I wonder what President Kennedy thought?
The claim of CIA involvement was first made in a wire service story at the time, according to a 1990 New York Times story. In his autobiography, Mandela attributed his arrest to his own mistakes. “I cannot lay my capture at [the CIA’s] door,” he wrote.
I ask about JFK’s reaction because the Times story noted the firm response of “higher authorities” in Washington to the report of CIA involvement in Mandela’s arrest
From the Times:
“A retired South African intelligence official, Gerard Ludi, was quoted in the report as saying that at the time of Mr. Mandela’s capture, the CIA had put an undercover agent into the inner circle of the African National Congress group in Durban.”
“That agent provided the intelligence service with detailed accounts of the organization’s activities, including information on the whereabouts of Mr. Mandela, then being sought as a fugitive for his anti-apartheid activities.”
“The morning after a secret dinner party with other congress members in Durban, Mr. Mandela, dressed as a chauffeur, ran into a roadblock. He was immediately recognized and arrested.”
“The retired official said that because of concern over the propriety of the CIA.’s actions in the Mandela case, ‘‘higher authorities” required that the State Department approve any similar operations in the future [emphasis added]. The report said the State Department refused on at least three occasions to allow the agency to provide South African officials with information about other dissidents.”
What did JFK think?
In the bureaucratic lingo of the CIA, “Higher Authority” is a euphemism for the President. Whether the retired official was referring to the Kennedy White House is not known, but the language is suggestive.
Did JFK seek to protect Mandela’s comrades from arrest after Mandela was captured?
I don’t know the answer to that question. But as independent scholar Jim DiEugenio recently detailed in Consortium News, Kennedy openly supported Third World nationalist leaders like Mandela at a time when most U.S. military and intelligence officials were hostile.
I’m wondering if any scholars of Mandela’s life or Kennedy’s Africa policy can shed light on JFK’s reaction to Mandela’s arrest.
If so, drop me a line. All replies are subject to public quotation unless otherwise specified.
(The photo of Mandela and the Kennedy family is from the National Archives Our Presidents Tumblr.)