U.S. Foreign Policy Complicit in Mandela Imprisonment

Nelson Mandela speaks to musicians beneath the window of his prison
cell on Robben Island near Cape Town, November 28, 2003.
Nelson Mandela speaks to musicians beneath the window of his prison cell on Robben Island near Cape Town, November 28, 2003. Mandela visited the island with a host of stars who are to perform at the "46664" Aids benefit concert on November 29. "46664" refers to the prison number allocated to Mandela during his long incarceration on the Island. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings MH/WS

CIA operative Donald Rickard has revealed that it was with U.S. help that Nelson Mandela was caught and thus tried and sent to jail. Siding with very oppressive regimes is part and parcel of U.S. foreign policy history, though it damages millions of lives. The damage done by the U.S. support of the apartheid monster was never evaluated. We even pretended to love Mandela when he came here. American foreign policy still sticks to oppressors like Saudi Arabia with the delivery of cluster bombs that always kill innocent people. The support for apartheid shows how long we Americans made a mistake in South Africa. We are doing the same now with support of Saudi Arabia. This mistake is lasting even longer.

As a Peace Corps Director in Lesotho during Jimmy Carter's presidency, I was lucky enough to be with many of the African National Congress (ANC) members and leaders. They were refugees in Lesotho and always under threat of nighttime attacks by the South African Forces. Chris Hani was the truly great military leader of ANC and Phyllis Naidoo was the ANC political director. Donald Woods came through on his way to England to publish his book on the charismatic Steve Biko (who was buried the day I arrived in Jan Smuts Airport). The refugees were young and arrived with few possessions. Of course, employees at the American Embassy were not allowed to meet with the ANC members, big or small. They were communists, and thus no meetings were allowed. U.S. foreign policy was clear.

In my memoir Create your Future, I tell of the story of how I convinced the U.S. government to pay some of these refugees to help guide some of our volunteers traveling in South Africa on how to move and operate. Our minority volunteers, of which we usually had ten to twelve at any given moment, needed this support the most. One must remember that the South African police determined who was classified as white and colored and black, and it changed every day. Chinese were black and Japanese were white. Brown volunteers could be too dark for these policemen and thus those 'whites' were characterized as black. Random was the name of the game and control was the super game.

Through Kalechi Sello and Denis Kuny, I got to know most of the lawyers who would defend the ANC people (young mostly) in their court cases. Kalechi could not leave Lesotho because he was wanted on a trumped up murder charge (his jail pal Joe Quobo was executed in then Rhodesia for ANC work). Denis Kuny became a close friend of mine. I visited his home and family regularly. He came to Lesotho for other cases he was defending. He was a young lawyer in the trial for Nelson Mandela that sent Mandela to jail for 26 years. I met Bram Fisher's daughter at his home. Fisher was Mandela's first lawyer and an airport in South Africa is named after him.

When I took five Peace Corps volunteers to a human rights conference is Cape Town, the embassy cables became live for worries. We were told to stop in the embassy in South Africa just to check in. OK, we did. Everyone was nicel but all were concerned regarding this kind of activity. To our government, the ANC was communist, and the leader was Mandela.

When Sandy Berger, then deputy director of policy planning at the State Department and a friend of mine for years, came to Lesotho, I was asked to show him around Lesotho. Knowing he could not be in a meeting with the ANC people, I arranged for Sandy to meet my friends in Sello's home. It was not official at all, but Sandy heard horror stories of torture and disappearances from the young activists there in Sello's home. It was not a meeting with Communists but with refugees, who happened to be all ANC supporters and members. If you were against apartheid, there was no other group really that one would join. ANC was the real deal in that confrontation.

Chris Hani and Phillis Naidoo decided was I was OK with the "chaps" (ANC young people). Lucky for me, because I got to spend time with both of these legends. Chris was executed right after Mandela was released from jail and was honored by the largest funeral in the history of Africa. Phyllis had to go to Zimbabwe to stay safe. I met her there again when I brought the Human Rights Now Tour to Zimbabwe. We set up meetings so she could speak with our artists. Bruce Springsteen was particularly great that night during his performance. He spoke plainly and perfectly to the South Africans soldiers who came to the concert. It was mind boggling how eloquently he addressed them. It was one of the truly great moments of the concert along with the powerful and mighty voice of Peter Gabriel singing Biko, which became an African anthem against apartheid.

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My story with Peace Corps is even simpler. I had hired a Basotho (single is Mosotho and the language is Sesotho) to be a nurse when our nurse Faith Merck had hit the end of her tour. Faith is the nurse who aided Phillis Naidoo, and Father John was an episcopal priest. The two of them were opening packets of clothes for the refugees from East Germany (communist then) and a letter bomb planted by the South Africans went off and tore off father John's private stuff and put shrapnel in Phyllis's side and blew out her ear drum.

When I went home on leave, the American Embassy fired the Basotho nurse. I was never consulted. When I returned to Lesotho, I demanded a hearing on this with our Lesotho Ambassador Clingerman. He referred me to Pretoria Embassy. I drove up to Pretoria and spoke to the agent involved. I asked why she was fired. He simply said, "She was a communist." I asked for proof. He said it was old data but firm. I said, "Where did you get that information?" He answered "South Africa." I told him everyone black is communist to these folks. He laughed and wished me well.

Back in Lesotho, I asked Kalechi Sello to get to the bottom of this for me. He said he would. I wanted to hire her back. We still needed a nurse. I had over 100 volunteers, and they came somewhat regularly for this or that. Sello came back to me quickly and told me she was never a communist. "Her husband was, but he killed himself because he was tortured badly and needed the misery to end. She only served tea."

I went back and began the dialogue again. This time I started with the nurse, Faith. She said to me "Jack, I went with other anti-apartheid women to Yugoslavia." When I asked if she'd you put this in her application, she said, "No, because I would never have got the job. You Americans think all of us are communist. But I did lie on the application." I gave her as good severance as best I could.

And the power of the U.S. to send a Basotho nurse in Lesotho home without a job because our embassy believed the apartheid secret agents who claimed she was a communist.

As my Mom often told me "birds of a feather fly together. You've got to watch your foes as well as your friends."

Reagan won against Carter. One of the first things Reagan did was to sell 2,400 shock batons to South Africa.

Once Mandela was released from prison, he became known for what he was....one of the true great folks of that century both in South Africa and the U.S.