U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says it is time to end U.S. travel restrictions against former South African President Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC). Mandela and the ANC were blacklisted by the United States during their fight against apartheid. Secretary Rice told a congressional committee Wednesday the United States now has excellent relations with ANC-led South Africa. She said it was embarrassing that she still has to issue special waivers for Mandela and other senior South African government officials to enter the United States.
Democratic Congressman Howard L. Berman, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced a bill to lift the travel restriction. He told VOA the U.S. was on the wrong side of history and that it’s time to correct the injustice against Mandela and the ANC.
“The notion that people knew about this restriction all these years and didn’t do anything about it is very disappointing. And so we’re trying to rectify it, and it’s good to have Secretary Rice be with us on this cause because that’s going to help guarantee a smooth passage,” he said.
Congressman Berman said he was motivated to introduce the legislation because the ANC successfully made a change from armed struggle to peace, and that the U.S. should celebrate this transformation rather than continue a two decade-old policy that is out of reality.
“I learned several weeks ago that based on an old designation of the ANC probably 25 years ago, membership in the ANC put you on a data base which kept you from getting a visa. The notion that Nelson Mandela is deemed ineligible for a visa to the United States and has to apply and in effect beg for a waiver to come here, there’s no justification at all. Here is a much revere leader of a very important cause that we strongly support is subjected to that kind of treatment is just wrong. So we’re going to change it; we’re correct that,” Berman said.
He said by blacklisting the ANC based solely on its designation by the apartheid regime as a terrorist organization, the United States was on the wrong side of history out of ignorance rather than out of bad intentions.
“Ii believe that many years ago we could have corrected this. I think that those of us in Congress, I speak for myself, I had no idea it was still the case. Long after apartheid, long after the new government in South Africa took over, many whose leaders come directly out of the ANC, that we would still be keeping a data base of ANC members and then disqualifying them for admission into the United States is wrong. And I think, you saw it with Secretary Rice, even some of the most conservative Republicans agree with me that there’s no justification for this. So we’re going to change it,” he said.
Congressman Berman said he has more work to do on his legislation. But he said he’s hopeful it will pass.
“My hope is it will go through quickly, and in legislative time, that’s a month or two. So I can’t promise, but just my testing of the waters tells me that the vast majority of people here agree with me,” he said.
Congressman Berman said he believes President Bush would endorse Secretary Rice’s comments that she would like to end U.S. travel restrictions against Mandela and the ANC.