From some, Mandela praise masks a darker past

2013-12-11 13:34
(Picture: AFP)

(Picture: AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Jerusalem - World leaders have heaped praise on the late Nelson Mandela, but among the countries paying tribute are some that had long backed the South African apartheid regime that jailed him.

Many of the eulogies for the iconic peacemaker have glossed over Western support for the white supremacist regime in Pretoria during the Cold War, when Mandela and his ANC were blacklisted as Soviet proxies.

Israel was one of South Africa's closest allies at a time when Pretoria was facing UN-led sanctions, maintaining defence ties which also benefitted an authoritarian anti-communist regime in Taiwan.

Fear of communism prompted Britain's Margaret Thatcher to support the apartheid regime during the 1980s, and Mandela himself was only removed from the US terror watch list in 2008, just days before his 90th birthday.

Eulogising Mandela, Israeli President Shimon Peres described him as a "fighter for human rights who left an indelible mark on the struggle against racism and discrimination."

But during the 1970s and 1980s, when Mandela was serving a 27-year prison sentence, Israel's stance on South Africa was very different.

The Jewish state had initially supported UN sanctions on South Africa, but finding itself increasingly isolated after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, it cultivated ties with Pretoria - a process in which Peres was deeply involved, first as defence minister and then as foreign minister.

"As defence minister, Peres was involved," said Yossi Beilin, a former foreign ministry director who worked to distance Israel from SA in the late 1980s.

"Despite the UN resolution in 1977, which was a very clear decision to boycott transfer of weapons or security co-operation with South Africa, Israel did not respect it at all," Beilin told AFP.

Israel's close defence and security co-operation with South Africa, allegedly including development of nuclear weapons, left the Jewish state isolated and nearly cost it crucial US military aid as it flew in the face of UN resolutions sanctioning Pretoria.

"It was a kind of alliance, with a very strong military and security dimension," said Alon Liel, who served as Israel's ambassador to SA from 1992-1994 during the final years of apartheid.

"South Africa was completely isolated from 1977 by the UN arms embargo, which we bypassed," Liel said.

South Africa maintained diplomatic ties with Israel after the end of apartheid, but Mandela emerged as a strong critic of the Israeli occupation, saying in a 1997 speech that "our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”.

In the latest awkward twist to the relationship, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reneged on a pledge to attend the memorial, saying the visit would cost too much following a week of bad press over his personal expenses.

Peres was unable to attend because he was recovering from flu, his office said.

The Taiwan connection

Israel's co-operation with Pretoria benefitted another apartheid ally - authoritarian, anti-communist Taiwan.

Taiwan and South Africa reportedly maintained sanctions-busting trade in weaponry during the apartheid era, with Taipei selling ammunition and small arms to Pretoria in exchange for uranium.

That uranium fed into what historians say was a programme by Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang (KMT) nationalists to develop nuclear weapons with the aid of technology transferred from Israel.

The KMT, whose members had fled the mainland after losing to communist rivals in China's civil war in 1949, found a sympathetic ear in the virulently anti-communist rulers of SA.

"The Republic of China [Taiwan] government was trying everything it could to reduce the diplomatic isolation," a former Taiwanese official in charge of cultural and liaison contacts with Pretoria told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Mandela seen as 'terrorist' in US, Britain

In Washington and London, Mandela and his ANC were long seen as yet another Soviet proxy to be opposed in the name of freedom and democracy, despite the racist policies of the government he sought to overthrow.

Britain's Thatcher, who died earlier this year, refused to support sanctions in the 1980s, denouncing the ANC as "terrorists”.

"The fear amongst the political right that the ANC was a pawn of Moscow, and that Mandela was a dangerous figure under the control of the South African Communist Party, was very live during the Cold War," explained Saul Dubow, African history professor at Queen Mary University of London.

"Broad swathes of the Conservative party were careful to disapprove of apartheid... but this was outweighed by the perception that the South African government was anti-communist and a dependable partner of the Western alliance."

Britain's Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron attended Mandela's memorial on Tuesday, alongside three other former premiers.

Also at Tuesday's memorial was US President Barack Obama, who gave a soaring tribute to Mandela just five years after Washington removed him from its terror watch list.

Until then, Mandela and other ANC members could only enter the country by means of a State department waiver to attend UN meetings, in a move described as "embarrassing" by former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.

Friends, colleagues, comrades and family of Nelson Mandela are invited to share their memories and tributes, and to light a candle for him, on his profile at

- Share your memories of Nelson Mandela with us.

Read more on:    sacp  |  anc  |  nelson mandela

Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24

  • Wednesday Delft - 20:37 PM
    Road name: R300 Southbound
    ROADWORKS - left lane closed at Hindle Road
  • Wednesday Sir Lowry's Pass - 17:57 PM
    Road name: Old Sir Lowrys Pass Road
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Bezweni Road
More traffic reports...

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now! - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Samsung Galaxy Tab P7500 10.1" Tablet With WiFi & 3G

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 gives you a better experience for...

From R4999.00

I'm shopping for:


You may be required to travel or get information for your job. This may be restricting in some way or something may slow more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.