Mandela: Why anti-communists feared him
Few folks have been so extravagantly eulogized as the late Nelson Mandela, and from all sides of the political spectrum. Nor is it so surprising. For seldom do violent revolutionaries—and he was, indeed, a violent, Marxist revolutionary for much of his life—end up governing as an unembittered statesman who lead their country to democracy, peace, racial reconciliation and the chucking of the radical nationalization of industry. Kudos to Mandela for having changed his ways. Good for the world.
Still, for history’s sake, it is best to have a more clear-eyed view of both this remarkable man and his movement and why those of us on the Right once viewed him as a dangerous foe. A key reason, of course, is the awful company he kept, the Red ideology he espoused and his call for continued ANC guerrilla violence after his prison release.
Despite his splendid earthly sendoff, anti-Communist conservatives, including those of us who ran Human Events when President Reagan was reading us with some care, were not wrong to view him as an enemy of America and of freedom worldwide. What is lost in most of the heartfelt remarks, including the touching tribute of former South African president, P. W. (Pik) Botha, is that Mandela was on the wrong side of the Cold War, a far-more important war, frankly, than the war against apartheid.
Indeed, Mandela aligned himself with the most murderous regimes in the universe, including the Soviet Union, which was out to communize the United States as well as Mandela’s own country (which was giving its black population a far higher standard of living, incidentally, than its black-ruled neighbors). When released from Victor Verster prison in 1990, Mandela was still backing ANC violence and quickly made courtesy calls on Soviet friendlies, including Mohammar Qaddafi, Yasser Arafat and Fidel Castro, hardly a confidence builder for the West. Mandela would award Qaddafi its highest medal of honor, call Arafat his “comrade in arms” and insist that Cuba was “a source of inspiration to all freedom loving people.” He also called for the “nationalization” of major industries in 1990, insisting a change in this policy was “inconceivable.” His African National Congress, of which he was the spiritual head while serving 27 years in prison, was infested with members of the South African Communist party, a body slavishly loyal to Moscow.
At his famous trial before the Supreme Court in Pretoria in 1964, he spoke for hours, inspired by Fidel Castro’s “History Will Absolve Me” speech when Fidel had been arrested in Cuba. He rejected non-violence for bloody revolution and boasted that he had planned for a massive terror campaign against his country. He admitted that Communists were influential in the ANC and “that I was one of the persons who helped form Unkhonto we Sizwe [the military wing of the ANC], and that I played a prominent role in its affairs in August 1962. . . .” He installed a white Communist, Joe Slovo, to be its chief strategist. (Convincing archival evidence recently unearthed by British historian Stephen Ellis, incidentally, now suggests that Mandela himself was a party member at about the same time.)
Slovo, as then CIA director William Casey noted in a 1985 document he sent to Sen. Jesse Helms (R.-N.C.), “plans military strategy” for the ANC’s military wing. Casey noted that Slovo “is a longtime member of the South African Communist party” and has “publicly acknowledged his involvement in numerous terrorist actions directed against the white regime. He frequently visits the Soviet Union and strongly supports its position on all issues.” (Emphasis added)
The London-based liberal human rights organization, Amnesty International (AI), works assiduously for the freedom of political prisoners around the globe, but it never went to bat for Mandela. When the author wrote to AI asking why it was not urging his freedom, the organization’s press assistant, Carline Windall, replied on June 19, 1985, that the organization “works for the release. . .of ‘prisoners of conscience,’” but only if “they have not used or advocated violence. Amnesty International does not believe that this [‘prisoner of conscience’] definition applies to Nelson Mandela. . .” Nor did he ever shift to a position of non-violence until he safely won his nation’s presidency in 1994 and the Soviet Union itself had quit the Cold War. (It is at least worth pondering whether Mandela might have been less friendly toward the West if Moscow had not retreated from the East-West battlefield.)
The author visited South Africa for ten days in the spring of 1985 when Pik Botha was then the president and bipartisan demands were building in the United States Congress to crush his government with economic sanctions, even though Botha was a reformer and in the process of ending the apartheid structure. (See “Apartheid Disintegrating in South Africa,” Human Events, June 1, 1985.) As part of his reform effort, Botha offered to set Mandela free if he would abandon violence. Mandela refused.
Earlier in the year, Lord Nicholas Bethell, vice chairman of the European Parliament’s Human Rights Committee, visited Mandela in prison. Bethell acknowledged that he was “being well treated” by the government, but that the major reason he was not yet free was that “Mandela still supports the armed struggle. This is why some human rights bodies, Amnesty International, for instance, will not campaign for his release.” Mandela told Bethell that he remained “a Socialist,” believed in “a classless society” and very much appreciated the Soviet Union “because it was the one country that long ago condemned racialism and supported liberation movements.”
Nor is the author aware that Mandela condemned in any meaningful way the horrific violence the ANC unleashed against non-violent blacks or the murderous broadcasts spewed out by the ANC’s “Radio Freedom,” operating out of Addis Ababa in then Marxist-Leninist Ethiopia. “Radio Freedom” repeatedly called for all South African blacks “to make the country ungovernable” by slaying “collaborators,” meaning any black cooperating with the government. As a result, hundreds of non-violent blacks were being murdered, maimed or threatened with death by ANC followers. Legislators’ homes were under police guard 24-hours a day. Homes of black policemen were being gutted by firebombs. The Associated Press reported in 1985 that there have been “gruesome assaults where victims were doused with gasoline and set alight [called necklacing by the perpetrators].”
Mandela’s then wife, Winnie, who became a high priestess of the anti-apartheid movement, reveled in these burnings. “With our necklaces,” she goaded her followers, “we will liberate this country!”
So appalling was the black-on-black violence that Bishop Desmond Tutu, frequently an apologist for the lynch-mob mentality of the revolutionaries, pleaded with the extremists to cease the killings. Referring to a woman “collaborator” who was beaten and burned alive, Tutu pointed out that her murder had been captured on film and shown worldwide. He warned the Kwathema township where the incident occurred that viewers might conclude, “If those people can do something like this, maybe they are not ready for freedom.” Count us among those who agreed with Tutu. Where was Nelson Mandela in all this? As Lord Bethell told us, supporting “the armed struggle.”
None of this is to diminish Mandela’s stunning accomplishments after he was freed from prison in 1990. But it was clearly a major gamble to let him loose without his pledging non-violence and an abandonment of Marxist economics (which he did in 1992), sort of like drawing to an inside straight. His background suggested he could very well have turned into a Castro—with whom Mandela maintained a lifelong friendship—a dictator who deceived Western journalists about his devotion to democracy, peace and freedom. Mandela didn’t. And because of what he did for the last quarter century of his life, he deserved all the great honors that have been heaped upon him. But the Right had every reason to be highly skeptical.
Mr. Ryskind, a former editor and co-owner of Human Events, is now the on-line publication’s editor-at-large.