9 December 2013

South Africa: When Mandela First Met America


Nelson Mandela never visited the United States before he entered that long quarter century in prison. In fact, he only made his first trip to America in June 1990, four months after leaving prison in triumph - and mounting expectation.

But that June visit became a great success - it tapped into an enormous reservoir of good will towards the man himself, and in support of the larger anti-apartheid struggle and cause of liberation.

Americans eagerly embraced Mandela's visit to their nation because - for them - it drew explicit lines of historical and emotional resonances between South Africa's own struggles and the American civil rights revolution. Moreover, it spoke to the cross-fertilisation between the two nations that had so enriched both movements earlier.

To note just one example of this, American civil rights struggle veterans flocked to the "Free South Africa Movement" as the logical extension of their own long struggle in demonstrations in front of the South African Embassy and at teach-ins, boycott and disinvestment efforts.

Reporting on that visit to the US, the New York Times, for example, had reported on the parade, quoting bystanders who had said things like, " 'I felt...

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