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US Congress Debates Finally Removing Terrorist Label for Nelson Mandela

The US Congress is debating a bill that would finally remove former South African president Nelson Mandela from a terrorist blacklist. It would do the same for the ruling ANC party.

The designation stems from the days of apartheid, when the ANC fought white-minority rule in South Africa. Efforts have been underway since the Reagan administration to remove the terrorist label.

VOA reporter Delia Robertson is following the story. From Johannesburg, she spoke to English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about reaction in South Africa to the congressional debate.

“It hasn’t received a lot of attention in South Africa this time around, but it certainly has in the past, although I can’t say that people like Mr. Mandela and Mr. (President) Mbeki and other senior members of the ANC have made an issue of it. But it has in the past caused a sense of concern and even resentment among South Africans that somebody like Mr. Mandela should be listed as a terrorist by anybody,” she says.

Technically, Mr. Mandela could travel to UN headquarters in New York, but not elsewhere in the US, although he did visit the White House on one occasion. Robertson says, “Yes, indeed. But in order to do so he had to get a special waiver from the US State Department. And for every trip he made to the United States he was required to get that waiver. I don’t know if you recall the time when Mr. Mandela…not long after his release (from prison), in fact was invited to come and address the United States Congress. And even though he had an official request to address that august US body, he had to get a special waiver to travel there to do so.”

One of the co-sponsors of the legislation, California c cccongresswoman Barbara Lee, is quoted as saying, “It’s been 18 years since Nelson Mandela was released from prison, 14 years since he was elected president, and this year he turns 90 years old.”

If the terrorist label is finally lifted, would it be a big honor for the former South African president? Robertson says, “I’m not sure Mr. Mandela would notice. He probably will and may have some pithy comment to make. But you know, Mr. Mandela lives a very quiet life these days. The chance that he will again visit the United States, I think, is quite remote. He travels in a couple of months to the United Kingdom to attend his birthday concert there, which has been staged in honor of his charities, particularly the 46664 charity, which is his AIDS charity. And that is a unique or rare event these days, for Mr. Mandela to make a trip like that. He is, as you say, going to be 90 years old this year and I think age is catching up with him.”