News / Africa

US View of Mandela Changed From Cold War Communist to Anti-Apartheid Hero

FILE - Candles are seen burning by a portrait of Nelson Mandela outside of the Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria, South Africa, where he was in critical condition, July 6, 2013.
FILE - Candles are seen burning by a portrait of Nelson Mandela outside of the Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria, South Africa, where he was in critical condition, July 6, 2013.
At his death, Nelson Mandela was revered in the United States as he was most everywhere else. But it was not always that way. U.S. views of Mandela evolved from Cold War Communist to anti-apartheid hero.

Former U.S. President John F. Kennedy said the United States in 1962 stood behind "an extraordinary group" of African leaders building new countries fresh from winning their independence.

"This has been an unknown continent to us because it was dominated by Europe. Now it's opening up, and we want to be part of it. And our interest is wholly disinterested. We have no great commercial history. We have no record of exploitation. We have supported the United Nations effort in Africa. We want them to be independent," said Kennedy.

For all his outreach to leaders in Algeria, Ghana and Guinea, Kennedy's extraordinary group of Africans did not include Nelson Mandela's African National Congress.

Trading partner

Apartheid South Africa was Washington's biggest Cold War trading partner in Africa, with reliable uranium supplies, ports of call for the U.S. Navy, and four missile-tracking stations. Secretary of State Dean Rusk opposed economic sanctions, warning that weakening white rule might lead to "Communist infiltration."

Former President Lyndon Johnson kept to the anti-Communism track despite then-Senator Robert F. Kennedy's 1966 meeting with banned ANC leader Albert Luthuli and his speech at the University of Cape Town during which he famously spoke of each strike against injustice creating ripples of hope.

"And crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance," said Robert Kennedy.

During the Nixon and Ford administrations, the value of white rule as a bulwark against Communism was reinforced by Mandela's support for Cuban President Fidel Castro, and more than 30,000 Cuban troops in neighboring Angola who blocked a 1975 South African advance on Luanda.

When South African troops invaded Angola, Castro told reporters, Cubans could not stand by and do nothing.

Economic sanctions

Former President Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State Cyrus Vance led a United Nations delegation to South Africa in 1978 after Pretoria seized what is now Namibia. The Carter administration tightened an arms embargo, but continued to oppose economic sanctions.

Former President Ronald Reagan told CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite that if the United States could negotiate with Russia it could surely continue to negotiate "with a friendly nation like South Africa" that "strategically is essential to the free world in its production of minerals."

Author John Arquilla chronicled Reagan foreign policy. "At the height of the Cold War, South Africa was a place where the most important strategic resources were located - vanadium and other important strategic metals - in huge abundance. And so the authoritarian and racist government there was able to trade on that for some time because the Soviet Union, which was our enemy, had its own nature resources that greatly exceeded our own."

Anti-apartheid protests on U.S. college campuses grew. Congress voted to over-ride President Reagan's veto of economic sanctions. Congressman Louis Stokes told the television channel C-SPAN about civil disobedience outside the South African embassy.

"That was the least we could do because if Nelson Mandela could spend 28 years in a prison for fighting for his people and not having committed any crimes, we could certainly go to jail for one night to highlight the inequality of apartheid in South Africa," said Stokes.

With Mandela's release from prison in 1990, Former President George Herbert Walker Bush invited South African President F.W. deKlerk to the White House to show U.S. support for what he called a new brand of leadership more realistic about political change.

"The freeing of Mandela clearly is a very positive sign. I think there is more to be done, but there are things that he has done that deserve our support and our appreciation," said Bush.

U.S. anti-apartheid leaders opposed the invitation - the first for a South African president. Activist Randall Robinson said President Bush was moving too fast.

"I ask him to be consistent with previous American behavior on this issue and also be consistent with our responses to other nations that are lead by tyrants of this order," said Robinson.

'Hero for people everywhere'

Mandela's work for racial reconciliation and his election as South Africa's first popularly-chosen president made him, in former President Bill Clinton's words, a hero for people everywhere.

"For a long time, the name Nelson Mandela has stood for the quest for freedom. Apartheid could not silence him. And when he was freed, Americans all across this country who had fought for justice in South Africa rejoiced," said Clinton.

Past positions on ending apartheid became part of U.S. politics. Former President George W. Bush's campaign manager Karl Rove says it was part of vetting Vice President Dick Cheney. "Cheney had been a very conservative member of Congress from Wyoming, and we would have to defend his voting record, including voting against a resolution calling for the release of Nelson Mandela from prison."

Bush welcomed Mandela to the White House, calling him a symbol of courage. The South African needed a visa waiver, though, because he was still on an official U.S. terrorist watch list. Congresswoman Barbara Lee said it was a bipartisan effort to set that straight.

"This is one of those moments where we have seen the Secretary of State, Republicans, Democrats all of us working together to end this terrible, terrible policy that we have with regard to the ANC and Nelson Mandela," said Lee.

President Barack Obama says Nelson Mandela set the standard for service "whether we are students, shopkeepers or farmers, cabinet ministers or presidents. He calls on us to serve our fellow human beings and better our communities."

You May Like

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Religion Aside, Christmas Gains Popularity in Communist Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid