Dec. 6, 2013
On the occasion of Nelson Mandela’s death, many politicians and world leaders are lining up to express condolences and to voice their support for the anti-apartheid leader, activist, and yes, revolutionary. But many in the United States government didn’t always view that revolution as a fight for freedom. Sure, they considered the proto-Taliban fighting the Russians in the 1980s to be freedom fighters. But many Republicans – most even – not only opposed Mandela as a “terrorist”, but also considered the anti-apartheid movement itself to be terrorism.
Bishop Desmond Tutu called Ronald Reagan’s policy towards South Africa “immoral, evil and totally un-Christian.” He was without a doubt right.
Many partisans today will state that the Republicans were no different than anyone in the West, that we just hadn’t evolved yet. But the Kennedy administration had opposed the Apartheid regime in South Africa decades before Reagan.
Kennedy had instituted an arms embargo on the Afrikaner government. Jimmy Carter imposed sanctions on the apartheid government, at the request of Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC). Reagan removed those restrictions and courted the Apartheid government.
In 1985, after the South African government committed some of its worst atrocities against blacks, Congress voted to impose sanctions but Reagan vetoed their Anti-Apartheid Act. Not only that, but he actually termed it “immoral” and “repugnant.”
North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms filibustered the sanctions bill, with the shared opposition of Strom Thurmond and Phil Gramm. The man who would be George W. Bushes vice-president, Dick Cheney, repeatedly called Mandela a terrorist. Even during his campaign in 2000 he reaffirmed this belief, saying that he didn’t regret his position on the matter one bit.
Today there are many Republicans who have evolved more than Dick Cheney. They will admit that Reagan and other Republicans were dead wrong about Mandela and the ANC. In twenty more years, imagine what other foreign policies they might admit they were wrong about too?