The United States has removed former South African president Nelson Mandela and his African National Congress from a three-decade old immigration watch list for possible terrorists, the White House said Tuesday.
In time for the anti-apartheid leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner's 90th birthday on July 18, President George W. Bush signed a bill Tuesday which effectively ended a system in which Mandela had to get special certification from the US secretary of state that he is not a terrorist in order to visit the United States.
Now Mandela and members of the ANC will be able to simply apply for visas to travel to the United States, the State Department said.
"Today the United States finally has removed from its legal code a vestige of that time of collective insults against human dignity," said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman, one of the bill's supporters.
"The label of 'terrorist' will no longer be affixed to associates of the ANC -- among them one of the world's great heroes, Nelson Mandela. Our country stands with those who struggled to bring the reprehensible system of apartheid to an end," Berman said.
The measure authorizes US officials "to determine that provisions in the Immigration and Nationality Act that render aliens inadmissible due to terrorist or criminal activities would not apply with respect to activities undertaken in association with the African National Congress in opposition to apartheid rule in South Africa."
Mandela won the Nobel peace price in 1993, and was president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999.
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 US visa," said State Department spokesman Tom Casey.
He explained that the original purpose of the law, introduced during the 1980s while Ronald Reagan was president, was to fight terrorism. "So we're pleased that we could make this correction to what is otherwise a good and important piece of legislation," he said.
In April, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged a Senate committee to remove the restrictions on the ANC party, calling it a "rather embarrassing matter that I still have to waive in my own counterpart, the foreign minister of South Africa, not to mention the great leader Nelson Mandela."
When a similar bill passed the House of Representatives last month, Barbara Lee, a California Democrat who co-sponsored it, said she was "especially pleased we are taking this important step to finally right this inexcusable wrong."
Lee and others said the legislation was anachronistic and wrongfully labeled heroes and freedom fighters as terrorists.
Lee recalled that under the original legislation ANC officials could travel to United Nations headquarters in New York but not to Washington or other parts of the United States.
The United States has "moved closer at last to removing the great shame of dishonoring this great leader by including him on our government's terror watch list," Senator John Kerry said after the bill was passed in Congress Friday.
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