United States, Israel opposed Mandela, supported Apartheid

The attempt to make Nelson Mandela respectable is an ongoing effort of Western government spokesmen and the Western media.

He wasn’t respectable in the business circles of twentieth-century New York or Atlanta, or inside the Beltway of Washington, D.C. He wasn’t respectable for many of the allies of the United States in the Cold War, including Britain and Israel.

I visited Soweto in 2012 and went to Mandela’s old house. It was a moving experience. I don’t want him to be reduced to a commercialized icon on this day of all days.

We should remember that for much of the West in the Cold War, South Africa’s thriving capitalist economy was what was important. Its resources were important. Its government, solely staffed by Afrikaners and solely for Afrikaners, was seen as a counter-weight to Soviet and Communist influence in Africa. Washington in the 1980s obsessed about Cuba’s relationship to Angola (yes).

That the Afrikaners treated black Africans like dirt and discriminated against them viciously, denying them the franchise or any hint of equality, was considered in Western capitals at most an unfortunate idiosyncrasy that could not be allowed to interfere with the West’s dependence on Pretoria in fighting the international Left.

The African National Congress had attempted nonviolent protest in the 1950s, but the white Afrikaaner government outlawed all those techniques and replied with deadly force. In the early 1960s when Nelson Mandela turned to sabotage, the United States was a nakedly capitalist country engaged in an attempt to ensure that peasants and workers did not come to power. It was a deeply racist society that practiced Apartheid, a.k.a. Jim Crow in its own South.

The US considered the African National Congress to be a form of Communism, and sided with the racist Prime Ministers Hendrik Verwoerd and P.W. Botha against Mandela.

Decades later, in the 1980s, the United States was still supporting the white Apartheid government of South Africa, where a tiny minority of Afrikaaners dominated the economy and refused to allow black Africans to shop in their shops or fraternize with them, though they were happy to employ them in the mines. Ronald Reagan declared Nelson Mandela, then still in jail, a terrorist, and the US did not get around to removing him from the list until 2008! Reagan, while delivering pro forma denunciations of Apartheid or enforced black separation and subjugation, nevertheless opposed sanctions with teeth on Pretoria. Reagan let the racist authoritarian P.W. Botha come to Washington and met with him.

Likewise British PM Margaret Thatcher befriended Botha and castigated Mandela’s ANC as terrorists. As if the Afrikaners weren’t terrorizing the black majority! She may have suggested to Botha that he release Mandela for PR purposes, but there is not any doubt on whose side she stood.

The Israeli government had extremely warm relations with Apartheid South Africa, to the point where Tel Aviv offered the Afrikaners a nuclear weapon (presumably for brandishing at the leftist states of black Africa). That the Israelis accuse Iran of being a nuclear proliferator is actually hilarious if you know the history. Iran doesn’t appear ever to have attempted to construct a nuclear weapon, whereas Israel has hundreds and seems entirely willing to share.

In the US, the vehemently anti-Palestinian Anti-Defamation League in San Francisco spied on American anti-Apartheid activists on behalf of the Apartheid state. If the ADL ever calls you a racist, you can revel in the irony.

Ronald Reagan imagined that there were “moderates” in the Botha government. There weren’t. He wanted “constructive engagement” with them. It failed. The Afrikaners imposed martial law. Reagan tried to veto Congressional sanctions on Pretoria in 1986 but Congress over-rode him.

Nelson Mandela was a socialist who believed in the ideal of economic equality or at least of a decent life for everyone in society. He was also a believer in parliamentary government. So, he was a democratic socialist.

The current Republican Party is implementing Apartheid policies of making it difficult for minorities to exercise their right to vote. And they are changing tax laws to throw ever more of society’s wealth to the top 1%. And they just threw millions of Americans off food stamps, including children and Veterans. The US House of Representatives still stands against everything Mandela stood for.

President Obama first became interested in politics at Occidental College in California and attended anti-Apartheid demonstrations. It was then that fellow activists informed him that Barack would be a better name for such an activist than “Barry.” In many ways Mandela’s cause started Obama on his path to the White House.

In the meantime the UK also has a right wing government that is punishing students and the poor on behalf of the rich. And the Likud Foreign Minister in Israel, Avigdor Lieberman, wants to take away the citizenship of Palestinian-Israelis (20% of the population) just as the Afrikaners took citizenship away from blacks and pushed them into Bantustans. Mandela said, ““We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

The world will celebrate Nelson Mandela. But for most of those global leaders, it is only lip service. With the partial exception of President Obama, they don’t share his actual ideals and wouldn’t approve of him when he was at his most active, in the early 1960s, trying to figure out how to sabotage the Afrikaner establishment. (I say partial in Obama’s case because obviously he admires the struggle against Apartheid, but on economic issues he is an Eisenhower Republican and Mandela wouldn’t approve). In the 1990s on his release from prison Mandela did stand out for his belief in peace and reconciliation. But that was only because the Afrikaners had lost and he could afford to be magnanimous in victory. He was not a pacifist. He did not believe in taking lives as part of his struggle, but he was willing to resort to violence. He was not a capitalist. He wanted uplift for the workers. He could not overlook racism the way Reagan, Thatcher and Shamir did.

South Africa itself, for all its economic and social dynamism, has also not fully attained Mandela’s ideals. Its poor are becoming worse off. Labor relations are roiled. And the ANC leadership is in disarray.

Mandela is not a birthday cake to be celebrated. The funeral with its hypocritical heads of state won’t honor him. He is a pioneer to be emulated. We honor him by standing up for justice even in the face of enormous opposition from the rich and powerful, by taking risks for high ideals. We won’t meet his standards. But if all of us tried, we’d make the world better. As he did.

—–

Related video

The BBC “Story of Nelson Mandela”

61 Responses

  1. This is absolutely spot on. It recalls what has happened with Martin Luther King – he’s safe as a civil rights leader and pioneer, but in the popular media his championing of economic justice and equality is studiously suppressed, as is his anti-war stance and criticism of US policy abroad.

  2. Thank you, Juan, for telling like it is. And where are the quotes in the media from the African-American activists who actually led the fight against apartheid–from Randall Robinson, John Conyers, Maxine Waters, Jesse Jackson? They are ignored, while those who took no risks are quoted…

    • Jesse Jackson is in London right now, and was interviewed by BBC radio on their flagship early morning news programme.

  3. The article is categorical and demagogic. Here is a statement by Manderla: “One of the reasons I am so pleased to be in Israel is as a tribute to the enormous contribution of the Jewish community of South Africa. I am so proud of them.”

    For a more balanced description of the complex relationship between Israel and Mandela, please see
    link to jpost.com

      • Also, “Jewish community of South Africa” would include Joe Slovo, the leader of the South Africa Communist Party.

      • Yes, he said Jewish community, but he also said “one of the reasons”, and “pleased to be in Israel”, and he firmly believed in the Jews’ right to a state.

  4. Your definition of “The Afrikaners” is quite broad, be reminded that Apartheid was a tool of a political party made up of a secret group called the Broederbond a very small group Afrikaners were invited to be part of this group. And not all Afrikaners were supporting Apartheid. The mining industry was booming on cheap in South Africa during Apartheid and was owned by Anglo American companies

  5. eef stoffels

    I wish the Palestinians had such a man in their midst. So in 30yr we could read a similar piece to remind the West of its hypocrisy

    • There have been Palestinian Mandela’s, however they are in prison or dead. Israel knows that a Palestinian Mandela is far more dangerous than a thousand terrorists.

      The question should be: Where is the Israeli de Klerk?

      • Where is the Israeli de Klerk?

        I keep looking for some hope among dissenting Israelis, of which there are many. The new labor party leader, govt. oppostion leader Isaac Herzog, had this to say in February of this year:

        “…something that I already proposed a year and a half ago: Israeli support for a United Nations resolution recognizing a Palestinian state and international backing, in which two things are determined: the borders and the Hague Court. The borders of the Palestinian state will be determined only by negotiations, something that preserves the principal of negotiations between the sides and does not allow for a unilateral act. That will also lower the pressure with everything connected to Israeli sanctions. And that the Palestinians will abstain from taking steps against Israel in The [international] Hague Court.”

        Read more: link to al-monitor.com

        It could still happen

  6. on economic issues he is an Eisenhower Republican and Mandela wouldn’t approve

    I don’t know, Professor. The Nelson Mandela who went into prison wouldn’t have approved. The Nelson Mandela who actually governed as the South African head of state was a fairly moderate figure.

  7. In retrospect, I imagine Mandela probably would have wanted to have expended more political capital for starting antiretroviral treatment for eligible HIV positive individuals when he was in power of ANC. He partially atoned for not advocating on behalf HIV/AIDS patients earlier in his political career, when announced that his only surviving son died of HIV-related complications in 2005, but by then millions were infected (many during his tenure) and tens of thousands died (at least) when those deaths could have been simply averted from treatment.

    This is not to detract from Mandela’s astonishing history, legacy, and words–just to acknowledge that he would have probably done this one thing differently if given the chance.

    I also feel that he would be deeply irritated by being recast as a respected statesmen firstly, and human rights defender secondly. Unfortunately, casting Mandela as a respected statesman like Churchill is easy–Mandela was a great statesman, and surely someone that deserves to be respected–but as you write there was much more to him than that.

  8. Thank you for the good reminders Dr. Cole.
    Nelson Mandela’s excellent dancing rhythm, epitomizes his empathy with his people. The joy of life is a God given gift that belong to all of us.
    As to your “the United States was a nakedly capitalist country”, I would prefer “has been” instead of “was” and “mafia-styled” instead of “naked”.

  9. Too bad there’s hardly a smidgen of the kind of people that think about and have the skill and fortitude to act on the notions that push in the direction of decency and comity and stability. And how many of them end up killed off early? Gandhi, Martin Luther King, maybe Jesus of Nazareth, and a relative handful more? Too few, usually, in any era, to counterbalance the Krupps and Kochs and Cheneys, who think of the rest of us, believe it or not, as “masses” to be herded and bled.

    And as o=Prof. Cole notes, so many sneaks and apologists and frauds are Johnny-on-the-Spot to ride the emotions and milk the pathos and derail the real messages and print and sell the T-shirts and other memorabilia… Obama pronounces, sonorously and maybe with a sigh of relief that one more possible “threat” to the Empire is off the scene, “Now he belongs to the ages.” -sniff–

    How many know (or care) what MLK’s observations on social justice and wealth distribution were?

    The Afrikaners took over South Africa following a playbook that the Roves and Gingriches and Kochs have been reading from for decades. Infiltrate the lower levels of the bureaucracy, local and state, with people sworn to allegiance to the Oligarchy, control the schools and other public and eventually private means of learning, fill the higher levels of the bureaucracies and the courts with fellow travelers, all that stuff. link to books.google.com

    All in service to what god, again?

  10. If the South Africans really want to be true to the ideals of Mandela, they will arrest George Bush for war crimes after the funeral.

  11. Jesse Sinaiko

    I’m finding the sanctimonious hypocrisy very entertaining. The Murdoch rags, the Daily Mail, etc. All of them would have been happy to print photos of the guy swinging from the end of a noose.

    Only Dick Cheney has the guts to stay the course!

  12. ” In the early 1960s … , the United States was a nakedly capitalist country engaged in an attempt to ensure that peasants and workers did not come to power.”

    The United States was a “nakedly capitalist country” long before the 1960s, still is, and will continue to be as long as the Democratic and Republican oligarchies maintain their complicity with Wall Street.

    And South Africa, despite being governed by black leaders who suffered under apartheid, is another neoliberal nation in the global corporate world.

  13. “We honor him by standing up for justice even in the face of enormous opposition from the rich and powerful, by taking risks for high ideals. We won’t meet his standards. But if all of us tried, we’d make the world better. As he did.”

    Unfortunately, he was co-opted at the end, by the global corporate world and ideologues from his own party so that many black South Africans are little better off under the ANC.

    “Mandela’s tarnished legacy: From apartheid to neoliberalism in South Africa” by John Pilger – link to counterpunch.org

    “The Mandela years in power: Did he jump or was he pushed?” by Patrick Bond – link to counterpunch.org

    “Mandela: A dissenting opinion: Victorious over apartheid, defeated by neoliberalism” by Jonathan Cook – link to counterpunch.org

    • Interesting how the same sort of thing happens to other community organizer/lawyer types, isn’t it? Even ones that did not have to do the in-prison martyrdom time to get their “creds…”

      Waiting for the pithy riposte that reassures us that all is well in the West Wing, that “(faux) moderation in the pursuit of hegemonoligarchy is no vice…”

  14. Canada was not part of that bloc, and with Brian Mulroney as PM, were actually the ones leading and spearheading the fight against apartheid in the Common Wealth, supporting Nelson Mandela.

    link to news.nationalpost.com

    The history is worth a read. Wish that sort of proud principal or courage existed with today’s Canadian govt.

  15. This is one of the most biased articles I’ve ever read. Now I don’t want to take away from the good that Mandela did late in his life, but whatever good he did does not negate what was done in his past. What this article calls sabotage was 57 bombings.
    And this paragraph further shows major bias.”The current Republican Party is implementing Apartheid policies of making it difficult for minorities to exercise their right to vote. And they are changing tax laws to throw ever more of society’s wealth to the top 1%. And they just threw millions of Americans off food stamps, including children and Veterans. The US House of Representatives still stands against everything Mandela stood for.” Ok, let’s break this down, restricting minorities right to vote. I guess this is about photo ids. How does this keep someone from voting? So I guess Obamacare is racist too since you have to provide a photo id to get insurance. This country grew to power because it is a capitalist nation. I see the author points to the Republican-controlled House, who cannot pass anything under the Democrat-controlled Senate. So if there are laws being passed that is actually doing these things, why don’t you blame the Senate also?
    If you’re going to tell a story, tell the whole story.

    • ” I see the author points to the Republican-controlled House, who cannot pass anything under the Democrat-controlled Senate. So if there are laws being passed that is actually doing these things, why don’t you blame the Senate also?”

      To do the right thing, we should blame both parties, particularly their oligarchs. You are either naive or disingenuous about the attempts by the Republicans to disenfranchise voters, but if it will make you feel better, sling some deserved shots at the Democrats who really aren’t putting up much opposition to this scam. People in the lower economic and social classes can also be a problem for the leaders of the Democratic (sic) Party even though they go along with the illusion of this being their base.

  16. As noted in a comment above, most of the institution and institutionalization of Apartheid was the work of the Broederbond, which seems to partake of the same aroma as that Likud thing and parts of the US polity too. link to books.google.com

  17. David Ruhlen

    Rank hypocrisy is the core of international relations. Leaders who once denounced him now bask in the opportunity to celebrate him.

    • As the great South African satirist, Pieter-Dirk Uys, once put it: “Hypocrisy is the Vaseline of political intercourse”.

  18. Thanks for saying what the media is not talking about. I lived in Africa in the 70s and 80s. and like most of my fellow students, we were media savvy and followed the politics of anti apatheid movement. The west, save for a few countries was firmly on the side of apatheid. When apatheid South Africa invaded South West Africa (Namibia) and advanced to towards Angola to support a western lackey known as Savimbi, it was the Cubans who came the rescue and helped push back the boers from parts of Angola and northern Namibia. In those days Mandela and Africa independent movements were either terrorists or communists and the west did not give a hoot about freedom. The rest is revisionist history.

  19. I felt it was totally sick when many, many people in the UK conveniently forgot that Maggie Thatcher was a staunch supporter of apartheid (I am Dutch, and I am thoroughly ashamed that this is probably the best-known Dutch word world-wide). Among many of the important things you mention in your post above, I think this should be emphasized (with a lot of other things).

    My father (may he R.I.P.), travelled to apartheid-era South Africa for his day job. At that time, I was too young to understand. But my mother reminds me (my father died in 1985) that he quit that job early, as he couldn’t stand the way the black people were treated (our family is white). It disturbed him so much he literally got sick.

    One of the many things I regret in life is the fact that my father did not live to see the end of apartheid (he died in 1985). He would have cried tears of joy when Nelson Mandela became President in 1994.

    I did.

  20. One quibble Mr. Cole, the characterization of Obama as an “Eisenhower Republican” on economics seems a bit anachronistic. Obama, who I consider a neoliberal ideologue, seems much closer to the heritage of Reagan/Clinton. Eisenhower from what I understand was still largely bound to the political orbit of the New Deal, and might be considered far left by today’s standards. How far we’ve come…

  21. I saw Israeli soldiers on patrol with my own eyes in rural nothern zimbabwe (then rhodesia) in 1978. The three countries (Rhodesia, South Africa and Israel) were a formidable threesome in defending apartheid – spawned in south africa but avidly practiced in rhodesia and south west africa too. they foutfought in rhodeasia . they sure as hell fought in south africa as well and were send by their government to ostensibly fight against the communists. who doesnt know that both south africa(read south west africa too) and rhodesia managed to bust sanctions through israel?

    and if anyone doubts apartheid was much more than a south african bound thing read:
    link to unesdoc.unesco.org

  22. Jen What this article calls sabotage was 57 bombings.

    And what is 57 bombings in a war in which blacks were being sprayed with anthrax and nerve gas. what is 57 bombs (mostly home made) when the apartheid regime wraught havoc in much of southern africa through its version of SAS whose damaging effects are still being felt to this day? after all, the man who tried sabotage only resorted to such when negotiation or peaceful demonstration was being met with brutal force? in all southern african countries under apartheid, this was the story. the oppressed racially discriminated blacks tried dialogue. all they met was violence and incacerations. how were they expected to react? you must really believe whites have the right to rule no matter whose country it is. fortunately for africans and mandela, africa is forever. the boers had the chance to rule a country in harmony with the indegenous people, through rabid racism they botched it. now is only the time for orbituaries of lands lost!
    the article as far as south africa is concerned is facctually spot on.

    • Same as in Israel. It is with those accused terrorists rotting in Israeli prisons that Israel will finally make peace. A just peace with those you oppress is the better deal.

  23. Thank you for this Professor Cole. As a debater in college in the late 80s early 90s one topic covered was US foreign policy toward Africa. My partner and I ran a position to empower the ANC. The literature at the time, in real time, mirrored your synopsis so it brought back memories.

  24. ” Ronald Reagan declared Nelson Mandela, then still in jail, a terrorist, and the US did not get around to removing him from the list until 2008!”

    The word “terrorist” wasn’t part of the English language during the time of the Revolutionary War in the colonies. If it had been it’s a good bet members of parliament in London would have applied that term to George Washington and company when they were bloviating in that chamber given to so much folly.

  25. The United States is comprised of 300 million or so people, some land, and a government, in this order. When the opportunity came, I as one of the 300 million or so people, President Barack Obama according to his recent eulogy, and whole lot of others supported Nelson Mandela. To accuse the US of not doing so, is the equivalent of accusing us all, including you of supporting Cheney, Rumsfeld and those other bozos who temporarily seized power. We very simply didn’t

    • Oh don’t be silly. I was talking about US government policy and said so.

      As for supporters of Mandela in the general population, I suspect they were a small minority then.

      • “As for supporters of Mandela in the general population, I suspect they were a small minority then.”

        Your suspicion is probably justified. Reagan and the right wing were hostile to Mandela and were voted into power by a majority. The Democratic Party oligarchs were most likely hostile to Mandela for his socialist and rebel credentials so many in that party most likely followed the leader. That just leaves a small minority.

        • The Democratic Party oligarchs were most likely hostile to Mandela for his socialist and rebel credentials

          In point of fact, the Democratic Party sponsored the bills imposing sanctions against South Africa, as well as the resolution calling for Mandela’s release.

    • “And those other bozos who temporarily seized power”
      And to claim that it is just a few bad apples “generation after generation” is wishful thinking.

  26. Obama is an Eisenhower Republican? I guess I must have missed the part where Obama raised taxes on the rich to 91%.

      • He was president at a time when the momentum of the New Deal as well as the whole economic boom we all so fondly want to return to (just needs another global war to get back to?). He may not have “raised taxes on the rich” but on his watch the marginal tax rate for the REAL takers at the top of the heap was 92%, dropping to 91% via CONGRESSIONAL action while he was in office.

        link to bloomberg.com

      • He kept them at 91% and he resisted efforts to cut them further. The point is that if Obama were an Eisenhower Republican, he would have raised taxes on the rich to Eisenhower’s preferred rate of 91%.

        But yes, you caught me on a technicality. Well done.

  27. The African National Congress was dominated by Marxist elements.

    Arguably the most influential leader in that body was Joseph Slovo, the leader of the South African Communist Party.

    It was the college campuses in the U.S. where the initial vocal opposition in America to apartheid existed and was often manifested by by advocacy of the boycott divestment sanctions (BDS) movement. University of Michigan’s student government body was one of the first entities in the U.S. to pass a resolution to encourage BDS against South Africa.

  28. […] Obama waxed poetic in his tribute, but Mandela was on the US Terrorist watch list until 2008. The US and Israel opposed Mandela and supported apartheid, and Mandela himself was constantly critical of US foreign policy and […]

  29. Cuban assistance to the Angola government was a key factor in ending Africaner hegemony. One of the first countries that Mandela visited after his release was Cuba.

  30. Actually – and I think you’d find this extremely interesting, Israel was openly critical of the SA regime, up until… 1967.

  31. I am disappointed that you did not mention in the article the Canada broke with Britain and the US and worked to get Mandela released and against apartheid. Brian Mu,lroney never referred to Mandela as a terrorist. He challenged his friends Reagan and Thatcher to their face that they were wrong and on the wrong side of history. Mandela heard of Canada’s efforts on the BBC while in jail. Canada was the first country he visited when released and was honored by being asked to speak to the parliament. On his third visit to Canada he was given the rare honour of being named an honorary citizen. Canada’s support actually went back to the 60′s and the Diefenbacher government. It was Canada that helped put pressure on South Africa but having them kicked out of the Commonwealth of Nations. The US did not drop Mandela from the terrorist list until 2008.

  32. The US, UK and Israel behavior was Shameful. As an American it breaks my heart even now when I think of those shameful days. Sadly, our Justice system today is still stuck in Jim Crow days. And it is nationwide, not just the Deep South.

    Again, thank you for a very nice article Dr. Cole.

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