For decades, it was one of the enduring disputes of South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle.
Was Nelson Mandela, the leader of the African National Congress, really a secret Communist, as the white-only government of the time alleged?
Or, as he claimed during the infamous 1963 trial that saw him jailed for life, was it simply a smear to discredit him in a world riven by Cold War tensions?
Now, nearly half a century after the court case that made him the world’s best-known prisoner of conscience, a new book has claimed that whatever the wider injustice perpetrated, Mandela was indeed a Communist party member after all.
According to the Telegraph, Mandela, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, has always denied being a member of the South African branch of the movement, which mounted an armed campaign of guerrilla resistance along with the ANC.
But research by a British historian, Professor Stephen Ellis, has unearthed fresh evidence that during his early years as an activist, Mandela did hold senior rank in the South African Communist Party, or SACP, the report said.
He said that Mandela joined the SACP to enlist the help of the Communist superpowers for the ANC''s campaign of armed resistance to white rule, the report added.
According to the report, his book also provides fresh detail on how the ANC''s military wing had bomb-making lessons from the IRA, and intelligence training from the East German Stasi, which it used to carry out brutal interrogations of suspected ‘spies’ at secret prison camps.
Although Mandela appears to have joined the SACP more for their political connections than their ideas, his membership could have damaged his standing in the West had it been disclosed while he was still fighting to dismantle apartheid, the report said.
“Nelson Mandela''s reputation is based both on his ability to overcome personal animosities and to be magnanimous to all South Africans, white and black, and that is what impressed the world,” Professor Ellis, a former Amnesty International researcher who is based at the Free University of Amsterdam, said.
"But what this shows is that like any politician, he was prepared to make opportunistic alliances,” he said.
According to the report, Mandela made his denial of Communist Party membership in the opening statement of his Rivonia trial, when he and nine other ANC leaders were tried for 221 alleged acts of sabotage designed to overthrow the apartheid system.
London: Nearly 50 years after Nelson Mandela was first accused of being a Communist, a new book has claimed that he was a Communist party member after all.
First Published: Sunday, December 09, 2012, 14:27