For Decades the U.S. Hated Nelson Mandela


Nelson Mandela was buried yesterday. The entire world is in mourning. President Obama joined others in eulogizing the 95 year old hero with words of deep admiration and praise.

All the adulation was richly deserved.

However, in our present context of anti-terrorist hysteria, it is important to note that Nelson Mandela and his African National Congress (ANC) party were on the U.S. terrorist Watch List until quite recently. In fact, after spending more than a quarter century in South Africa’s Robben Island, and despite Mandela’s stature as President of South Africa, it wasn’t until 2008 that Mandela and his ANC were removed from that role of infamy.

That fact coupled with Mandela’s now-heroic status shows how the term “terrorist” can be misapplied for decades to genuine freedom fighters while the U.S. opposes them in its de facto support of oppression. Martin Luther King teaches the same lesson.

The Reagan administration was largely responsible for attempting to ruin Mandela’s reputation. It called him “subversive” and “communist” all during the 1980s. Mr. Reagan insisted that Mandela and the ANC were Cuban backed enemies of the United States and its interests in South Africa. Such charges were behind the administration’s refusal to support UN and international trade sanctions and an arms embargo against the racist South African apartheid system.

Even after “Madiba” (his affectionate tribal name) received the Nobel Peace Prize (1993), the U.S. continued to treat Mandela as a pariah. However, after 9/11, it changed its reason for doing so. The State Department then stopped referring to him as a communist and called him a “terrorist” instead. In fact as late as 2005, he was required to get a special State Department waiver in order to enter the U.S. in order to visit George W. Bush.

Finally in 2008, with a big prod from the Congressional Black Caucus, Congress at last voted to remove the by then 90 year old Mandela and ANC from the U.S. government’s official list of terrorists.

All of this has been consigned to George Orwell’s Memory Hole in the upsurge of universal acclaim for South Africa’s safely dead Madiba.

The same thing happened, of course, to Martin Luther King whom the State Department, CIA, and others had labeled “communist” and “subversive” before finally honoring the martyr’s memory with a national holiday and with innumerable “Martin Luther King Boulevards” throughout the country.

In the light of such history, can our grandchildren look forward to misty eyes, holidays and street renamings after the passing of Daniel Ellsberg, Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Aaron Swartz, and Assata Shakur?

Stay tuned.

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

2 thoughts on “For Decades the U.S. Hated Nelson Mandela”

  1. Thanks, Don Mike…

    I noticed that Fidel Castro made a similar point in his comments on Mandela and the Raul Castro-Obama greeting.

    Also, I look forward to hearing about your recent meditation workshop.




    1. Trevor, I missed that comment by Fidel. Thanks for putting me on to it. I’ll be reporting on that meditation experience (Great!) shortly. Right now we’re wrapping up our time in India. Brendan and Patrick will be joining all of us here for Christmas and New Year’s. Here’s hoping you, Laura and Emerson will have a wonderful holiday season.


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