In the aftermath of Nelson Mandela’s passing, it is important to consider the voices for and against the apartheid government in South Africa that held him in prison for 27 years.
Margaret Thatcher was the most direct in her calling Mandela “a grubby little terrorist.” Here in the United States, however, we produced a bill imposing sanctions against South Africa’s race-based government, under Ronald Reagan, who vetoed it. It was overridden, but the cast of the fighters in Congress is instructive. Our own Sen. Jesse Helms filibustered it. Richard Nixon, Dick Cheney and Strom Thurmond were in favor of supporting the all-white government of P.W. Botha. Edward Kennedy succeeded, along with (surprise) Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, in overriding Reagan’s veto.
In the end, the sanctions worked, bringing down Botha and freeing one of the greatest heroes of our time. But we might never have found out if we hadn’t imposed the sanctions.