In the wake of Nelson Mandela's passing, a great many people will come forward to offer their reflections on a man who suffered for decades in order to help black South Africans defeat Apartheid. Let's not forget, then, there once was a time when mainstream political notables had no qualms slurring Mandela and the African National Congress—and whitewashing the crimes of Apartheid South Africa. Here are some of those instances.
President Ronald Reagan: In 1981, Reagan asked "Can we abandon a country that has stood beside us in every war we've ever fought, a country that strategically is essential to the free world in its production of minerals we all must have and so forth? I just feel that, myself, that here, if we're going to sit down at a table and negotiate with the Russians, surely we can keep the door open and continue to negotiate with a friendly nation like South Africa."
Four years later, in a 1985 interview, Reagan claimed that South Africa had "eliminated the segregation that we once had in our own country—the type of thing where hotels and restaurants and places of entertainment and so forth were segregated."
He later went on to condemn in 1986 the "calculated terror by elements of the African National Congress: the mining of roads, the bombings of public places, designed to bring about further repression." This same year, Reagan fought tooth and nail to block lawmakers eager to put sanctions on Apartheid South Africa, which he considered a valuable ally in the fight against communism. He vetoed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, though his veto was overridden by Congress. He also had the ANC and Mandela placed on America's terrorist watch list.
Dick Cheney: Cheney, a Wyoming congressman, voted against a 1986 resolution calling for the release of Mandela from prison and the recognition of the African National Congress as the legitimate representative of South Africa's black majority. Despite his vote, the resolution passed. Decades later, Cheney would explain that he voted as he did because "the ANC was then viewed as a terrorist organization." He went on to say Mandela was "a great man" who had "mellowed."
Ron Paul: James Kirchick gave a good rundown of Ron Paul's hardline racist newsletters in a 2008 New Republic article, including this tidbit regarding what the newsletters had to say about Nelson Mandela: "South Africa's transition to multiracial democracy was portrayed as a 'destruction of civilization' that was 'the most tragic [to] ever occur on that continent, at least below the Sahara'; and, in March 1994, a month before Nelson Mandela was elected president, one item warned of an impending 'South African Holocaust.'"
Margaret Thatcher: Just like Reagan, Thatcher preferred "constructive engagement" with the racist Apartheid regime to issuing tough sanctions. In 1987, she said this: "The ANC is a typical terrorist organization ... Anyone who thinks it is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land." One of her allies and supporters, Member of Parliament Teddy Taylor, said Mandela "should be shot." When Thatcher died earlier this year, former ANC executive Pallo Jordan said "good riddance": She was a staunch supporter of the apartheid regime. She was part of the right-wing alliance with Ronald Reagan that led to a lot of avoidable deaths."
Richard Quinn: On his run for president in 2000, Senator John McCain picked up the services of Richard Quinn, a South Carolina political consultant. Quinn, it turned out, was also the editor of a magazine called the Southern Partisan Quarterly Review. Besides using the Southern Partisan to once air his belief that the purpose behind Martin Luther King Day is "vitriolic and profane," in 1990 Quinn wrote that Nelson Mandela is "a bad egg," according to People for the American Way. He added, "After all, Mr. Mandela was put in jail 27 years ago—not because of his humanitarian philosophy—but because he was a terrorist who openly advocated (and personally committed) violence against the government."
Jesse Helms: In 1985, two years after attempting to block a bill establishing Martin Luther King Day as a federal holiday, the notorious senator from North Carolina launched a filibuster on a bill to put sanctions on South Africa. Senators Strom Thurmond and Phil Gramm joined Helms in his obstruction. When California Senator Alan Cranston accused Helms of being at least partially motivated by racism, Helms called the charge "nonsense" and insisted that his only concern was sanctions taking jobs away from black South Africans. In 1994, when Nelson Mandela visited the Capitol as South Africa's new president, Helms turned his back on him.
In July 2008, just before Mandela's 90th birthday, George W. Bush finally signed a bill removing the Nobel Peace Prize winner from America's terrorist watch list. That year, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said it was "rather embarrassing" that she still had to personally waive Mandela's entry into the US.
[Image via AFP/Getty]