Monday, May 5, 2008

Nelson Mandela and the Reagan Legacy

Nobel Peace Prize winner and international symbol of freedom Nelson Mandela is flagged on U.S. terrorist watch lists and needs special permission to visit the USA.
The idea that Nelson Mandela is on a US terrorist watch list may seem like just another story reminding us that this type of institutional incompetence knows no bounds, but it also serves as a reminder of Ronald Reagan's despicable legacy as president.

Nelson Mandela's name didn't end up on that list because of some bureaucratic mistake. His name was included, as well as anyone else associated with the African National Congress, which still listed as a terrorist organization by England, the US at the request of the apartheid south African Government.

We have an amazing ability to re-write history and conceal unpleasant truths about our past, and Reagan's legacy just happens the most over-the-top example of this trend. South Africa during the 1980s as told by ANC member Father Michael Lapsley:

Father Lapsley: Yes. I think it’s good to think about what South Africa was like inside the country as well as what was happening in the front line states at that time. During those years, there were two states of emergency. Vast numbers of people were imprisoned. It was during those years, and this is a salient point for people this country this time that torture became normative. It became a principle weapon used by the Apartheid regime against people, particularly against black children during that period. It was also a period where there were a vast number of people on death row in South Africa. Every Thursday, up to seven people at a time were executed, but it was also a time when the Apartheid regime was in the rampage in the Front Line States attacking Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. There were a number of massacres of refugees that took place. It was also a time of civil war in Angola. And it was the Reagan administration that was supporting the Unita bandits in Angola and fomenting war. And it was clear to the people of South Africa during those years, that whilst there were a vast number of ordinary people in the United States, particularly African-Americans who stood with us, the Reagan administration was on the side of Apartheid. It was both Reagan and Thatcher who were giving succor to the Apartheid regime and in a sense prolonging our struggle. More people had to die in South Africa because of the support that came from western governments, particularly from Washington and London at that period.

Amy Goodman: What about this quote of former president Reagan, talking about the Apartheid regime as, quote, a country that stood by us in every war we have ever fought, a country that strategically is essential to the free world in its production of minerals.

Father Lapsley: I think the interesting thing about that comment is that it focuses on profit. It doesn’t focus on what happens to people. And of course, remembering that that regime that Reagan was supporting was a regime in which the majority of the people were voteless. The majority of the people had no legitimate way of removing an illegitimate regime.

Amy Goodman: This was a time in the United States and its policy towards South Africa of the term coined, “constructive engagement.”

Father Lapsley: Sure. And it was constructive for death. That’s the real point. It was not constructive with the people of South Africa, who were living and dying for basic fundamental human rights, rights that people all over the world take for granted, that we had to die in great numbers to achieve simply the right to go to the polls to choose a government for ourselves.

Amy Goodman: What difference did it make what role the U.S. played within South Africa or in the Front Line States?

Father Lapsley: Well, the African National Congress of South Africa leading the struggle in South Africa was saying to the world, we will free South Africa; we ask the world to be in solidarity with us. So the role the international community had to play was to shorten that struggle, to mean that we would die less. So in a way, the support, the economic support to Apartheid meant the struggle lasted longer. It took us longer to achieve those fundamental rights, to achieve democratic freedoms.

Although South Africa is just one example, understanding our past actions and their consequences is an absolutely critical step for our country to take in order to move forward. When we refuse to acknowledge the disastrous effects of Reagan's policies and instead remember him as an action figure who singlehandedly defeated communism, it seriously hampers our ability to create a sane foreign policy in the present.