Nelson Mandela, perhaps the single most important and transformative figure of the last few decades on the world stage, has died at the age of 95. Now we will inevitably hear from conservatives in the United States how much they adored him as they pretend they didn’t do everything they could to support apartheid and thwart equality in South Africa. CBN News says:
Nelson Mandela, who became one of the world’s most beloved statesmen and a colossus of the 20th century when he emerged from 27 years in prison to negotiate an end to white minority rule in South Africa, has died. He was 95.
South African President Jacob Zuma made the announcement at a news conference late Thursday, saying “we’ve lost our greatest son.”
His death closed the final chapter in South Africa’s struggle to cast off apartheid, leaving the world with indelible memories of a man of astonishing grace and good humor.
Funny, that isn’t what the owner and founder of CBN, Pat Robertson, was saying when it actually mattered.
David John Marley notes in Pat Robertson: An American Life that Robertson criticized the ANC because it was “led by communists and was hostile to Israel” and “far too radical an element to ever work with,” while “his campaign literature made similar claims for the need to support the white government.”
The televangelist regularly spoke ill of Mandela’s group and his Christian Broadcasting Network ran segments critical of sanctions against the apartheid government as Congress debated sanctions.
In 1986 The 700 Club did a series of reports on South Africa and the white government’s struggle against the African National Congress. While many socially liberal religious leaders decried the apartheid regime, Robertson openly supported it because he felt that it was a bastion against communism. For Robertson, everything else was secondary to defeating what he saw as the enemies of God. Robertson sent a copy of The 700 Club program to Freedom Council’s Dick Thompson to have it forwarded to Pat Buchanan, who in turn promised to show it to the president. Reagan’s attitude toward South Africa was one of his most controversial foreign policy stands, and Robertson was one of Reagan’s few allies on the policy.
When it actually mattered, Mandela was a communist who must be stopped. Once he became perhaps the most popular figure in the entire world, suddenly Robertson loved Mandela. How convenient for him. And he’s hardly alone. The American right was in the tank for the white minority apartheid government of South Africa for decades. This is the longstanding pattern of conservatives, especially religious conservatives. With every great leap in human rights — ending slavery, giving women and blacks the right to vote, ending segregation, allowing interracial marriage and now equality for gays and lesbians — the religious right is bitterly opposed to the change. Then, after society has left their old views behind, they suddenly pretend they never had them.