WASHINGTON — Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., introduced legislation in the Senate last week to grant the secretary of state the authority to waive any travel restrictions on former South African President Nelson Mandela.
Mandela and his fellow former African National Congress (ANC) members remain on the “watch list” for activities they conducted against South Africa’s apartheid regime decades ago.
“We can’t let this anachronism continue,” Kerry said in a telephone interview with the Banner. “It’s just plain wrong … and inexcusable.”
U.S. diplomats, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, have called on Congress to pass legislation to end what she called an embarrassing impediment to improving U.S.-South Africa relations.
“Nelson Mandela is one of the world’s strongest voices for human dignity and courage in the face of oppression,” Kerry said. “The idea that he’d be on our government’s terror watch list is deplorable. No bureaucratic snafu can excuse this international embarrassment, and we need to fix this policy now.”
Kerry pointed out that under his proposed bill, the names of Mandela and other ANC officials would be removed from the federal government’s terrorist list, as well as excised from other related databases. The decision would be made in consultation with officials from the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice.
Mandela, who was on a U.S. blacklist during the apartheid years, still has to get a special waiver to enter the United States as do other members of the ANC, which is now the ruling party in South Africa.
Rice told U.S. lawmakers in April that it was time to remove travel restrictions on Mandela, a former Nobel Peace Prize winner and liberation hero, and others from his party.
“I really do hope we can remove these restrictions on the ANC,” Rice told members of the House Judiciary Committee. “This is a country with which we now have excellent relations — South Africa.”
The ANC was banned by the South African apartheid government in 1960, its leaders jailed or forced into exile until the ban on the movement was lifted 30 years later.
Mandela, who spearheaded the struggle against apartheid and has become a symbol of freedom worldwide, was released from jail in 1990 after 27 years in prison, and later became the country’s first post-apartheid president.
Material from wire services was used in this report.
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