Many politicians and citizens around the world are currently mourning the death of former South African President Nelson Mandela.
The 95-year-old was generally thought of and admired as a human rights leader and icon. It comes as a surprise to many, then, that Mandela was actually on America’s terrorism watch list until 2008.
Mandela landed on the list because he was the leader of the African National Congress (ANC), a group listed among the 52 “world’s more notorious terrorist groups.” The ANC led the black struggle against the apartheid regime and describes itself as the “disciplined force of the left.” It is supported by the South African Communist Party.
The State Department labeled the ANC as a terrorist organization in the 1980’s because civilians had “been victims of incidents claimed by or attributed to the ANC.” In 1986, President Ronald Reagan said the group initiated and engaged in “calculated terror … the mining of roads, the bombings of public places, designed to bring about further repression.”
Mandela was jailed in 1964 for sabotage and plotting to overthrow the government. He was released from prison in 1990 and subsequently elected president of South Africa in 1994 in the country’s first free election.
In 2008, President George W. Bush signed a bill that removed Mandela from the terrorism watch list. He had remained on the list for so long due to a “bureaucratic snafu.”
Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State at the time, said the labeling was a “rather embarrassing matter… I still have to waive in my own counterpart, the foreign minister of South Africa, not to mention the great leader Nelson Mandela.”