The members and representatives of the African National Congress (ANC), including Nelson Mandela, were placed on the U.S. Terrorist Watch List during the 1970s when American foreign policy was dominated by the Republican Party and closely aligned with the Apartheid regime for strategic reasons.
This was an era in which the ANC was actively engaged in a liberation struggle to free oppressed South Africans from the racist system of Apartheid.
Consequently, the Apartheid government declared the ANC a terrorist organization and persuaded many of its political allies, including the United States, to do the same. Unfortunately, nearly 40 years later, the United States government has failed to take Mandela and the African National Congress, which is now the ruling political party of the Republic of South Africa, off the U.S. Terrorist Watch List.
The list is used to deny entry of designated terrorists and such organizations into the United States. In some cases, it may require U.S. financial institutions to retain control over funds of such groups and report their assets to the Office of Foreign Control of the U.S. Department of Treasury.
The American Civil Liberties Union estimates that nearly a million names are on the U.S. Terrorist Watch List. Those listed are considered to be a threat to the security of United States citizens as well as its foreign and national interests. However, the integrity of the list is called into question when Mandela, who was the first Black president of the Republic of South Africa and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, is on it.
In 2007, Barbara Masekela, the former South African Ambassador to the United States from 2003 to 2006, was denied entry into the U.S. to visit her sick cousin because she is a member of the ANC. ANC members must apply and receive a waiver from U.S. State Department officials to enter into the United States. Masekela was unable to obtain her visa to see her relative who later died in America.
"This is a country with which we now have excellent relations, South Africa, but it's frankly a rather embarrassing matter that I still have to waive in my own counterpart, the foreign minister of South Africa, not to mention the great leader, Nelson Mandela," said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
In December 2007, during a visit to South Africa, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) was asked why Mandela and other (ANC) members were still listed on the U.S. Terrorist Watch List. After returning to Washington, she and several members of the Congressional Black Caucus joined forces with Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA), who chairs the House International Relations Committee, and Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-MS), who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, to co-sponsor legislation – HR 5690 – to exempt the ANC from treatment as a terrorist organization in April 2008.
Pursuant to HR 5690, the ANC shall not be treated as a terrorist organization and not be determined to be inadmissible to the United States on the basis of its membership in, or affiliation with, the organization. The bill shall remove the ANC, its members and representatives from the U.S. Terrorist Watch List.
"The ANC was involved in a war of liberation. So, instead of penalizing the organization for its political struggle against apartheid, we should really be commending them for their work of transforming South Africa into a beacon of democracy," Lee said.
On May 8, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the legislation. The African-American Unity Caucus (AAUC), a Washington, D.C. based non-partisan alliance of committed leaders and organizations from the African Diaspora, applauded the passage of H.R. 5690.
"It is disgraceful that Africa's most notable citizen's name has ever landed on a terror list with the likes of people who hate and have attacked America," said Jeannine Scott, AAUC coordinator.