Mandela Shrugged Off Rumors of CIA Betrayal

Richard Stengel of 'Time' explores the idea that a US operative got him arrested in 1962
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 27, 2023 10:45 AM CST
Mandela Shrugged Off Rumors of CIA Betrayal
In this 2007 photo, former South African President Nelson Mandela is photographed at the Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg.   (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)

In 1962, Nelson Mandela "was South Africa's most wanted man," writes Richard Stengel in Time. The African National Congress leader had spent years underground, but in August of that year, South African police arrested him pretty easily by pulling over the car he was riding in while disguised. How did they know? Over the years, speculation has surfaced that the CIA had been tracking Mandela and tipped off the South African government. In fact, a dying CIA officer named Donald Rickard told a filmmaker in 2016 that he was the person who did so. No CIA connection has ever been confirmed, and Stengel has set out to do so. As part of his story, which previews a new podcast on the subject, he dug up tapes of interviews he conducted with Mandela in 1993 in which he asked Mandela about the CIA rumors.

"They said it was an American consul or something like that," Mandela says of the tip to police. The late South African president confirmed that he had heard stories about a CIA role but added, "I have no evidence either way." He also said he never bothered to follow up. "The truth is, he just didn't really care," writes Stengel. But Stengel argues that it matters today. He runs through all the background and reveals for the first time that the CIA had labeled Mandela a "probable Communist" (this was in the midst of the Cold War) and appears to have tracked his movements outside South Africa. Stengel also talks to current and former intel officials who think a CIA tipoff was plausible. The CIA declined to provide definitive answers to Stengel's Freedom of Information Act requests, but the evidence appears to be stacking up. Read the full story. (More Longform stories.)

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