in 1983. The later ANC apologized for civilian deaths that occurred as a result of ‘insufficient training,’” TIME reported.

Finally, in April 2008 Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced it was about time that Congress lifted travel restrictions against Mandela and the ANC since the U.S. had “excellent relations” with South Africa. “It is frankly a rather embarrassing matter that I still have to waive in my own counterparts–the foreign minister of South Africa, not to mention the great leader, Nelson Mandela,” she said.

By July 2008, President George W. Bush signed a bill that authorized “the Departments of State and Homeland Security to determine that provisions in the Immigration and Nationality Act that render aliens inadmissible due to terrorist or criminal activities would not apply with respect to activities undertaken in association with the African National Congress in opposition to apartheid rule in South Africa.”

“Nelson Mandela does not belong on a terrorist watch list–period,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse at the time. “This problem has caused injustice to South African leaders and embarrassment to the United States, and I’m glad it will be repaired.”

Nelson Mandela
FILE – In this Feb. 13, 1990, file photo, Nelson Mandela and Winnie Mandela give black power salutes as they enter Soccer City stadium in the Soweto township of Johannesburg, South Africa, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison. The centennial of Mandela’s birth is July 18, and those wishing to make a pilgrimage to honor his legacy will find a number of sites around South Africa, from the villages of his childhood to museums and historic sites about apartheid. (AP Photo/Udo Weitz, File)

 

 

Ann Brown
Image Attribution: FILE - In this Feb. 13, 1990, file photo, Nelson Mandela and Winnie Mandela give black power salutes as they enter Soccer City stadium in the Soweto township of Johannesburg, South Africa, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison. The centennial of Mandela's birth is July 18, and those wishing to make a pilgrimage to honor his legacy will find a number of sites around South Africa, from the villages of his childhood to museums and historic sites about apartheid. (AP Photo/Udo Weitz, File)