The Scientific Activist

You can file this one under “should have been done about twenty years ago.” From the Mail & Guardian:

Lawmakers on Tuesday debated legislation to remove former South African president Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) from an apartheid-era United States terrorist blacklist.

Several members of the House of Representatives immediately expressed support for a Bill aimed at removing from any US databases “any notation that would characterise the ANC and its leaders as terrorists”.

The House Bill is sponsored by Howard Berman, the California Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, with strong support from the US State Department.

Barbara Lee, another California Democrat who co-sponsored the Bill, said she is “especially pleased we are taking this important step to finally right this inexcusable wrong”.

Lee and others said the legislation introduced during the 1980s while Ronald Reagan was president is anachronistic and wrongfully labels as terrorists men and women who are heroes and freedom fighters.

Lee recalled that ANC members could travel to United Nations headquarters in New York but not to Washington DC or other parts of the United States.

Just to put this in perspective, Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, and elected president of South Africa in 1994. The ANC became the majority political party in South Africa in 1994, and it still is today. That’s fourteen years in the political mainstream! The fact that US lawmakers are only just now debating no longer labeling ANC members as terrorists is outrageous.

The timing, though, isn’t the most absurd part of the situation: instead it’s the fact that this designation exists at all. The ANC were freedom fighters, struggling to overthrow South Africa’s brutal apartheid regime. Unfortunately for the ANC (and the majority of the population of South Africa), the US actively supported the apartheid regime well into the 1980s. The US saw Africa at large as an important battleground in its single-minded war against communism, and South Africa in particular as an important ally–regardless of how repressive and violent the white government was.

So, not surprisingly, the ANC–the enemy of a friend–was labeled a terrorist organization during the Reagan Administration. It wasn’t until 1986 that the US finally placed sanctions on South Africa by passing the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, and even this small feat required Congress to override a veto by president Ronald Reagan, that shining beacon of freedom.

By the time it imposed its sanctions, the US was already far behind the rest of the world, and now the US lags again by still labeling the ANC as a terrorist organization. Hopefully the new legislation unbranding the ANC will pass quickly and unanimously.


  1. #1 brian t
    May 7, 2008

    Maybe a certain amount of historical revisionism is necessary for peace to prevail, but even if the terrorist paid his debt to society, his crimes should not be forgiven or forgotten. Mandela was originally jailed after a fair trial in which he admitted to “sabotage”. That he was kept in jail for so long can be seen as political, of course.

    Meanwhile, former President Clinton is friends with the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Martin McGuiness, a former Provisional IRA leader who was jailed after he was caught in a car full of ammunition and explosives. He spent only six months in jail. US support for the Nicaraguan Contras would not have come to light but for the Iran-Contra scandal, and their murder of an American engineer. There are prisoners on Guantanamo Bay who have been accused of less than Mandela and McGuiness admitted to, and convicted of nothing, because there have been no trials over there.

    In short, I respectfully suggest that Americans refrain from comment on the distinction between “terrorists” and “freedom fighters” – if there can objectively be such a distinction!

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