CIA May Have Helped South Africa Arrest Mandela, Report Suggests

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A new investigative report suggests that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) may have had a hand in the 1962 arrest of South African anti-apartheid activist and politician Nelson Mandela.

New details about CIA’s possible role in Mandela’s arrest came to light as Richard Stengel, a former Time editor who ghostwrote Mandela’s 1994 autobiography, reviewed previous taped interviews with the late South African president in preparation for his upcoming podcast, “Mandela: The Lost Tapes,” Axios reported.

When Mandela was arrested in 1962 after two years as a fugitive from South Africa’s apartheid government, the arresting police officer immediately knew who Mandela and his driver were, despite the fact that they had reportedly given the officer aliases. Mandela told Stengel during a 1993 interview that it was rumored the police were tipped off by an American consul with CIA connections, Stengel revealed in a Time article published Monday.

That rumor seemed to be corroborated by an article printed in the Johannesburg Star in 1986 that quoted a “retired senior police officer,” who admitted that police got their information from an American diplomat at the U.S. consulate in Durban who was “the CIA operative for that region,” Stengel stated in TIME.  Four years later, the Atlanta Journal Constitution quoted a “retired [American] intelligence official” who stated that a senior CIA operative named Paul Eckel informed him of Mandela’s arrest hours after it occurred, reportedly admitting the CIA’s involvement, Stengel wrote.

“We have turned Mandela over to the South African security branch. We gave them every detail, what he would be wearing, the time of day, just where he would be. They have picked him up. It is one of our greatest coups,” Eckel allegedly stated, according to Time.

In 2016, a retired CIA officer named Donald Rickard also alluded to CIA involvement in Mandela’s capture in an interview with British filmmaker John Irvin for his film “Mandela’s Gun,” Stengel wrote.  According to Rickard, “Mandela was completely under control of the Soviet Union,” and there were fears he was going to incite a war in South Africa that the United States would be forced to become involved in. “We were teetering on the brink here and it had to be stopped, which meant Mandela had to be stopped. And I put a stop to it,” Rickard stated, according to Time.

In 2017, the CIA declassified documents in response to a general Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request regarding apartheid in South Africa around the time of Mandela’s arrest. In those files, Mandela is listed as a “probable communist” with “ample funds at his disposal,” Stengel reported in Time.

Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years before his release in 1990 and later served as South Africa’s first post-apartheid president in 1994.

In the 1993 interview Mandela said he had no evidence to support rumors that the CIA was involved in his arrest, but Stengel decided to dig further. In 2021, Stengel submitted detailed FOIA requests to the CIA in an attempt to confirm or deny the reports once and for all. In response, the CIA informed him they were unable to “confirm or deny” the existence of any records relating to Mandela or any of his aliases between 1957 and 1963 or any reports to or generated by Donald Rickard that mentioned Mandela. (RELATED: ‘If They’re Able To Keep Sh*t From Us’: Rogan Says JFK Files ‘Must Be Bad’)

If the CIA was involved in the arrest of Mandela, it would have come at a time when the Kennedy administration was actively working to fight segregation in the United States, Stengel noted in Time. “I believe that one of America’s values, particularly in this struggle against authoritarianism, is that America is transparent about its past, that we try to repair the breach,” Stengel told Axios.