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With frosty relations beginning from the days of fighting the Apartheid regime, and the United States being deep in the Cold War, the ANC, to which Mandela belonged, was not a friend of the United States. And so they became "terrorists".
It's 2018, and Nelson Mandela would have been 100 years old had he still been alive. As usual, it's that time people get to talk about him, the discourse variating between how he was a hero for the black South Africans and how he let them down at the same time. But there's always been a question on why and how a revered leader like him, who was the embodiment of peace, hope, forgiveness and democracy was kept on the United States Terrorists Watch Lists.
The genesis of frosty relations between South Africa's African National Congress (ANC) and the United States can be understood within the realm of the Cold War. As South Africa sought to dismantle the apartheid system, the United States was on another ideological war, attempting to ward off communism and trying to inspire capitalism. Anyone who was allies with Russia would automatically become an enemy of the United States. It was that deep.
When the ANC first began fighting the racist system in South Africa, they pursued non-violent means. They usually consisted of labour strikes and civil boycotts. But as time progressed, the obstinacy of the unrelenting apartheid system was too much to break. Something had to be done. Violent means began finding space. And the ANC comrades later became fully convinced that violent means were the only way to achieve their end. Anything less would not work. For this to work, international co-operation was needed. Allied to provide support and equipment were needed.
The Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 is an attestation to this. In 1960, South African police killed 69 black protesters in the town 40 miles south of Johannesburg; amid the crackdown that followed, the government banned the ANC. By then, the ANC had their fully-fledged militant wing called Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation). As the apartheid government made life hard for ANC, the militant wing was flourishing, with Nelson Mandela heading it. He would not head the Umkhonto we Sizwe for long as he was convicted for sabotage and treason, sent to prison, which he came out of in 1990.
With a strong conviction in his beliefs, Mandela justified the actions for which he was sent to prison by saying, "The armed struggle [with the authorities] was forced on us by the government". Like that. Mandela's imprisonment did not spell a halt for ANC's activities as Oliver Tambo avoided arrest. TIME said he avoided that fate "because he had been sent abroad to open a headquarters and search for funds" for keeping the campaign going underground.
"The newly exiled revolutionary found some interest in his cause in Scandinavia but little in other Western nations. Tambo’s pleas were better rewarded by the Soviet Union, which beginning in 1963 became increasingly important to the ANC as a supplier of funds, military equipment and scholarships for young members. Precisely how much influence Moscow has over ANC policies and personnel is a matter of deep controversy."
An approach teeming with violence and an alliance with Moscow automatically meant that the United States had to take a hard stance on South Africa's ANC, as by that time the US was deep in the Cold War. How can you be friends with the Communists, the Americans would have probably remarked at that time.
Now due to this, Mandela was viewed as "a person on the wrong side of the Cold War". And now you can understand how he became a terrorist to the US. Although most people in the US felt the situation in South Africa was unjust, the effects of the Cold War compelled the US government to make things hard for ANC members.
"Communist influences on the ANC". That is how Ronald Reagan's government put it. ANC was a terrorist group to them. They had to be punished with sanctions and a host of travel restrictions. Because they were "terrorists".
"The Administration is understandably troubled that some members of the African National Congress are Communists, but to alienate those who are not is to risk enlarging the Communist ranks," Congress said in 1986.
ANC actions that included "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" were to President Reagan something that was not to be tolerated. The Department of Defense considered the ANC a "key regional terrorist group".
But as events progressed, Nelson Mandela's perception towards the world changed, he was a fighter of democracy, ready to usher a new era marked by forgiveness. He was released in 1990 and became South Africa's first black President in 1994.
But even after this, no alterations were made to the lists of "terrorists". Mandela and members of the African National Congress still had to apply for permission to enter the United States, and the State Department took the approach of letting in members of the ANC into the country on a case-by-case basis. Why?
It seems in as much as the Cold War effects were lingering on, although gradually eroding away, it was a matter of bureaucracy. It was only in 2008 that the then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pushed for the abolition of legislation imposing travel restrictions on ANC members. She said the US 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.
In July 2008, George Bush signed into law a Bill that lifted the restrictions that had been imposed on the ANC stalwarts. But why it took so long can only be attributed to a lack of political will in the United States. There was no urge to change such absurd legislation. It was a matter of bureaucratic processes not being instituted. The answer to such prolonged change lies in bureaucratic oversight.
But even if it is so, a radical explanation would be that these people needed full conviction that Mandela was no longer a problem to them. But then they said they were embarrassed such restrictions from the 1960s were still in place by 2008.
"Nelson Mandela does not belong on a terrorist watch list – period," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. "This problem has caused injustice to South African leaders and embarrassment to the United States, and I’m glad it will be repaired."
Whatever way you want to take it, the absurd law was finally stripped away and a dosage of sanity was injected into world politics. Yeah.
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