Dignitaries from several countries and entertainment stars from all genres gathered in London on June 27 to wish former South African President Nelson Mandela a happy 90th birthday.
He was honored for the statesman he is and was given millions of dollars toward his fight against the spread of HIV and AIDS in his country.
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The big bash was held in England because that country loves him. Had it been thrown in the United States, there would have been a lot more paperwork and bureaucracy to wade through.
See, until Wednesday, six days ago, Mandela was on our terrorist list. He couldn't get a visa to visit this country without special dispensation from our Secretary of State.
Can you believe that?
Mandela and several others were placed on the list during the Nixon administration because of Mandela's leadership in, support of and association with the African National Congress.
The ANC was organized to fight apartheid, South Africa's system of legalized racial segregation.
Never mind that Mandela spent 27 years in prison for his fight against apartheid, an oppressive system of government that the United States tacitly supported.
Never mind that his work upon his release earned him a share of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
Never mind that he was the first black president of South Africa from 1994-1999.
He still had to ask, hat in hand, for permission to visit the United States.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the situation embarrassing when she discovered it in April. But removing the ANC from the list through State Department procedure would be painfully slow.
Members of Congress took up the standard, hoping to remove Mandela from the list before July 18, his 90th birthday, and before North Korea was removed.
The measure ensures ”that there aren't any extra hoops for either a distinguished individual, like former President Mandela, or other members of the African National Congress to get a U.S. visa,“ said State Department spokesman Tom Casey.
President Bush signed the bill Wednesday which gives the State Department and the Homeland Security Department the authority to waive restrictions against ANC members.
From 1948 until 1994, South Africa's white-ruled National Party enforced apartheid harshly. It called the ANC members terrorists, and they were definitely left of center and they didn't go away quietly.
The United States went along with that label, despite the assassinations of several ANC members and the life imprisonment of others.
No one can explain why the ANC was listed and the government of South Africa was not.
In 1990, apartheid's dismantling began. President F.W. de Klerk, with whom Mandela shared the Nobel Peace Prize, removed the ban against the ANC, allowing Mandela and other members who had been imprisoned or banished to be freed or allowed to return to South Africa.
Members soon gained political power, and the ANC has been the ruling party of South Africa since Mandela's election to the presidency in 1994.
The world recognized the leadership of the ANC. The world saw the extra effort Mandela made to include everyone in the process.
The world saw a great leader.
But the United States still demanded he and others jump through hoops. Mandela last visited the United States in 2005. Why didn't someone notice the silliness then?
According to one report, last year, Barbara Masekela, South Africa's ambassador to the United States from 2002 to 2006, was denied a visa to visit her dying cousin.
The waiver finally came, but by then the cousin had died.
Maybe folks in the State Department need to recheck that list to find other questionable entries.
They have, after all, announced the removal of North Korea from the list, a country that is a far greater threat to America.
Still, a wrong has been righted, thanks to Rice and members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
We must be grateful for that, I guess.
But shouldn't we be getting tired of saying ”better late than never“?