Fight the Right-Washing of Nelson Mandela’s Legacy

Roundup: Talking About History
tags: South Africa, Nelson Mandela

Joan Walsh is Salon's editor at large and the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

...It’s shocking how little American leaders of both parties did to oppose the rise and consolidation of the brutal apartheid regime in the ‘50s and 60s, but it was Richard Nixon who developed closer ties. The anti-apartheid movement of the 1970s and 80s – where Barack Obama got his political start; I covered the University of Wisconsin’s successful divestment movement with the Daily Cardinal in 1978 — was demonized as the far left at the time. Moderates proposed alternatives like the Sullivan Principles, named after Rev. Leon Sullivan, a General Motors board member, which tried (and failed) to impose a code of conduct on companies doing business in South Africa (Sullivan eventually agreed they weren’t enough).

Ronald Reagan made it a priority to fight domestic and international divestment efforts — efforts that, in the end, helped pressure the South African government to enter negotiations and free Nelson Mandela. Reagan vetoed an amazingly (if belatedly) bipartisan bill to impose tough sanctions on the apartheid regime. Of course then-Congressman Dick Cheney had voted against the sanctions in 1986, and he defended his position while running for vice president in 2000, telling ABC: ”The ANC was then viewed as a terrorist organization. … I don’t have any problems at all with the vote I cast 20 years ago.”...

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