On Thursday, when freedom fighter and former South African president Nelson Mandela died at the age of 95, the condolences, popularized quotes and praise for the man who was jailed for 27 years due to his strong conviction on equality was both well-deserved and expected.
But among that praise and celebration of his life, it was hard to believe the prayers and kind words coming from our American politicians was genuine and sincere.
Harsh? Maybe. But just as the history books would like us to believe that Mandela was a docile peacekeeper who ended white rule and united South Africa with harmonious measures (he was, in fact, willing to mobilize a resistance that would turn to violence if need be to redistribute wealth, gain equality and ultimately save his people), American politics would like us to believe they were always on the right side of history.
Luckily, we know better.
If we are to recognize this one shocking fact — Mandela wasn’t taken off the U.S. Terrorist Watch List until 2008 — we have to first tell his story authentically and hold those who had the power to rid him of that title accountable.
It is both a disservice to participate in the pacification of Mandela’s true revolutionary nature by omitting his radicalism (that same radicalism that inspired a nation and eventually set his people free) and assuming that the same politicians and their successors who tweet a good word about the great leader would actually support the true Mandela (who they are already whitewashing with viral quotes on the good of humanity).
In the end, many of the new class with their stances on certain policies, would have most likely supported the continued segregation of whites and blacks in Africa for U.S. gain. Because as we know, our moral politicians don’t equate freedom to equality for all the world’s citizens if it doesn’t support America.
And with that, it must be said. Washington is full of a bunch of hypocrites who tweet wise words about freedom and humanity from a man who they fought to neutralize.
Here are some popular politicians (and one influential political advocate) who supported the apartheid Mandela fought the long fight to dismantle and who believed, whole-heartedly, that the leader their parties are praising in death was a threat to America.
If there was ever a politician revered in America who openly opposed Mandela, it is former president Ronald Reagan. In the 1980s, it was Reagan who placed the African National Congress on the official list of “terrorist” groups. It was Reagan who, because the ANC received backing from the USSR, called the same systematic oppression they were trying to fight “essential to the free world.” In fact, before Reagan, many presidents and politicians refused to sympathize with blacks under the South African regime in fear of supporting communism. He openly refused to punish South Africa for the imprisonment of Mandela and apartheid, even vetoing against the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act that would place economic sanctions on the Pretoria regime (and eventually dismantle apartheid). Surprisingly, a Republican-controlled Senate knocked that veto down. In an angry rebuttal, Reagan argued that “the key to the future lies with the South African government.” Needless to say, he wasn’t very happy with the decision, which was the first time in the twentieth century that a president had a foreign policy veto overridden.
It was 1985 when Congressman Dick Cheney voted against a resolution urging South Africa to release Mandela from jail. He also voted against sanctions on the regime in 1986 that would help dismantle apartheid and famously defended his position many years later. “The ANC was then viewed as a terrorist organization … I don’t have any problems at all with the vote I cast 20 years ago,” he told ABC while running for Vice President in 2000.
The former president disgraced by the Watergate scandal believed that American interests could best be served by working with the white Afrikaner government in their fight against Soviet designs in Africa. Again, Cold War ideals blinded U.S. politicians from lending a helping hand to the ANC in their fight against apartheid.
George W. Bush
It’s no secret that Mandela didn’t agree with America’s involvement in Iraq in 2003. In fact, Mandela had this to say about George W. Bush’s rationalizations of the war: “All that he wants is Iraqi oil.” That wasn’t it. When Bush pulled out his “weapons of mass destruction” justification, Mandela reminded the U.S. government that the only country to have used nuclear weapons is…America. Surprisingly, however, Mandela was removed from the list towards the end of Bush’s term.
Not an official politician, this political advocate, who famously opposes all tax increases, has heavy ties to Republicans, the gun industry and the NRA, once advised pro-apartheid South African student groups. Oh. It must also be mentioned he strong-armed nearly all Republicans to his Norquist-sponsored anti-tax hike pledge…which means he’s extremely influential in government. Imagine what his view on apartheid did for politicians and their perception of Mandela.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty