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America’s Shameful Treatment of Mandela

Earl Ofari Hutchinson | 7/10/2013, 11:17 a.m.

The issue finally came to a head that year when Barbara Masekela, the former South African ambassador to the United States, was denied a visa to visit a dying cousin in the United States. A chagrined Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called it “embarrassing.” In April 2008, she urged Congress to remove Mandela and the organization from the terrorist watch list.

With a big prod from the Congressional Black Caucus, Congress finally voted to remove the now 90-year-old (and Nobel Prize winner in 1993) Mandela and ANC from the U.S. government’s official terrorist watch list. But even the language of the bill that removed him from the list was hardly a full-throated, ringing praise of the ANC and Mandela or a disavowal of the disgraceful history of his treatment. It did not acknowledge the towering role and stature of Mandela in the fight for justice.

It simply said that it would add the ANC to a list of groups that should not be considered terrorist organizations. The closest Congress came to repudiating the official maltreatment of Mandela was then Massachusetts Senator John Kerry’s retort that it was “a great shame” that his name was on the watch list. Rice, for her part, followed this and called Mandela “a great leader.”

Bush promptly signed the bill in July 2008 after Senate passage. This seemingly closed the book on not a 20 year but the 40-year branding of Mandela as a political pariah by the U.S. government. This vicious legacy left a deep scar of suspicion and doubt, and distance from South Africa’s government leaders, and colored relations between the governments that hasn’t ended even today as the United States and the world publicly celebrate Madiba’s colossal place in history.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.