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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.