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Fifty years of American right-wing opposition to Nelson Mandela’s cause

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HERE‘s a handy timeline that should prompt embarrassment and shame in certain American political circles:

The world is celebrating Nelson Mandela as a selfless visionary who led his country out of the grips of apartheid into democracy and freedom. But some of the very people lavishing praise on South Africa’s first black president worked tirelessly to undermine his cause and portray the African National Congress he lead as pawns of the Soviet Union.

In fact, American conservatives have long been willing to overlook South Africa’s racist apartheid government in service of fighting communism abroad. Below is a short history, and some explanation, of how conservatives approached Mandela with the hostility they did:

National Review predicts end of white rule would result in “the collapse of civilization.”

Reagan described apartheid South Africa as a “good country.”

Jerry Falwell urges supporters to oppose sanctions.

180 House members opposed free Mandela resolution.

20 Senators and 83 House members oppose sanctions.

Jack Abramoff leads think tank dedicated to tearing down Mandela.

U.S. Senator testified in support of the apartheid government.

Heritage Foundation says Mandela is no “freedom fighter.”

Conservative think tank links Mandela to communists.

National Review labels Mandela a “communist” for opposing the Iraq war.

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  1. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/07/world/africa/mandela-politics.html?hp&_r=0

    Nelson Mandela was not a saint. We would dishonor his memory if we treated him as if he was one,” Pierre de Vos, a law professor, wrote on Friday in The Daily Maverick, an online magazine in South Africa, arguing that Mr. Mandela’s genius lay in his willingness to bend and compromise. “Like all truly exceptional human beings, he was a person of flesh and blood, with his own idiosyncrasies, his own blind spots and weaknesses.”

    Sometimes, though, the criticisms came in oblique, roundabout ways.

    “Often, criticism of Mandela was disguised as criticism of others,” said Adam Habib, vice chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. “Some of the things that his successor, Thabo Mbeki, was criticized for were actually things that Mandela had initiated or supported.”

    Those who were critical of things like the government’s slow reaction to the AIDS crisis or the halting steps toward economic equality often heaped their abuse on Mr. Mbeki without acknowledging that Mr. Mandela also shared responsibility for the slowness.

    Even officials in the governing party, the African National Congress, would often talk about mistakes that “we” had made, when they were actually Mr. Mandela’s own initiatives, Mr. Habib said. They simply felt that it would be more palatable among their supporters to disguise the true target of their criticism.

    Still, as Mr. Mandela’s life drew to a close, there were clearly efforts from all political corners to define his legacy and claim a portion of it. And some saw political calculation at work.

    “Who really gains from the elevation of a political figure into an untouchable icon?” Anthony Butler, a University of Cape Town political science professor, wrote in his column in the June 28 issue of South Africa’s Business Day newspaper. “Not Mandela himself, who does not need our plaudits. The mythmakers who claim that a leader is beyond fault are ultimately seeking to shield a whole political class, and not just one individual, from the public scrutiny upon which democracy depends.”

    Mr. Mandela was certainly seen here, as he was abroad, as a figure of major historical importance. Even the dwindling bands of white right-wingers who have little good to say about him share that view.

    But that does not mean he did not draw his share of fire, much of it coming from other corners of the anti-apartheid movement. Some criticized him for what they saw as an overeagerness to placate the country’s white power elite in the transition to nonracial democracy in the early 1990s and, thereafter, with being more interested in keeping economic power brokers happy, albeit with a few new black faces in the group, than in delivering economic equality to the vast majority of those still living in poverty.

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