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Nelson Mandela, Communist

Douglas Caddy

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December 7, 2013

Nelson Mandela, Communist


The New York Times


IN 2011, the British historian Stephen Ellis published a paper concluding that Nelson Mandela had been a member of the South African Communist Party — indeed, a member of its governing Central Committee. Although Mandela’s African National Congress and the Communist Party were openly allied against apartheid, Mandela and the A.N.C. have always denied that the hero of South Africa’s liberation was himself a party member. But Ellis, drawing on testimony of former party members and newly available archives, made a convincing case that Mandela joined the party around 1960, several years before he was sentenced to life in prison for conspiring to overthrow the government.

Does it matter?

The news excited some critics and historical revisionists, who claimed it exposed the A.N.C. as a Stalinist front. (“ ‘Saint’ Mandela? Not So Fast!” exulted one right-wing blog.) It probably stirred a sense of vindication among Americans who endorsed their government’s Cold War support of the fiercely anti-Communist apartheid regime. Professor Ellis is no apologist for white rule — he occupies a university chair in Amsterdam named for another hero of the South African resistance, Archbishop Desmond Tutu — but he contends that the affiliation with the Communists shaped the A.N.C.’s ideology in ways that endure, ominously, to this day.

“Today, the A.N.C. officially claims still to be at the first stage ... of a two-phase revolution,” Ellis told me in an email exchange. “This is a theory obtained directly from Soviet thinking.”

Indeed, the remnants of Communist protocol and jargon — “comrades” and “counterrevolutionaries” — live on in the platform and demeanor of South Africa’s ruling party. My own perspective on this question, shaped by covering the Soviet Union from 1986 to 1991 and South Africa from 1992 to 1995, is respectful of scholarship, but also wary of its limits. Both in Gorbachev’s Russia and in transitional South Africa, I realized that what people profess at party plenums and codify in party records is not always a reliable guide to what they will do, or even what they actually believe.

But Mandela’s Communist affiliation is not just a bit of history’s flotsam. It doesn’t justify the gleeful red baiting, and it certainly does not diminish a heroic legacy, but it is significant in a few respects.

First, Mandela’s brief membership in the South African Communist Party, and his long-term alliance with more devout Communists, say less about his ideology than about his pragmatism. He was at various times a black nationalist and a nonracialist, an opponent of armed struggle and an advocate of violence, a hothead and the calmest man in the room, a consumer of Marxist tracts and an admirer of Western democracy, a close partner of Communists and, in his presidency, a close partner of South Africa’s powerful capitalists.

The early collaboration of the A.N.C. with the Communists was a marriage of convenience for a movement that had few friends. The South African Communist Party and its patrons in Russia and China were a source of money and weapons for the largely feckless armed struggle, and for many, it meant solidarity with a cause larger than South Africa. Communist ideology undoubtedly seeped into the A.N.C., where it became part of a uniquely South African cocktail with African nationalism, Black Consciousness, religious liberalism and other, inchoate angers and resentments and yearnings.

But at important junctures — in negotiations to end white rule, then in the writing of a new constitution, and finally in governing — the faction of nationalizers and vengeance seekers lost out to the compromisers. In the talks that set the stage for democracy, Joe Slovo, the longtime leader of the South African Communists and a man fluent in revolutionary rhetoric, was the most ardent advocate of sharing power with the white regime. The prevailing doctrine was whatever worked to advance the cause of a South Africa governed by South Africans. This was true of Mandela and equally true of his successor, Thabo Mbeki. The current president, Jacob Zuma, seems to have no ideology at all except self-enrichment.

In one of his several trials, Mandela was asked if he was a Communist. “If by Communist you mean a member of the Communist Party and a person who believes in the theory of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, and who adheres strictly to the discipline of the party, I did not become a Communist,” he replied. The answer was both evasive and perfectly accurate.

Perhaps the most important and lasting personal effect of the South African Communist Party on Mandela was that it made him, or helped make him, a committed nonracialist. The A.N.C. in its formative years admitted only blacks. For a long time, the Communist Party was the only partner in the movement that included whites, Indians and mixed-race members. That relationship is one of the main reasons Mandela cited for his rejection of black nationalism and his insistence that multiracialism remain at the heart of the A.N.C. ethic.

A third reason the Communist affiliation matters is that it helps explain why South Africa has not made greater progress toward improving the lives of its large underclass, rooting out corruption and unifying a fractious populace. The many failures of the A.N.C. during its 19 years in power can be explained by the fact that it has never fully made the transition from liberation movement to political party, let alone government. The Communist Party is as culpable in that as anyone, but I think what incapacitates the A.N.C. is not Stalinist doctrine, or any doctrine for that matter. It is something in the nature, the culture, of liberation movements. United by what they are against, they tend to be conspiratorial, to discourage dissent, to prize ends over means.

In the end, of course, the greatest favor Communism performed for Mandela and the A.N.C. was collapsing. Once the Soviet bloc had disintegrated and China had gone capitalist, the last white rulers of South Africa could no longer pose as necessary allies on the right side of the Cold War. They knew the game was up.

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I'm impressed (not by the article which is typical pablum fed to people who prefer others to think for themselves, which is somewhat interesting in a general study of a society) Mandela held fast principles that were not swayed by pressures by western imperialism in condemning the US, supporting the PLO and clearly identifying with the Cuban revolution. R.I.P Mr Mandela - Hasta Siempre, Presente

edit typos

Edited by John Dolva
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(please note MI6 had connections with ANC,BTW The Afrikaners, of Dutch origin, called English settlers “salt-dicks” Gaal)

Mandela mocks idea he was MI6 man

Such claims show 'a contempt for Africa', says anti-apartheid leader after spy-book allegations
Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa, has reacted angrily to a claim that he was recruited as an "agent of influence" by British intelligence and that he visited MI6 in Britain to thank them for their help in foiling assassination attempts.

"I never visited the headquarters of any intelligence service," he told the Guardian yesterday.

The allegations were made in the forthcoming book, MI6: Fifty Years of Special Operations, by Stephen Dorril, a lecturer at Huddersfield University, and they were met by strong denials earlier this week from Pretoria.

"False and nonsensical allegations against Nelson Mandela appearing in the British media and emanating from shadowy rightwing forces have been repeatedly made in a futile attempt to tarnish his image," the government said.

"The allegations are baseless and are motivated by a difficulty in accepting that individuals other those from the 'first world' can play an important part in world affairs."

"Some, like those making [the book's] allegations, do not realise that the colonial era is past - never to return," it said.

The tone of the government's response reflected Mr Mandela's indignation at whites and westerners who claim credit for the achievements of the African National Congress - which led the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa - and those who cannot believe that Africans can take serious initiatives on their own.

"They show a contempt for Africa," he said.

It is no secret that, after Mr Mandela's release from prison in 1991, British intelligence gave some assistance to the ANC; Lord Renwick, who was British ambassador to Pretoria at the time, confirmed that he asked British intelligence experts to train Mr Mandela's bodyguards and advise on security at his home.

"The intelligence service were involved in these activities, for which Mr Mandela was very grateful," Lord Renwick said. "But there is no truth in the suggestion that the relationship went deeper than that."

The report that Mr Mandela was recruited is "an absolute travesty", he said.

British intelligence sources were equally dismissive. "The idea that we recruited Mandela is crap," said one official.

British agents were certainly involved with the exiled ANC in Lusaka, Zambia, in the years before Mr Mandela's release; they established close relations with the black leadership and were seen as being to the left of British official policy.

At a time when Margaret Thatcher - prime minister from 1979-90 - was forbidding British diplomats to have contacts with the ANC, MI6 had its own connections to the movement and gave it information. And while Mrs Thatcher was supporting the South African Zulu leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, as an alternative to the ANC, MI6 agents took the ANC more seriously.

But Mr Mandela was in prison at that time. And prison officials were, he says, "very strict about contacts with the world outside, as the prison records show".

In his book, Mr Dorril says it was "not clear" whether Mr Mandela was recruited in London before he was imprisoned in South Africa. But from the evidence of British diplomatic files, it is quite clear that he was not.

Those records show that British officials were remarkably uninterested in the ANC and uninformed about Mr Mandela, even after he became one of the most important black leaders.

It was not until June 1961 that the Foreign Office opened a file on Mr Mandela and, thereafter, its interest was only sporadic; it kept some tracks of his movements when he fled the country in 1962.

When he came to London in June 1962, he was questioned by an immigration official who evidently knew something about him. He was surprised to notice the same official watching him when he left 10 days later, but he had no contact with anyone in government while in London.

By the time he was arrested and jailed in August 1962, Mr Mandela had still not made contact with any British diplomat or agent: "I don't think they knew I existed," he said yesterday.

When he made his final speech before being sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964, the information and research department in London - the offshoot of MI6 set up to provide anticommunist propaganda - belatedly recognised that "he was going to be popular figure over the whole continent whether we like it or not".

There was still no record to suggest that the agency had a special relationship with him.

During Mr Mandela's ensuing 27 years in prison, British intelligence remained very cautious about making contact with black politicians inside South Africa, knowing such overtures would antagonise the apartheid government.

In fact, an MI6 agent was severely interrogated by the South Africans and declared persona non grata after it was discovered that contact had been made with the white opposition,

There was some evidence that MI6 had frustrated an attempt by the South African secret service, BOSS, to allow Mr Mandela to be "rescued" from Robben Island and flown to the mainland, where he would be killed supposedly escaping.

But the scope for British intelligence remained strictly limited by BOSS and it was unable to make contact with Mr Mandela in prison.

Mr Dorril also claimed, in an interview with Scotland's Sunday Herald last weekend, that Mr Mandela helped provide MI6 with information about Libya's funding and arming of the IRA. He was said to have picked up the information when he was persuading the Libyan president, Muammar Gadafy, to hand over for trial the Libyan suspects in the Lockerbie air liner bombing. Mr Dorril also alleged that Mr Mandela "told his MI6 handlers about Libya's attempts to develop chemical and biological warfare capabilities, as well as informing them about South Africa's secret nuclear arsenal".

This was dismissed by ANC sources, noting that the west had opposed Mr Mandela'sinitiative to embrace Libya's leader. Mr Mandela's friendship with Colonel Gadafi, who trusted the South African,was the key to a Lockerbie settlement.

Edited by Steven Gaal
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Fidel Castro kept himself informed of the minutest details of the war. He personally saw off every ship bound for Angola, having previously addressed the fighting units in the La Cabana theatre; he himself sought out the commanders of the special forces battalion who went on the first flight and drove them in his own Soviet jeep right to the aircraft stairs ... By then, there was not a single dot on the map of Angola that he was unable to identify, nor any feature of the land that he did not know by heart. His absorption in the war was so intense and meticulous that he could quote any statistic relating to Angola as if it were Cuba itself, and he spoke of its towns, customs and peoples as if he had lived there all his life. In the early stages of the war, when the situation was urgent, Fidel Castro would spend up to 14 hours at a stretch in the command room of the general staff, at times without eating or sleeping, as if he were on the battlefield himself. He followed the course of battles with pins on minutely detailed wall-sized maps, keeping in constant touch with the MPLA high command on a battlefield where the time was six hours later.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel prize-winning novelist and close friend of Fidel Castro

On 22 December 1988, one month before Reagan's second term ended, Angola, Cuba and South Africa signed the Three Powers Accord in New York, arranging for the withdrawal of South African troops from Angola and Namibia, the independence of Namibia and the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola. Cuba agreed to an overall time frame of 30 months and to withdraw within 27 months after implementation of Resolution 435. The timetable agreed upon provided for the following steps:

  • until 1 April 1989: withdrawal of 3,000 Cuban troops (3 months)
  • 1 April 1989: Implementation of Resolution 435 and start of 27-month time frame for total withdrawal
  • 1 August 1989: all Cuban troops moved north of 15th parallel (7 months)
  • 31 October 1989: all Cuban troops moved north of 13th parallel (10 months)
  • 1 November 1989: free elections in Namibia and 50% of all Cuban troops withdrawn from Angola
  • 1 April 1990: 66% of all Cuban troops withdrawn (15 months)
  • 1 October 1990: 76% of all Cuban troops withdrawn (21 months)
  • 1 July 1991: Cuban withdrawal completed (30 months)[225]

The accord ended 13 years of Cuban military presence in Angola which was finalized one month early on 25 May 1991, when General Samuel Rodiles Planas borded the aircraft that took him back to the island.[226] At the same time the Cubans removed their troops from Pointe Noire (Republic of the Congo) and Ethiopia.


Cuban intervention had a substantial impact on Southern Africa, especially in defending the MPLA's control over large parts of Angola as well as helping secure Namibia's independence. As W. Freeman, ambassador, U.S. State Department, Department for African Policies, said:

"Castro could regard himself as father of Namibia's independence and as the one who put an end to colonialism in Africa"

On July 26, 1991, on occasion of the celebrations of the 38th anniversary of the start of the Cuban Revolution, Nelson Mandela delivered a speech in Havana to praising Cuba for its role in Angola:

"Castro could regard himself as father of Namibia's independence and as the one who put an end to colonialism in Africa".


"The Cuban people hold a special place in the hearts of the people of Africa. The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom and justice unparalleled for its principled and selfless character - We in Africa are used to being victims of countries wanting to carve up our territory or subvert our sovereignty. It is unparalleled in African history to have another people rise to the defence of one of us - The defeat of the apartheid army was an inspiration to the struggling people in South Africa! Without the defeat of Cuito Cuanavale our organizations would not have been unbanned! The defeat of the racist army at Cuito Cuanavale has made it possible for me to be here today! Cuito Cuanavale was a milestone in the history of the struggle for southern African liberation!"

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