Nelson Mandela Was Once on a U.S. Terrorism Watch List

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U.S. leaders are showering former South African leader Nelson Mandela with praise following his passing on Thursday.


But not too long ago, the U.S. government wasn’t so friendly toward the world-renowned activist.

Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and became an international human rights icon for his fight against South Africa’s apartheid government. He served as the country’s president from 1994 to 1999.


But even after that, Mandela and other members of the African National Congress remained on the U.S. terrorism watch list. Mandela needed special permission to visit the United States. Mandela and his fellow ANC members were officially removed only in 2008.

"This is a country with which we now have excellent relations, South Africa, but it's frankly a rather embarrassing matter that I still have to waive in my own counterpart, the foreign minister of South Africa, not to mention the great leader Nelson Mandela," then U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said during a 2008 Senate hearing.

Decades earlier, the CIA reportedly played a role in Mandela’s arrest in 1962. The CIA link to Mandela’s arrest was reported in 1990, following his release after almost 28 years in prison. Here’s how The New York Times covered it:

The intelligence service, using an agent inside the African National Congress, provided South African security officials with precise information about Mr. Mandela's activities that enabled the police to arrest him, said the account by the Cox News Service.


The report, scheduled for publication on Sunday, quoted an unidentified retired official who said that a senior C.I.A. officer told him shortly after Mr. Mandela's arrest: ''We have turned Mandela over to the South African Security branch. We gave them every detail, what he would be wearing, the time of day, just where he would be.''

Mandela visited the United States for the first time just 10 days after the report came out.


Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.

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