Did the CIA Betray Nelson Mandela?

On Sunday afternoon, August fifth, 1962, Nelson Mandela was in a late-model Austin Westminster coupe making its method from Durban to Johannesburg. It was a couple of seven-hour drive. Though Mandela was posing as a chauffeur in an extended duster coat, he was sitting within the passenger seat. The motive force was Cecil Williams, a white communist theater director and underground member of the African Nationwide Congress. Mandela, a fugitive from the apartheid regime and the chief of the ANC’s newly shaped navy wing, was South Africa’s most wished man.

A number of days earlier than, Mandela had returned from a two-month journey throughout Africa the place he had been elevating cash for the ANC’s navy marketing campaign and receiving navy coaching himself. Simply earlier than he left to return to South Africa, he had been given a Soviet-made Makarov pistol in Ethiopia. He had that gun with him within the automobile. Mandela had been summoned again by the ANC’s management who wished him on the bottom to guide the guerilla struggle in opposition to the white-supremacist state. The night time earlier than, on August 4th, he had gone to a secret dinner with different ANC leaders in Durban. He wore his khaki navy fatigues and it was a cheerful night of friendship and laughter. Everybody there mentioned he appeared unconcerned concerning the country-wide manhunt for him.

Mandela and Williams had been on the highway for a few hours when, on a slender, hilly cross a number of miles outdoors of the city of Howick Falls, a Ford V-8 pulled in entrance of Mandela’s automobile. The motive force signaled Williams to cease. Mandela knew immediately what was occurring: he was caught. Here’s what he advised me about that second in 1993 after I was working with him on his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.

MANDELA: Now I had a revolver which was unlicensed, and I simply took it out and put it between the seats. And at one time, I believed I might open the door quick and roll down however I didn’t know the way lengthy, you understand, this financial institution was and what was there. I used to be not accustomed to the panorama… However I used to be very slot in these days, and I might nearly climb any wall. After which I appeared on the again simply on the rear-view mirror I noticed there have been two vehicles behind, then I felt that, no, it might be ridiculous for me to attempt to escape—they’ll shoot me.

Mandela was all the time a cautious revolutionary. If he had tried to flee, it’s doable that historical past wouldn’t bear in mind Nelson Mandela in any respect. Mandela advised me {that a} tall slender South African policeman whom he’d by no means met approached the automobile, took out an arrest warrant, and politely requested Mandela to establish himself. Mandela, who had grown a beard whereas in Africa, and had been underground for practically two years, gave him his alias, David Motsamayi. In line with Mandela, the officer mentioned, “Agh, you might be Nelson Mandela and that is Cecil Williams and I’m arresting you.” The officer, who had by no means seen both of them earlier than, knew precisely who they have been.

That small element and a number of others which have emerged over time have fueled a long time of suspicion that the South African police had been tipped off about Mandela’s whereabouts and that the likeliest supply for that data was the U.S. Central Intelligence Company. August 1962 was the peak of the Chilly Warfare—Mandela’s seize occurred just a few weeks earlier than the Cuban Missile Disaster—and the American intelligence neighborhood believed that Mandela and the ANC have been secret allies of the Soviets. I requested him about this in 1993.


Richard Stengel and Nelson Mandela

STENGEL: Now, Madiba, how, who, how did they know the place you have been, the police in Howick?

MANDELA: No, I don’t suppose personally there was something. I don’t suppose so. They mentioned it was an American Consul or one thing like that.

STENGEL: Sure. With some CIA connections.

MANDELA: Sure, fairly. That’s what they are saying. However I don’t suppose so as a result of except there was any individual with a CIA connection [INTERRUPTION] and no, I don’t know, I can’t vouch for that, I’ve no proof. I do know nevertheless that I met too many individuals for a person underground…That’s why I feel that it’s not altogether right that it was the American Consul with CIA connections. However I can’t say that that was not the case.

STENGEL: Proper.

MANDELA: I’ve no proof both method.

STENGEL: So, over time you by no means heard any extra data?

MANDELA: No, no, no. And I didn’t even inquire.

His reply is fantastically Mandela-like: I’ve no proof both method, so I can’t make a judgment—and I didn’t even attempt to discover out. The reality is, he simply didn’t actually care. He was below arrest and now the battle was in a brand new enviornment. He solely ever had one course: ahead.

Though Mandela didn’t care, I did. I had been listening to those tapes we had made 30 years earlier than as a result of I used to be engaged on a 10-part podcast from Audible about Mandela and our work on Lengthy Stroll to Freedom. Nearly nobody had ever listened to the tapes—together with me. On the time, I simply had transcripts typed up, and I labored from them. For years, the tapes remained in a transparent plastic field in storage at my home in New York. Whereas placing collectively Mandela: The Lost Tapes, I made a decision that now, in spite of everything these years, I’d attempt to unravel this noteworthy second in twentieth century historical past. Had the U.S. been concerned within the arrest of one of many biggest freedom fighters of the century and, if that’s the case, why—and would these concerned take accountability?

Beginning in the summertime of 2021, with the assistance of my former colleagues at TIME, I filed a lot of Freedom of Data requests with the Central Intelligence Company to attempt to affirm what had lengthy been rumored. I’ll get to that byzantine course of in a second, however first it’s vital to inform you what we’ve got discovered from journalists and students within the years since Mandela’s 1962 seize, his launch from jail in 1990, and his dying a decade in the past. This new data helped information the FOIA requests.

In 1986, whereas Mandela was nonetheless in jail, when the U.S. Congress was considering placing anti-apartheid sanctions on South Africa, the Johannesburg Star printed an un-bylined information story that mentioned, in keeping with a “retired senior police officer,” the South African police had been tipped off to Mandela’s whereabouts by an American diplomat on the U.S. consulate in Durban who was “the CIA operative for that area.” In 1963, the diplomat, in keeping with the Star, had revealed his position whereas drunk at a celebration on the Durban condo of “Mad” Mike Hoare, a widely known Anglo-Irish mercenary.

4 years after the Star article, on the time of Mandela’s launch from jail in 1990 when he was about to go to the U.S. and get a hero’s welcome, the Atlanta Journal Structure revealed a chunk reporting {that a} “retired [American] intelligence official” mentioned that inside hours of Mandela’s arrest, a “senior CIA operative” named Paul Eckel walked into his workplace in Washington and mentioned, “We have now turned Mandela over to the South African safety department. We gave them each element, what he could be sporting, the time of day, simply the place he could be. They’ve picked him up. It’s one in all our biggest coups.”

The article quotes former intelligence officers saying the CIA noticed Mandela and the ANC as a risk to the soundness of the South African authorities. The U.S. had simply signed a navy cooperation settlement with South Africa and the nation was an vital supply of uranium and different strategic minerals. Extra importantly, apartheid South Africa was the West’s most dependable ally in opposition to the Soviets, who had robust ties with many different newly unbiased African states. On the time, the U.S. intelligence presence in South Africa was bigger and extra refined than the South African authorities’s. The article quoted a former South African intelligence official named Gerard Ludi saying the CIA had a paid informant within the ANC Durban department who advised the native case officer the place Mandela could be.

Then, in 2016, a long-retired CIA officer named Donald Rickard, then 88 years previous and ailing, gave an interview to British movie director John Irvin through which he mentioned he had knowledgeable the South African police about Mandela. Talking to Irvin for his dramatized documentary, “Mandela’s Gun,” Rickard confirmed that he had been working undercover as a State Division vice-consul in Durban. He described town as a “cauldron” of anti-apartheid exercise and that the ANC was riling up town’s substantial Indian neighborhood. Right here’s what he advised Irvin: “Mandela was going to return down and incite the Indians and I discovered when he was coming down and the way he was coming, and he got here in a black limousine with a man sitting within the again because the passenger and he was the driving force. That’s the place I used to be concerned and that’s the place Mandela was caught.”

His particulars are a bit off, however reporting within the South African and American press on the time and afterward declare Rickard was an American undercover intelligence officer in Durban who was later introduced again to the U.S. below a cloud for his drunken candor about CIA actions. A 2018 biography of the mercenary Mike Hoare quotes Hoare confirming Rickard’s story. Rickard was personally unrepentant about aiding in Mandela’s seize. “Mandela was utterly below the management of the Soviet Union,” Richard advised Irvin. “He was a toy of Moscow. He might have incited a struggle in South Africa. The United [States] must get entangled, grudgingly, and issues might have gone to hell…The Soviet Union would have achieved something to get its arms on the mineral chest—something—and Khrushchev mentioned: ‘Once we get it we’ll dictate the phrases of give up for the West.’ We have been teetering on the brink right here and it needed to be stopped, which meant Mandela needed to be stopped. And I put a cease to it.”

Rickard died two weeks after his confession. His solely remorse was that he had been indiscrete. Rickard mentioned “the largest mistake of my life” was boasting about it at Mike Hoare’s social gathering. “I used to be by no means promoted once more after I got here again from South Africa. They have been embarrassed that I embarrassed them.”

In my conversations with present and former intelligence officers—all of whom are too younger to have been round at the moment—they agree that the situation of the CIA tipping off the South African police is each believable and sure, they usually haven’t any cause to query these stories. It was at a time when the U.S. intelligence neighborhood was targeted on Africa as a strategic battleground within the Chilly Warfare. Mandela’s arrest got here eight months after the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the primary democratically elected head of the Congo whom the CIA believed was a software of the Soviets. The 1975 Church Committee investigation of intelligence abuses revealed that the CIA had thought-about assassinating Lumumba. It was the height of tensions with the Soviet Union and Mandela was regarded not simply as a revolutionary, however somebody who was on the very least sympathetic to the Soviet standpoint. One other piece of data that emerged after Mandela’s dying appears to substantiate the CIA’s suspicions: on the day of Mandela’s dying, each the ANC and the South African Communist Social gathering introduced that Mandela had not solely been a member of the Communist social gathering, however a member of its central committee. Since then, extra scholarship, together with from Soviet archives, has emerged to recommend that this was the case.

ANC leader Nelson Mandela raises his hands in response to a bipartisan standing ovation at the completion of his address to a joint meeting of Congress. (Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

ANC chief Nelson Mandela raises his arms in response to a bipartisan standing ovation on the completion of his tackle to a joint assembly of Congress.

Bettmann Archive/Getty Photos

In 2017, in response to a common Freedom of Data request, the CIA declassified some paperwork containing intelligence about apartheid South Africa from 1961-62, the time of Mandela’s seize. I’ve learn by these recordsdata, which sometimes point out Mandela, they usually precisely describe South Africa’s white supremacist rule and the steadfast opposition of the ANC, which is also known as being “communist-dominated.” For our functions, I discovered two transient however related mentions of Mandela, neither of which have ever been revealed earlier than by a information group. In a declassified CIA doc marked SECRET and dated Might 25, 1961, a little bit over a yr earlier than he was captured, the company described Mandela as a “possible Communist” who had revived curiosity in anti-apartheid protest. “An ready organizer who reportedly has ample funds at his disposal, [Mandela] appears to have revitalized the ‘Congress motion,’ the Communist-dominated multiracial teams which had been moribund for the reason that banning final yr of the African Nationwide Congress.”

Then, in an extended memo from the CIA in February of 1962, the yr of Mandela’s seize, additionally marked SECRET, the company pinpoints Mandela as the top of the ANC guerrilla motion and is clearly conscious that Mandela was not in South Africa. “Mandela, who lived below cowl in South Africa and Basutoland after the failure of the final strike he known as final Might, has left the nation…” No interval after the phrase “nation,” and the subsequent sentence is blacked out. That is the primary piece of proof that the CIA was monitoring Mandela and knew he was in a foreign country.

With all of this data in hand, I made a decision that I’d file a Freedom of Data request with the CIA to see if they might affirm any of the main points round Mandela’s seize and the company’s position in it. It was an extended shot: Congress gave the CIA some notable exceptions to the 1966 Freedom of Data Act. The company is exempted from offering any details about any CIA operations and won’t furnish data of any precise or alleged CIA worker, supply, or technique. In reality, they’ll neither affirm nor deny the existence of such data. However at occasions, within the curiosity of historical past and democratic accountability, the CIA has been extra clear about its actions. Throughout the Church Committee hearings, it confirmed that it had illegally focused Americans. In 2014, the CIA declassified data displaying that after World Warfare II it had used former Nazis as spies within the Chilly Warfare.

With the ready assist of reporter Abby Vesoulis in TIME journal’s Washington bureau, we filed 4 separate requests of the CIA. FOIA requests are very formulaic and prescribed. Within the letters, we defined why I used to be looking for this data and we additionally included hyperlinks to the articles I’ve cited above.

Right here’s the center of the submitting.

Pursuant to the federal Freedom of Data Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, we request entry to and copies of: Data—together with however not restricted to stories, intelligence memos, cables—mentioning “Nelson Mandela” or his three aliases (Madiba, Black Pimpernel, and David Motsamayi) that originated from or have been acquired by the Central Intelligence Company between the years 1957 and 1963.

We additionally requested entry to any stories by or to Donald Rickard that point out Mandela. We additionally requested for expedited dealing with which was instantly rejected.

The CIA has an workplace devoted to responding to FOIA requests. I’ll spare you the a number of letters back-and-forth. After a number of months of emails, together with a number of appeals, we ultimately received the next reply from the CIA.

We accomplished an intensive overview of your request and decided that, in accordance with Part 3.6(a) of Government Order 13526, CIA can neither affirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of data conscious of your request. The actual fact of the existence or nonexistence of such data it itself at present and correctly categorised and is [sic] intelligence sources and strategies data protected against disclosure by Part 6 of the CIA Act of 1949 (50 U.S.C. § 3507, as amended), and Part 102A(i)(I) of the Nationwide Safety Act of 1947 (50 U.S.C. § 3024(i)(I), as amended). Due to this fact, your request is denied.

Disappointing, however not shocking. I argued in an e-mail response to this that it was within the curiosity of the CIA to step ahead on this challenge and clarify its actions as being comprehensible within the context of the Chilly Warfare. I didn’t make any headway. The truth is that the U.S. authorities was years behind the remainder of the world in recognizing Mandela’s virtues. Mandela remained on some American terrorist watch lists till 2008—the ultimate yr of his presidency. The CIA has not declassified any materials associated to Mandela’s precise seize. Though the CIA can’t affirm or deny the existence of such data, it’s sure that they exist. This yr, the tenth anniversary of Mandela’s dying, could be an excellent time to disclose the back-story.

There’s a new competitors in Africa and elsewhere between the U.S. and its democratic allies, on the one hand, and the authoritarian regimes of Russia and China. Within the UN vote this previous fall condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine, 19 of the 45 African nations voting on the referendum abstained. In reality, South Africa is at present conducting joint naval workout routines with Russia within the Indian Ocean, an train that additionally contains Chinese language warships. To win this competitors in Africa and elsewhere, America should display its willingness to be open about its personal historical past.

There are various contained in the U.S. authorities who agree with this place. I do know a number of of them from my time in authorities as Beneath Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs on the State Division in the course of the Obama Administration. Over the course of this undertaking, I did communicate to a number of sources near the intelligence neighborhood who advised that the CIA did in reality play a task within the seize of Nelson Mandela on that winding highway in Natal in 1962. For now, nevertheless, they simply received’t say so publicly.

Mandela all the time mentioned he was not cautious sufficient after he got here again from his African journey for a person underground. Whereas that’s definitely the case, that doesn’t preclude the opportunity of the CIA alerting the South African police. Each might be true—and each doubtless are. Mandela appeared to harbor no onerous emotions about this—he was an outlaw, he was looking for to overthrow the South African authorities which was a dependable ally of the U.S. ‘s in opposition to the Soviet Union. He was a realist. From the 50s onward, he all the time needed to issue the Chilly Warfare into his technique. His freedom battle was all the time fought within the shadow forged by the Chilly Warfare. He did complain to me that America and the West by no means supported him till he got here out of jail, however he additionally understood that the U.S. noticed all the pieces by the lens of the Chilly Warfare.

I by no means requested Mandela concerning the CIA’s position once more. As soon as the guide was completed, our relationship was by no means once more about enterprise. He by no means talked about it publicly whereas he was president of South Africa or afterwards. He welcomed America as an ally and supporter of the brand new South Africa, and gave two addresses to joint periods of Congress the place he acquired a number of bipartisan standing ovations. For him, it was lengthy gone from his rear-view mirror. However within the final formal interview session I had with Mandela in 1993—which is in Episode 10 of “Mandela: The Misplaced Tapes,” I requested him about how he was in a position to work together with his enemies and captors. “Your responsibility is to work with human beings as a result of they’re human beings,” he mentioned. “Not since you suppose they’re angels.”

Rick Stengel’s interviews with Mandela are featured in a podcast collection Mandela: The Lost Tapes, out there from Audible

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Contact us at letters@time.com.

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