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U.S. Supported White Minority- Rule in South Africa

By George E. Curry NNPA Editor-in-Chief | 12/24/2013, noon
At the height of South Africa’s campaign against the warrior for majority rule in South Africa, the U.S. government’s behavior was far from respectful as it supported a regime that oppressed more than 90 percent of its people.

Written in 1986, the New York Times article stated, “This summer, the American media carried well attested reports on the assistance being rendered the cause of white supremacy by the National Security Agency, which is responsible for the collection of communications intelligence. It is a matter of routine for this agency to comply with requests from Pretoria to monitor communications channels used by the African National Congress. This intelligence, which the Boers could not obtain on their own and which is invaluable to them for their war on the A.N.C., is handed over in return for data on Soviet shipping movements that Washington could gather, albeit more laboriously, by other means.”

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The Committee of Conscience Against Apartheid, initiated by the American Committee on Africa and the University Christian Movement, campaigned against the direct financial support by Chase Manhattan Bank and First National City Bank to the South African government and economy. The photograph is apparently of a demonstration at Chase Manhattan Plaza on December 9, 1966. This item was digitized by the Amistad Research Center, which made it available to the African Activist Archive. Used by permission Africa Action (successor to the American Committee on Africa).

Instead of challenging South Africa directly, the U.S. engaged in what it called “constructive engagement,” which was neither constructive nor engaging. The idea, originated by Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker, was that by maintaining diplomatic and military relations with South Africa, the U.S. could exert more influence over time. That did not work.

What worked was Black South Africans, in the streets of Soweto and through the African National Congress (ANC) fighting for their own rights. Blacks in the U.S. joined them by staging daily protests in front of the South African Embassy in Washington – led by Randall Robinson, Mary Frances Berry, Walter Fauntroy and Eleanor Holmes Norton, among others – and mobilizing divestment campaigns against U.S. companies doing business in South Africa. College students championed the issue on their campuses and Leon Sullivan, a Black board member of General Motors, created “the Sullivan Principles” for U.S. companies doing business in South Africa.

The divestment campaign spread around the world and pressure increased on the U.S. to take a larger role in dismantling apartheid.

Shortly after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, South African Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu visited Washington in 1984 and denounced construction engagement as “an abomination” that was “immoral, evil and totally un-Christian.”

Prodded by the Congressional Black Caucus, Congress passed a bill in 1986 imposing sanctions on South Africa if it did not meet five conditions, including the release of Nelson Mandela. Then-U.S. Congressman Dick Chaney voted against the bill. President Ronald Reagan vetoed the measure, calling it “immoral” and “repugnant.” Congress overrode Reagan’s veto.

The Congressional action did not end U.S. support of Pretoria.

In violation of a United Nations arms embargo, the Reagan administration invited top South African security officials to visit the U.S. The United States also vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have imposed economic sanctions on South Africa.

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Anti-apartheid protest

President Reagan placed Nelson Mandela on the U.S. international terrorist list, where he remained until 2008.

Democratic presidents also ran afoul of Mandela after he became president of South Africa in 1994.

During the Clinton administration, the State Department announced in October 1997 that it would be “disappointed” if Mandela followed through on plans to visit Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi, who had been a supporter the ANC when it was forced to go underground.

Speaking at a banquet in Johannesburg, President Mandela said, “How can they have the arrogance to dictate to us who our friends should be?”

The Clinton administration and Israel also objected to Armaments Corporation of South Africa (Armscor) selling tanks valued at $650 million to Syria.

“We will conclude agreements with any country whether they are popular in the West or not,” Mandela said in 1997. “The enemies of countries in the West are not ours.”

Especially when one remembers that the West has not always been Mandela’s friend.