Now everyone (almost) sings the praises of Nelson Mandela. Sagar Jethani takes a walk down memory lane to see what some of them were saying back in the 1980’s when he was denounced as a Communist and terrorist and when the Republican party was split, with some opposing his release from prison or putting any pressure on South Africa.
Dick Cheney, on the wrong side of history as usual, was one of those who vigorously denounced Mandela, though he modified his views later.
It is shocking to realize that Mandela and the African Nation al Congress were on the US terror watch list until 2008, being removed from it by president George W. Bush just before his 90th birthday and long after he stepped down from the presidency of South Africa and had received the Nobel Prize.
I remember the day on February 11, 1990 when Mandela was released from prison. I sat waiting in front of the TV in the US and asked my two little daughters to come and watch with me because although they did not understand it then, I told them that this was an important moment in history and I wanted them to be able to say they saw it. As the time for his release got delayed, I wondered what this man who had not been seen in public for so long would look like. I remembered his iconic image as a young man that was on a large poster that hung on the wall of a student organization back when I was in Sri Lanka. I wondered whether 27 years in prison had broken him and that he would emerge a frail and pitiful figure, destroying the image of the doughty freedom fighter that we had carried with us for so long.
I still recall the rush of emotion when he stepped out, looking dignified and distinguished in a suit and tie, his gestures decisive and defiant, his voice strong and resonant, as if he had lived all his life as a free man. You can relive that moment in this video clip (it occurs at the 3:15 mark) about the events that led up to his release.
Ahmed Kathrada, an ANC member who was a so-called ‘colored’ person and was in prison with Mandela, describes to NPR how the apartheid system extended even to prison inmates and how Mandela dealt with it.