Former CIA agent admits involvement in Nelson Mandela's arrest

The admission confirms decades of suspicion held by the African National Congress

Feliks Garcia
New York
Sunday 15 May 2016 18:01
<em>Walter Dhladhla/Getty</em>
Walter Dhladhla/Getty

A former US diplomat who was working as a spy for the CIA revealed that he was responsible for an apparent tip that led to Nelson Mandela’s 1962 arrest.

The Sunday Times revealed that Donald Rickard, who served as the US vice-consul in Durban and was a CIA operative, admitted to providing the intelligence that resulted in Mr Mandela’s capture during a taped interview with British filmmaker John Irvin.

Mr Rickard said that Mr Mandela was considered “the world’s most dangerous communist outside of the Soviet Union” and was about to incite a rebellion against the apartheid regime, opening the door for Soviet intervention.

“If the Soviets had come in force, the United States would have had to get involved, and things could have gone to hell,” Mr Rickard said.

“We were teetering on the brink here and it had to be stopped, which meant Mandela had to be stopped. And I put a stop to it.”

When Mr Mandela was captured, he was disguised as a chauffeur in Durban.

Mr Rickard reportedly died two weeks after making the bombshell admission.

The revelation has prompted calls for the CIA to release more information about their involvement in Mr Mandela’s arrest, as well as their relationship with the apartheid government.

“Mandela’s early capture certainly hindered the struggle against apartheid,” said Ronnie Kasrils, a senior official of the African National Congress, who had worked with Mr Mandela prior to his arrest. “It is clear that the regime and its spooks worked hand in glove with the CIA. The CIA needs to come clean on what happened.”

Nelson Mandela gives a speech in the early 1960s (2003 Getty Images)

After his arrest, Mr Mandela, who was elected to be South Africa’s first black president, served almost 28 years in prison for his efforts to rebel against white minority rule in the country. He repeatedly denied claims that he was a communist.

At the time of Mr Mandela’s August 1962 arrest, the Cold War between the US and Soviet Union was at its height. The CIA had eyes on various regions of the globe where they saw communism as a growing threat, including Cuba, East Germany, China, and Vietnam.

That same month, CIA briefings - released in September - revealed that government officials were first receiving notice of what would later become the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“Eleven Soviet merchant ships are on their way to Havana and we strongly suspect they are carrying arms,” one briefing reads. “Such a delivery would not be far short of the total amount of Arms delivered in the first half of 1962.”

The US intelligence community regarded communism as the biggest threat to democracy at the time, and believed that any spread of Soviet power would compromise the country’s safety.

Because of this, US President Ronald Reagan had placed the ANC on a terrorism watch list in the 1980s - and Mr Mandela required special permission to visit the US during and after his 1994 to 1999 presidency.

He was finally removed from the list in 2008.

“It’s frankly a rather embarrassing matter,” then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had said.

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