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This past week the Sunday Times in South Africa, and various other news agencies, reported on interviews with a dying CIA operative, Donald Rickard, who acknowledged the agency’s involvement in the arrest of Nelson Mandela that facilitated South Africa’s first democratically elected president’s 28 years of incarceration. So what’s the surprise?
West Africans and southern Africans alike always assumed both CIA and KGB presence in colonial Africa. There was a common joke saying that if you dropped in at hotel happy hour in Luanda, Lusaka, or Maputo you could identify both the Americans and Russians. People even had memories of KGB and CIA operatives sharing tables.
While I can’t corroborate the last assertion, I can affirm that the hundreds of South African struggle veterans that I have interviewed believed that both South Africa’s Special Branch and the United States’ CIA were ever present. In fact, some of the individuals I interviewed, in spite of the assurances of leaders in the struggle, believed that I had to have Central Intelligence Agency ties because I had come to South Africa on a Fulbright in 1999.
But back to the CIA and Nelson Mandela. Throughout my research for Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War against Apartheid I never came across the name Donald Rickard. In 1958, Ruth and Joe hosted a party that celebrated acquittals in the infamous Treason Trial. Many of the individuals who the state had charged attended and like all of the First/Slovo parties, it was a multiracial affair. Mandela did not come to the party as his presence was deemed as dangerous.
In fact, according to Mandela’s biographer, Anthony Sampson, the CIA agent who four years later tipped off the South African Special Branch leading to Mandela’s arrest, Millard Shirley, was at the party. Shirley presumably died in an automobile crash in Switzerland in 1990. Newsweek reported on his CIA work in South Africa in the 1980s and even the Truth and Reconciliation Commission probed his part in Mandela’s arrest.
This isn’t a new story. Like the fuzziness surrounding the intricacies of Shirley’s involvement, the Rickard interview is no less obtuse. It is hard to get a definitive portrayal of CIA-Special Branch collaboration in Madiba’s arrest. But of course we shouldn’t be surprised. The record of CIA intrusions throughout the world is well documented and not in question. The ANC underground always assumed CIA presence.
Obviously, Donald Rickard is no Snowden and present ANC calls for CIA transparency regarding Mandela’s arrest will fall on deaf ears. However, if nothing else, we have another example of Amerika’s political/corporate continuing insidious covert attempts to rule the world.