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Conservatives like to present a skewed version of Ronald Reagan and his presidency. The right has built an entire mythology around Reagan that rarely touches reality. The passing of Nelson Mandela brings back a very hard truth that Reaganites would like to erase.
During Mandela’s incarceration and the fight to end Apartheid in South Africa, the US Congress wanted to impose sanctions on South Africa to push the oppressive regime to free Mandela and end the brutality of Apartheid. Reagan strongly disagreed with imposing sanctions and likened Mandela to a terrorist. President Ronald Reagan appeared on TV before the house and senate’s scheduled vote on anti Apartheid legislation, to warn Americans against the Anti-Apartheid Act, decrying it as “immoral” and “utterly repugnant.” Congress disagreed, and one month later, it produced the two-thirds majority (which included both democrats and republicans) needed to override Reagan and pass tough new measures against South Africa’s apartheid government. These measures included a ban on bank loans and new investments in South Africa, a sharp reduction of imports, and prevented most South African officials from traveling to the United States. The Act also called for the repeal of apartheid laws and the release of political prisoners like African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela, who had spent the last 23 years in prison.
It is difficult to fully comprehend the evils of apartheid today. Blacks were denied citizenship and the right to vote. They were forcibly relocated into impoverished reservations. People of color were barred from operating businesses or owning land inside white areas, which comprised most of the country. Sexual relations or marriage between people of color and whites was strictly forbidden. Racial segregation was enforced in public areas, including schools, hospitals, trains, beaches, bridges, churches and theaters. To enforce apartheid, the government often resorted to police brutality, the imprisonment and assassination of political dissidents, and the murder of black protesters. In 1960 the South African police opened fire on a crowd of 7000 Apartheid protesters wounding hundreds of them and killing 69.
So the next time someone comes to you talking about how great Reagan was, remember his support for Apartheid, a racially unequal system of government, and every brutal racist oppressive element that came along with it and offer these facts as a much needed reality check.
The first lady Michelle Obama traveled to visit South African President Nelson Mandela in 2011. Today we all learned of his death and even though everyone around the world were aware of his advanced age and failing health, it still shocks and saddens us all. In honor of this extraordinary man’s relationship with this country and the Obama’s I want to post what the first lady wrote following her first visit to meet him.
Today, we arrived in South Africa, and I couldn’t be more excited, because two years ago, I visited this country for the first time with my mother and daughters, and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
On that visit, I met with young women leaders from across the continent who were serving their countries and their communities – educating young people, providing job training for women, working to combat poverty and violence and disease – often in the face of impossible odds. I also had the chance to spend time with young people from here in South Africa: I danced with children at a daycare center, visited the University of Cape Town with local high school students, and took part in a children’s soccer clinic at one of the stadiums used in the 2010 World Cup.
I also had the chance to meet President Nelson Mandela at his home in Johannesburg, an experience that I will never forget. Mandela – or “Madiba” as he’s referred to in South Africa – is truly a giant in world history. As a young man, he led a movement against Apartheid – the South African government’s policies that discriminated against people of color, forcing them to live in separate neighborhoods and attend separate schools and prohibiting them from even voting in national elections. For his defiance, Mandela was jailed for 27 years, and his struggle became a source of inspiration for people all around the world.
First Lady Michelle Obama meets with former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa at his home in Houghton, South Africa, June 21, 2011. Mrs. Obama viewed items from President Mandela’s archives earlier during a tour of the Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)
After he was finally released from prison in 1990, Mandela worked to dismantle the Apartheid state and replace it with a full democracy – and in 1994, four years after he was released from prison, he became the South Africa’s first black President. Today, Mandela is 94 years old. As I mentioned in my first post, he’s currently in the hospital, and he is very much in my thoughts and prayers right now. He has been such a source of hope for so many people for so long, and when I reflect on Mandela’s life and legacy, I think about his courage and determination – enduring nearly three decades in jail without ever giving up on his dream of a more just and equal South Africa. It’s amazing to think about everything he’s seen during his lifetime: the horrors of Apartheid, the quiet desolation of a jail cell, but also the realization of a vibrant South African democracy. I’m so glad that he lived to see the fruits of his struggle and sacrifice – and I’m so glad that he never gave up on his dream of a better country and a better world for future generations. As President Mandela once said, “Our children are the rock on which our future will be built.”
That’s exactly how I feel as well. And that’s why, during my time in South Africa, I’m going to once again reach out to as many young people as I can – and I’m going to try to connect these young people with young people back home in America as well. Because I know that if young people like you all can share your stories and learn from each other’s experiences, then we’ll all be able to keep moving forward, and together, we’ll be able to build upon Nelson Mandela’s legacy for years to come.
*FULL TRIBUTE COMING SOON*