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

    Post-White House, Obamas to Rent Washington Mansion

    Nine-bedroom home is 3 kilometers from Oval Office, near capital's Embassy Row; rent estimated at around $22,000 a month

    Red Planet? Not so much!

    New research suggest that Mars is in a warm period between cyclical ice ages, and that during Ice Age Maximum over 500,000 years ago, the red planet was decidedly ice, and much whiter to the naked eye.

    Taj Mahal Battles New Threat from Insects

    Swarms of insects are proliferating in the heavily contaminated waters of the Yamuna River, which flows behind the 17th century monument

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora