Did JFK try to rein in the CIA after Mandela’s arrest?

Nelson Mandela with members of the Kennedy family at the JFK Library in 1990.

In the wake of Nelson Mandela’s passing, the story that the CIA played a role in his arrest in August 1962 has made news from Washington to London to Moscow.

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.)


32 thoughts on “Did JFK try to rein in the CIA after Mandela’s arrest?”

  1. I have a book called “South Africa: A Modern History” by T.R.H. Davenport (1987) – 600 pages, and it doesn’t even mention JFK in the index. RFK and Ted Kennedy are each listed once.

    Mandela’s arrest wasn’t even a huge news item in the Western world at the time. In the Britannica Book of the Year for 1962 there is no mention of him. There is a brief mention of his arrest in the Colliers Encyclopedia Yearbook for 1962. So I doubt there are any public statements by JFK about him.

    1. Funny how this original question of whether JFK “had even heard of” Mandela, has been watered down to: are there any quotes of JFK mentioning Mandela in public?

      And God forbid that any President’s perceptions of the relative threats to global security should ever evolve after serving a few years in office!

  2. @Photon, it’s inconceivable that JFK would not have known about educated lawyer troublemaker Nelson Mandela let alone Oliver Tambo the leader of the ANC at the time. Anglo-American Corporation, British-American Tobacco, Rothschilds, Oppenheimers, J.P Morgan who run the country and its vast minerals count on CIA support and would definitely have known about him. Plus the SANDF and US military had too much cooperation at the time. Mandela is one of the original big terrorists. The fact that there were no public statements does not mean there was no knowledge, focus or action; as shown, the CIA was very active with a plant deep in the ANC, so for them to help capture him means that he was very well known to the US and that would include the President. Afrikans do not love JFK with exception for nothing, if a black or Afrikan man ever had a friend, it was the Kennedys, from JFK all the way Teddy.

    1. See above. JFK considered Hendrik Verwoerd any ally- he was able to ignore the domestic policies of the Nationalist Party as long as they were a force against Communism.
      I know that doesn’t fit the myth, but unfortunately it fits with the facts.
      It was a different time.

      1. DiEugenio quotes from a prescient speech Kennedy gave during the 1956 presidential campaign: “The Afro-Asian revolution of nationalism, the revolt against colonialism, the determination of people to control their national destinies. … In my opinion, the tragic failure of both Republican and Democratic administrations since World War II to comprehend the nature of this revolution, and its potentialities for good and evil, had reaped a bitter harvest today — and it is by rights and by necessity a major foreign policy campaign issue that has nothing to do with anti-communism.”
        Given that this was JFK’s (very progressive and forward-looking) opinion back in 1956, it strains credulity to “doubt that JFK had even heard of Mandela”, when JFK as President held the ultimate office and would be kept up to date by his advisors, the CIA and other US agencies, as to what was going on in South Africa in the early ’60s.
        JFK may have had to sound hawkish from time to time to play to the JCS and certain domestic groups, but overall, in the long run of history, his most important remarks clearly point to him pursuing goals of peace, disarmament and human rights, in the US and the world, rather than continuing to engage in the zero-sum politics of fear and war. If only he had not been cut down before he could fully pursue them in a second term.

        1. And 2 years before JFK was one of the strongest supporters of the aims and methods of Joe McCarthy.
          Funny, as he began running for higher office that rhetoric evaporated completely.
          Any JFK quotes on Sharpeville?

  3. South Africa looked very stable in the early 1960s, so I doubt JFK would have had reason to spend any time worrying about it. There was too much else going on.

    1. The George Lardner article reports that a State Department official sought guidance from higher authorities as to further tip offs to the South Africans. This reminds me that Arthur Schlesinger in “A Thousand Days” wrote that President Kennedy elevated the State Department’s role over that of CIA. JFK instructed that Ambassadors be in charge of all activities of US personnel in their countries, including CIA (excepting military personnel under a regional commander).

    1. So please supply us with some facts. You never do. Prove that JFK was completely unaware of what was going on in South Africa in those days. He was in fact quite interested in Africa, as witnessed by his support for Lumumba and for the Algerian independence movement. The Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 had made South Africa and the apartheid system notorious worldwide. Back up your assertions for once. And for once you won’t be able to spout Warren Commission “findings” as if they’re Holy Writ.

      1. I don’t think Photon’s (aka Paul May, Cindy Targus etc. see reference here:
        http://jfkmurdersolved.com/jfklancer.htm) job is to supply facts. His job is to throw doubt into the debate whenever and wherever the Warren Commission (aka CIA) findings on JFK’s assassination come into real doubt. In the rare moments when he is completely defeated in an argument (such as when I pointed out that Clint Hill gave testimony about Jackie Kennedy climbing onto the back of the car to retrieve a portion of JFK’s skull and that brain matter and blood was spattered all across the back of the limousine), Photon is silent. Another time he never answered back was when I carefully pointed out that Senator Barry Goldwater did leave Washington, D.C. during the October crisis in the Middle East, in 1973. Photon said he hadn’t. I pointed out that Barry appeared on the Dean Martin Show that month. Again, silence.

        It seems to me that “Photon” is taking a page in Lone Nutter tactics from John McAdams. To do this, you smear, smear, smear anyone (Mark Lane, Robert Groden) who brings up information contrary to the Official Warren Commission Report. It’s not an objective exchange of ideas that these people want. Their job seems to be to sow dissent and confusion, like a kind of internet “Operation Mongoose” guerrilla fight. It works when it drives thoughtful people away, people who might contribute really valuable insight or information about the case.

        1. Well, you caught me.
          As I previously stated despite Mr. Hill’s gentlemanly comments the Zapruder film reveals no evidence of debris on the trunk of the limo nor is there any record of similar debris noted on the trunk after it reached Parkland.
          I don’t recall you ever stating what date the Goldwater Dean Martin appearance was taped, nor if there was any evidence that he was in Arizona on the dates that he supposedly attended a political opponent’s meeting and revealed his views on JFK to an air conditioner repairman. Perhaps you can also amplify your training in Radiology that makes you an expert in reading cranial X-ray films and finding things not appreciated by board-certified radiologists, as you did a week ago.
          You want facts, but when I post well documented facts about Mr. Lane’s association with Jim Jones ( from the New York Times) you think it is a smear. As far a Groden goes even Jeff has found him to be a phony- did you read his latest number of shots?
          I do post facts, but you simply can’t accept them. I said that I doubted that JFK even knew who Mandela was, and yet I am supposed to prove a negative when there isn’t any evidence to support the opposite assertation that he did know of him.Why would he? At that time South Africa was a stable friendly country considered a bulwark against Communism in Africa, a valuable Cold War ally and source of support during the mess in the Congo. If you can find any evidence that JFK ever referred to the U. Of S.A. outside of diplomatic reports please feel free to post it. It certainly was not an issue of priority in 1963.

          1. Arthur Schlesinger’s “A Thousand Days” contains several pages on President Kennedy’s actions on South African policy matters. Schlesinger credits JFK with coming up with the idea of challenging the South Africans to abandon apartheid if they wished to buy weapons from the US. Kennedy cut off weapons sales to South Africa as a result.

          2. As Dean would have said, “I’ll drink to that!”

            Barry Goldwater appeared on the Dean Martin Show, October of ’73, air date 25 October.

            Clint Hill wasn’t just being “gentlemanly” — he was stating what he saw for the historical record. Even if he mouthed the WC party line about there being only one shooter (he wasn’t looking the whole time that direction), he said that he saw JFK’s head blasted out from the rear. He, like Hargis, the motorcycle cop, said they saw brain and bloody gore splatter the back of the limo. Hill said Jackie was reaching for a piece of JFK’s skull, the piece that didn’t end up on the grass median strip across the street to the back incidentally. The other two pieces fell back into the limousine. It’s not my fault that somebody from the SS took a bucket of water and a towel and washed the limousine at Parkland, thus tampering with evidence in a crime scene. I try to post facts, but you ignore them unless they fit into your politically correct, “bend over so I can have some more please” Warren Commission agenda. That’s not my fault. I just try to show where I see major flaws. It’s up to you to be logical and respond in kind. If you can’t do so, I can’t control that.

          3. The Martin shows were taped .those dates were not the same as the air dates. I think that you will find that the cleaning mentioned at Parkland involved the interior of the limo, not the trunk or outside. Be that as it may the presence of blood on the trunk would not be very significant anyway, as the limo had slowed down nearly to a stop at the time of the headshot, then accelerated forward as the aerosolized blood cloud settled down toward the ground. But there really is no evidence of particulate matter on the trunk in any Zapruder close ups .

          4. As the butterfly scientist carefully explains to the uninitiated, it wasn’t “an aerosol cloud” but splatter of brain and blood (liquid AND tissue) which hit Bobby Hargis’ motorcycle (he was riding behind the car not alongside or in front). Also, it was Clint Hill’s recollection that material was scattered behind. The splatter happened BEFORE the car accelerated, as did JFK’s head snap back and to the left.

          5. You want facts?
            Bobby Hargis, Aug. 7,1968 “…And when he got hit all that stuff went like this, and of course I RUN THROUGH IT.”
            1995 interview Clint Bradford: “…It splashed up, and I RAN INTO all that brain matter and all that. It came up and down, all over my uniform.”
            1998 “Texas Monthly” interview: “…blood and stuff had all come over and hit me AS I RODE THROUGH IT.”
            That most certainly describes an aerosolized cloud; three times over 30 years Hargis has described riding through the debris, not being struck by matter being forced to the rear.
            I am still waiting for the date of taping of that Dean Martin Roast with Goldwater that supposedly proves he was out of D.C. In Oct 1973. Without that date your evidence is worthless, it could have been taped months before.

          6. The Bobby Hargis testimony that you cite doesn’t refute anything. It confirms that material was sprayed (from the shot that hit JFK in the front of his head, blasting material out in back) onto Hargis as he so grammatically stated: “run through it.” Clint Hill testified numerous times (I gave you the reference in our previous exchange a while back) that there was blood and bits of brain tissue all over the back of the limousine, and that Mrs. Kennedy was trying to grab a piece of her husband’s skull that was on the rear trunk of the car.

            Goldwater stated himself in his journal for 1973 that he was in Arizona and not in Washington for at least one weekend of October of that year. The reference I cite can be found on page 192 of “Pure Goldwater” by John Dean and Barry’s son. Here is the late Senator’s journal entry that proves my case:

            “Looking ahead, I will be in Phoenix on the weekend of October the 25th and probably will be with you the weekend preceding that; I am not certain yet but fairly so….”

            -Barry Goldwater’s journal entry

          7. JSA seems fixated on an unsubstantiated claim that Barry Goldwater told somebody he had never met before that LBJ killed JFK, something that he never said to anybody else. The meeting supposedly took place in Willcox, Arizona in Oct ! 1973.
            He can’t prove that Goldwater taped a Dean Martin show in October that aired around Oct 25, so now he claims that Goldwater stated that he was in Arizona for at least one weekend of the year, Oct 25.
            The problem is that Goldwater wrote that on Sept 15, 1973 and stated that he WOULD BE in Phoenix that date. BUT-
            On Oct 10 his good friend “Ted” Agnew resigned from the Vice Presidency, setting up a potential succession crises in the middle of Watergate.
            On Oct. 20 Nixon executed the “Saturday Night Massacre”, leading to immediate calls for impeachment requiring Goldwater’s presence in D.C. As a member of the Senate leadership. There is no evidence that Goldwater left Washington during this period of political crisis in Oct. 1973. JSA has failed to provide ANY evidence to the contrary and there is no confirmation whatsoever in the book he quotes that actually confirms that Goldwater ever left the D.C. area, let alone traveled to Arizona. The Arizona air conditioner repairman’s story is a hoax.

        2. JSA, Everyone who reads conspiracy books has heard about Hill’s comment on brain matter on the hood and Hargis’s testimony, but did you know about the large amount of debris that went forward, raining down on the Connallys, the men in the front seats, the windshield, and even the hood of the limousine? Anybody mention that?

          1. Yes, Donald Thomas, among others, does mention debris falling in front or up and back into the car in front. There’s an explanation for this. When Kennedy is hit in frame #313 of the Zapruder film, along with the backward movement of the head there was a thrust of bone, blood and brain matter backward and to the left. But in the frame of the film, viewable here:
            one can see in low resolution blurred form the almost vertical, forward from the top of the head trajectories of two pieces of the skull. One of these was found inside the car at Parkland by a SS agent. As Thomas explains (and he carefully debunks Alvarez’s flawed melon ‘jet effect’ tests which didn’t match human skulls for proper density), in forensic pathology the phenomenon shown happening to JFK (matched by the xrays from Bethesda) is known as a ‘Kronlein Schuss’. Thomas elaborates (p. 351 of “Hear No Evil”):
            “The bullet which traversed the President’s head caused the entire calvarium to rupture with a burst of brain fluid and macerated brain tissue through the upper right side; shards of bone lacerating the scalp as they egressed. In this regard the President suffered a typical Kronlein Schuss.”

            In the conclusion to this particular chapter, The Rearward Head Snap, Thomas adds the following:
            “All of the{se] alternative explanations were offered for the purpose of explaining away the obvious reason for the head snap, and all suffer, not only from implausibility, but from a failure to fit the evidence. Along with the backward movement of the head there was a thrust of bone, blood and brain matter backward and to the left. None of the alternative theories explain this fact. The medical evidence indicates a passage of a bullet through the head from front to back, not back to front, as the autopsy doctors had concluded. A substantial portion of Dealey Plaza witnesses believed that there was a gunshot from the grassy knoll, an area in front of the President’s position. The terminal ballistic evidence is in ample accord with the impressions of those witnesses.” (p. 370)

          2. I get the feeling that Thomas mentioned the skull fragment found in the front of the car, but not the brain matter that fell on the other passengers. Is that so?

            “Kronlein Schuss” is apparently the same thing as the “temporary cavity” that forms in the skull when a bullet passes through it, creating pressure that makes it explode (as described, e.g., in Larry Sturdivan’s HSCA testimony). The debris went in all directions, but the larger intact pieces went forward — that’s visible in Z313.

            Thomas says,”The medical evidence indicates a passage of a bullet through the head from front to back,” but even Dr. Cyril Wecht has never claimed that the medical evidence indicates that, so far as I know.

          3. Thomas has absolutely no idea what he is talking about. The Kronlein shot is a very rare total eviceration of the brain, which obviously did not happen. Thomas has never seen an autopsy and is completely incompetent to make any judgements on wound tragejtories, kinematics, photographic interpretation or acoustic evidence- all of which he has gotten wrong.
            Ever find any more evidence that Goldwater left D.C. In Oct 1973.?
            Can you give us some more post-war testimony from the admiral who planned Pearl Harbor?
            How about some documentation for your expertise in Radiology?
            It would be of benefit to your arguments to stop posting easily refutable falsehoods and to refer to “experts” who know little about what they claim to be so knowledgable about.

          4. If I may be given a chance to respond:

            Thomas mentions the skull fragment found on the south curb of Elm Street which had to have been blasted out backwards and on the left side to get where it was. -Response to Jean’s question.

            To Photon: Please, READ THE BOOK before you attack it. It’s easy to smear other people, to attack them so they will hopefully give up and go away. But to actually critique another person’s viewpoint, you have to read what they publish. Otherwise, you’re attacking phantoms. Besides smearing Thomas’ academic credentials, let’s hear WHY you think his theories (after you have READ THEM) don’t make sense to you.
            Until you read the book, nobody except those who have already signed on the Lone Nutter Buff status will take you seriously.

            Jean: Thank you for keeping your argument civil. I respect that.

          5. JSA,
            Again Thomas is misleading because he gives you only half of the story. Harper himself marked the location of the skull fragment on a researcher’s diagram several years ago:


            Also shown on Don Roberdeau’s map:


            A group of men gathered at the curb near this location, looking at something on the ground.


            In the 1960s, when Garrison claimed that Deputy Sheriff Walthers (dark fedora) had picked up a bullet there, Walthers denied it and said he’d instead picked up a piece of bone. Both these locations are in front of the limousine at Z313.

        1. Once again, you make a dubious proclamation, and when challenged, fail to support it. Photon, so often wrong, but never in doubt.

          1. What dubious proclamation? After 24 hours I still haven’t seen any evidence of any public statements by JFK exhibiting any interest whatsoever in South Africa. Despite what Schlesinger wrote there was no significant market in South Africa for American arms-the country had rather firm relationships with French, British and later Israeli armament sources.

      2. Perhaps I was mistaken in assuming that JFK had little interest in South Africa. A review of Alex Thomson’s book ” United States Policy Toward Apartheid South Africa 1948-1994″ suggests an interest and point of view at odds with the above hypothesis. As noted on page 43 JFK was very interested in maintaining good relationships with South Africa in the wake of it leaving the Commonwealth, perhaps replacing Britain as its major political supporter. In March of 1963 South Africa approached the Kennedy administration about purchasing 2 or 3 submarines. Initial response was POSITIVE. JFK ” replied that it helped that such vessels could not be used directly in enforcement of Apartheid.” Kennedy consequently approved the sale. A voluntary embargo against arm sales DID NOT apply to ” national security issues”, opening up plans to sell anti-submarine aircraft and spare parts for previously purchased planes. Final decisions were to be postponed until 1964, but most indications were that JFK would have approved the plans had he not been assassinated.
        During this time the Kennedy administration was actively supporting the South African nuclear program, which of course was pursuing “peaceful use of nuclear power” which ultimately led to a nuclear-capable South Africa by the 1980s
        So JFK was actively pursuing plans to increase the military capabilities of the South African Apartheid government. As he saw South Africa as a vital part of the Cold War defense against Soviet expansion if he was even aware of the Mandela arrest it is extremely doubtful that he would have objected.
        Those are the facts, as unpalatable as they may be.

  4. Robert Kennedy visited South Africa in the sixties, after JFK’s death. I think he stood up early against apartheid. I remember Reagan was against sanctions against the South Afrikan regime of Botha. Back in the seventies and eighties it was the “liberals” who supported blocking South Africa. It would have been interesting if JFK had lived to run and get elected to a second term. We might have seen detente with Cuba and some moves to push for ending apartheid in South Africa.

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