US removes 'terrorist' tag from Mandela
Fourteen years after Nelson Mandela became South African president after its first democratic elections in 1994, the US House of Representatives has passed a bill to remove his name from its lists of terrorists.
Unanimously passed on Thursday, the bill would remove any notation that would characterise the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa and its leaders, including Mandela, as terrorists, from all US databases.
"This long-overdue bill is the direct result of a stunning and embarrassing story for the United States," said the bill's author, Democrat Howard Berman, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
"Despite recognising two decades ago that America's place was on the side of those oppressed by apartheid, the Congress has never resolved the inconsistency in our immigration code, which treats many of those who actively opposed apartheid in South Africa as terrorists and criminals," he added.
Nobel laureate Mandela became South Africa's first black president on May 10, 1994 heading a 'Government of National Unity' after his ANC won 62 percent of the votes in the country's first democratic elections with full enfranchisement.
For decades, the ANC had resisted apartheid and advocated the rights of black South Africans - first through non-violence and community activism, and then through the actions of its military wing.
The racist white South African government banned the ANC in 1960, and the US denied entry to ANC members based on the group's activities. With the end of apartheid in 1990, the ANC grew to become a leading political party and today continues to lead South Africa in a multiracial, multi-party democracy.
Berman said: "Astonishingly, while South Africa completed its monumental political transition, the US position regarding entry for ANC's leaders remained frozen in time.
"Leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and Govan Mbeki - father of President Thabo Mbeki - were continually barred from entry to the US and had to apply for special waivers to gain entry."
Berman's legislation effectively removes the 'terrorist' label from the names of current and former ANC members.
Congressional sources said the legislation has the support of the State Department and is expected to receive unanimous approval from the US Senate as well.
Once President George Bush signs it into law, ANC membership alone will no longer trigger additional investigation into an individual's application for a visa to the US.