Washington, DC –The House today passed legislation to erase a government-imposed stigma against membership in the African National Congress of South Africa. This bill, authored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard L. Berman (D-CA), will remove from U.S. databases any notation that would characterize the ANC and its leaders -- including Nobel Laureate and former South African President Nelson Mandela -- as terrorists.
“This long-overdue bill is the direct result of a stunning and, frankly, embarrassing story for the United States,” Berman noted. “Despite recognizing two decades ago that America’s place was on the side of those oppressed by Apartheid, Congress has never resolved the inconsistency in our immigration code that treats many of those who actively opposed Apartheid in South Africa as terrorists and criminals.”
For decades the ANC resisted Apartheid and advocated the rights of black South Africans – first through nonviolence and community activism, and then through the actions of its military wing. The South African government banned the ANC in 1960, and the United States denied entry to ANC members based on the group’s activities. With the end of Apartheid in 1990, the ANC grew to become the leading political party; it continues to lead South Africa in a multiracial, multiparty democracy.
“Astonishingly, while South Africa completed its monumental political transition, the U.S. position regarding entry for ANC’s leaders remained frozen in time,” Berman said. “Leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and Govan Mbeki – father of President Thabo Mbeki – were continually barred from entry to the U.S. and had to apply for special waivers to gain entry.”
Berman’s bill (H.R. 5690) effectively removes the stain of the “terrorist” label from the names of current and former African National Congress members. When the measure becomes law, ANC membership alone will no longer trigger additional investigation into an individual’s application for a visa to the United States. The legislation has the support of the State Department and is expected to have broad backing in the Senate. House co-sponsors are Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI), Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Africa Subcommittee Chairman Donald Payne (D-NJ), and Foreign Affairs Committee members Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), and Government Reform Committee member Peter Welch (D-VT).