Saturday, 18 July 2020

What did Conservatives Think of Nelson Mandela?

Today, 18th July 2020, marks Nelson Mandela's 102nd birthday and the man is almost universally praised for his heroic struggles against South African apartheid, but this was not always the case. Indeed prominent conservatives in both the US and UK believed Mandela and the ANC were terrorists, yet today they attempt to whitewash history and pretend they were allies in the fight for racial equality.

Let's take a look at conservative attitudes towards the apartheid struggle in the 1980s:

During the Commonwealth Summit in Vancouver in 1987, Margaret Thatcher refused to sanction the apartheid regime of South Africa, despite facing intense international pressure to do so. When she was questioned about Mandela's ANC party at the press conference, she replied: “I just remembered I did not answer the second part of the previous question put to me about the ANC. When the ANC says that they will target British companies, this shows what a typical terrorist organisation it is. I fought terrorism all my life and if more people fought it, and we were all more successful, we should not have it, and I hope that everyone in this hall will think it is right to go on fighting terrorism. They will if they believe in democracy.”

Thatcher went on to say: "I will have nothing to do with any organisation that practises violence. I have never seen anyone from the ANC or the PLO or the IRA and would not do so.”

There you have it, clear as day, Margaret Thatcher believed Mandela's ANC was a terrorist organisation and even drew comparisons to the IRA. Would any Tory MP dare suggest Mandela was a terrorist today?

Nelson Mandela was clearly and unequivocally a socialist, but both Thatcher and Reagan labelled him a communist and saw him as a threat. The Reagan administration even placed Mandela on a terrorist watch list. Both leaders considered the South African regime to be a cold war ally and refused to impose sanctions which Mandela and the ANC had called for.

Reagan described apartheid South Africa as “a country that has stood by us in every war we’ve ever fought, a country that strategically is essential to the free world in its production of minerals.” These words sound eerily similar to today's justifications for Britain and America's close relationship to the monstrous Saudi Royal Family.

Thatcher and Reagan saw the ANC as a terrorist organisation seeking to spread communism and they had no interest in working constructively with it.

“The South African government is under no obligation to negotiate the future of the country with any organisation that proclaims a goal of creating a communist state and uses terrorist tactics and violence to achieve it,” Reagan said in 1986.

“A considerable number of the ANC leaders are communists,” Thatcher told journalists.

The U.S. classified Mandela and the ANC as terrorists and shockingly kept them on watch lists until 2008. Prior to this, Condoleeza Rice had to personally approve visits to the US from South African officials. She told a senate committee: “It's frankly a rather embarrassing matter that I still have to waive in my own counterpart, the foreign minister of South Africa, not to mention the great leader Nelson Mandela.”

In 2016, The Times reported Margaret Thatcher even tried to prevent a Royal Family member from giving Nelson Mandela an honorary degree. This is not the kind of behaviour you would expect from a Prime Minister who claimed to support the apartheid struggle and fight for Mandela's release from prison, is it?

And it was not just Thatcher and Reagan who held Mandela and the ANC in such contempt. In the 1980s, MP Terry Dicks famously said: "Nelson Mandela should be shot" and asked: “How much longer will the Prime Minister allow herself to be kicked in the face by this Black terrorist?”

A Tory MP by the name of John Carlisle began a one man campaign to stop the Free Mandela concert being shown on TV in 1988, saying: “The BBC never ceases to take any opportunity of putting forward anti-South African propaganda.”

MP Eric Forth asked in Parliament: “What would be your reaction if the South Africans approached the Government demanding the release of a prisoner in this country?”

It is absolutely clear the prevailing conservative view of the 1980s was that Mandela and the ANC were terrorists and the South African regime were allies who should not be sanctioned.

Dick Cheney appeared on This Week in 2000 to explain he voted against a 1986 bill urging the release of Mandela from prison because "the ANC was then viewed as a terrorist organisation.” 
Given all of the above, isn't it extremely disingenuous for Conservatives to pretend they were allies in the struggle against apartheid and to praise Nelson Mandela without acknowledging these shameful truths? While you can argue this was over thirty years ago and many of today's conservatives cannot be held responsible for this, the fact remains today's conservatives call Saudi head choppers allies, abandon the people of Kashmir, and turn a blind eye to the Palestinian struggle against apartheid.

Nelson Mandela once said: "We know too well our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians." He saw the struggle faced by Palestinians as part of the same struggle faced by the ANC against brutal apartheid oppressors. If you have ever wondered whose side you would have been on in the 1980s, ask yourself whose side you are on today, and then you know your answer.

Conservatives are always in the wrong side of history.

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