Former South African President Nelson Mandela recently announced that he was retiring from public life. And Mandela will not be among the foreign dignitaries attending services for Ronald Reagan. After all, Mandela was languishing in a South African prison throughout the duration of Reagan's presidency.
But this history has been effectively re-written in the US.
The dominant view is that the US was on the right side in South Africa, that it opposed apartheid.
Nothing could be further from the truth
But nothing could be further from the truth, particularly when Reagan was president. Reagan labeled Mandela's African National Congress a notorious terrorist organization, while continuing Washington's support for the apartheid regime.
In 1981, Reagan explained to CBS that he was loyal to the South African regime because it was "a country that has stood by us in every war we've ever fought, a country that, strategically, is essential to the free world in its production of minerals."
But even as the majority of the American people came to oppose South Africa's apartheid regime, Reagan stood by his friend.
African American leaders and organizations pressured Congress to take action and ultimately it passed sanctions against South Africa.
True to form, Reagan vetoed the bill.
But to Reagan's shame, Congress overrode the veto.
Today, we are going to look at Reagan's support for apartheid South Africa with one of the victim's of that regime-Father Michael Lapsley.
Highly sophisticated bomb
In 1990, three months after the release of Nelson Mandela, the De Klerk Government sent Father Lapsley a package containing two magazines. Inside one of them was a highly sophisticated bomb.
When Lapsley opened the magazine, the explosion brought down ceilings in the house and blew a hole in the floors and shattered windows. It also blew off both of the priest's hands, blew out one of his eyes and burned him severely.
He flew in from South Africa last night and now joins us in our firehouse studio.
We speak with South African activist Father Michael Lapsley who lost his hands, one eye and was burned severely in an assassination attempt under the De Klerk government. How did you survive? Most people did not think you were alive after you opened that magazine.
Well, I think it was a miracle to survive. Clearly it was a bomb that was supposed to kill not simply to damage. I suppose that in a way it was my faith saw me through, and somehow I even experienced God being with me in that experience of being bombed.
But of course it was a long journey personally coming to terms with having no hands.
I wanted to talk to you about those years as we wrap up our week, remembering the dead, as we look at the history of the Reagan years. And then to end by talking about restorative justice, and issue that you take around the world. Can you talk about those years: 1981 to 1989 in South Africa.
Yes, I think it's good to think about what South Africa was like inside the country as well as what was happening in the front line states at that time.
During those years there were two states of emergency. Vast numbers of people were imprisoned. It was during those years - and this is a salient point for people in this country at this time - torture became normative, became a principle weapon used by the Apartheid regime.
Against people, particularly against black children during that period.
It was also a period where there were a vast number of people on death row in South Africa. Every Thursday up to seven people at a time were executed.
But it was also a time when the Apartheid regime was on a rampage against the front-line states. Attacking Botswana, Lesuto, [Lesotho as called inside the country], Mozambique, Zimbabwe. There were a number of massacres of refugees that took place. It was also a time of civil war in Angola and it was the Reagan administration that was supporting Unita bandits in Angola and fermenting war.
And it was very clear to the people of South Africa during those years that whilst there were a vast number of ordinary people in the United States, particularly Africa Americans who stood with us, the Reagan administration was on the side of Apartheid, and it was Reagan and Thatcher who were giving succour to the Apartheid regime.
And in a sense prolonging out struggle. More people had to die in South Africa because of the support that came from Western government, particularly from Washington and London at that period.
Ummm. What about this quote from former President Reagan talking about the Apartheid regime as quote "A country that stood by us in every war we've ever fought. A country that strategically is essential to the free world and its production of minerals."
I think the interesting thing about that comment is that is focuses upon profit. It doesn't focus on what happens to people.
And of course, remembering that regime that Reagan was supporting, was a regime in which the majority of the people were voteless. The majority of the people had no legitimate way of removing an illegitimate regime.
This was a time in the United States in its policy towards South Africa when the term was coined "constructive engagement."
And it was constructive for death. That's the real point. It was not constructive with the people of South Africa, who were living and dying for basic fundamental human rights. Rights that people all over the world take for granted.
That we had to die in great numbers to achieve. Simply the right to go to the poles to choose a government for ourselves.
What difference did it make what role the US played within South Africa or in the front-line states?
Well, the African National Congress of South Africa, leading the struggle in South Africa, was saying to the world: "We will free South Africa. We ask the world to be in solidarity with us."
So the role the international community had to play was to shorten that struggle. To mean that we would die less. And so in a way the support, the economic support to Apartheid, meant the struggle lasted longer. It took us longer to achieve those fundamental rights. To achieve democratic freedoms.
You focus on restorative justice. Before I talk about that, have you even learned who it was that put this, was it plastique? in the magazine.
It was some kind of substance certainly that caused that explosion. I don't know who individually was responsible. I know that deKlerk was politically and morally responsible
Where were you when this happened?
I was in Harare, Zimbabwe. The point was the death squads, even though negotiations were about to begin, they were still in operation. And the Apartheid regime said, "We will talk." But they were still killing at night and so it was in that context that this letter bomb went off.
And it's also worth saying that "Yes, I was a militant of the African National Congress." But you know the only automatic weapon I have ever used in my life is the one I am using now, my tongue. And the regime in their stupidity took away my hands, which I didn't need to shoot, and left my weapon working reasonably well.
How long did it take you to recover?
I was in hospital for about seven months. That's the physical journey, but there's another kind of journey of coming to terms with having no hands. But I was very fortunate in that my pain, and what happened to me, was acknowledged and recognized by people around the world. That enabled me to travel a journey from victim to survivor to victor.
And that's in a way why I do the work I do now. To seek to walk beside others who have not had their pain acknowledged. And I think one of the very wonderful things you are doing in this program today is not simply acknowledging Reagan. Every body is doing that, but you are acknowledging the poor of the world who suffered under Reagan.
And this great knowledge of what happened to unemployed, poor, homeless, African American, Hispanic people, but by this very program we are moving from knowledge to acknowledgment. I think that it itself is one step on the journey to healing.
Acknowledging what happened to the ordinary people in those years, and lifting up their stories, their pain, but also their faith and endurance and hope and commitment. In giving it its rightful place at this time.
We spent the week…we spoke with Noam Chomsky about Central America policy, Allan Nairn about what happened in Guatemala, the investigative journalist, about the more than hundred thousand Guatemalans who died during this period of the eighties with the US supporting the success of military regimes. We spoke with Fr. Miguel D'Escoto a former Foreign Minister of Nicaragua about the thousands of Nicaraguans who died with the US supporting the Contras. We talked about El Salvador, the tens of thousands of Salvadorian civilians who died there.
That's part of the acknowledgment. That's part of the journey to healing. Those stories are not forgotten, but the individual lives are recognized.
You are part of the whole truth and reconciliation process in South Africa led by Bishop Tutu. Did you testify before the commission?
Yes, I gave evidence to the commission, and whilst I have told my story many times, speaking to the commission was a very particular moral significance, because in a way I felt that my own story was becoming an indelible part of that great patchwork of the journey of the people of South Africa. And, in a way I would say, although I lost hands that I will always grieve for, the greatest privilege of my life was to be a part of perhaps the greatest struggle of the twentieth century, of the struggle against Apartheid.
What do you mean by 'Restorative Justice?'
Well it's interesting, when we say the word justice, in most countries, especially the United States, people mean retribution, or in fact sometimes they mean revenge. Restorative Justice asks a different kind of question. It doesn't say, 'How can the State punish the offender?' It says, 'How can we restore the relationships that have been broken?' And of course a country where you have two million of your citizens in prison? that's retributive justice at its worst. And of course the rampant use of the death penalty.
Restorative Justice seeks to restore relationships that have been broken. It seeks to provide opportunities where victim and offender can meet each other, and people can explore the journey they need to travel to make it up to those who have..
So for example if I were to meet the person who sent me the letter bomb, and they asked for my forgiveness, I would be happy to forgive them. And I would prefer that they spent their lives, for example working in a hospital, rather than be locked up in prison, but I might say to them, of course, you would also be willing to help assist me with my needs for the rest of my life as a form of restorative justice. A form of making it up in the ways that are possible.
So that is what I think I mean by restorative justice, which is a justice that gives hope, where often retributive justice simply continues cycles where victims become victimizers.
Steve Biko, the founder of the Black Consciousness Movement, who on another September 11th, September 11, 1977 was being beaten to death by US backed Apartheid forces, died in the early hours of September 12th, 1977, his family did not support just the idea of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and that if people came forward and they revealed what they had done, who was involved in Steve Biko's death, that that would be enough. That they should not be granted amnesty.
Of course I know Nkosinathi Biko, Steve Biko's son.
They were not opposed to the truth commission. They supported the truth commission, but they had very specific opposition to amnesty because they said it would violate their right to a form of justice.
The response of our constitutional court was to say however, if there were reparations it would be a form or restorative justice, and that was in fact what won the day.
Amnesty is a bitter pill to swallow, but the alternative to amnesty, in the South African context, was an escalating civil war that would have taken millions of lives.
So we did make a compromise, but it is a compromise that opened a democratic space for us to know struggle to a way to a more just society.
We have been speaking with Father Michael Lapsley, Director of The Institute of Healing of Memories.
If people want to get in touch with you where can they write.
The triple w. Healing of memories, one word
Thank you very much Father Michael Lapsley.The audio and video of this interview with Amy Goodman can be found at www.Democracynow.org
At their website, to find audio and video interviews, in search, type Lapsley