Gingrich: Reagan was 'Absolutely Committed' to Ending Apartheid

Image: Gingrich: Reagan was 'Absolutely Committed' to Ending Apartheid

Wednesday, 11 Dec 2013 10:36 AM

By Lisa Barron

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In the wake of Nelson Mandela's death, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is striking out at critics of Ronald Reagan's policy on South Africa, defending the former president against charges that he embraced apartheid.

"Many of the Mandela remembrances have noted Reagan's veto of economic sanctions against South Africa as well as the State Department's addition of the African National Congress to the terrorist list — saying this proves Reagan supported apartheid," Gingrich, a 2012 presidential candidate and now the co-host of CNN's "Crossfire," wrote in an editorial Tuesday.

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"As someone who at the time was immersed in the debate over South Africa as a member of Congress, I can attest that this is a slanderous mischaracterization of the Reagan policy."

In his commentary, he recalled that Reagan vetoed a House bill passing sanctions, only to have Congress override the veto. But Gingrich said, "Reagan's critics are wrong to say his opposition to economic sanctions made him pro-apartheid. He disagreed with our group of activist Republicans in Congress over tactics, not over the aim of ending the institution. The President was absolutely committed to that goal, even if some of our other conservative colleagues were not."

Gingrich continued, "Reagan 'detested' apartheid, as he wrote in his diary and said publicly, but thought sanctions would be counterproductive to ending it. In particular, he believed punishing South Africa economically would only have 'hurt the very blacks we're trying to help.' This was a position Reagan shared with Gatsha Buthelezi, the head of the Zulus, among other black South Africans."

Gingrich also pointed out that Reagan issued an executive order restricting military and official relations between Washington and Pretoria, and that he sent close aide William Clark to South Africa to express opposition to its system of racial segregation.

"There, as four Reagan biographers wrote recently in The Washington Post, 'an unsmiling Clark told Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha to his face that the new president and administration abhorred apartheid,' and ended up walking out on him," Gingrich said.

Reagan later appointed Edward Perkins as the first black American ambassador to South Africa, Gingrich noted, saying that the "only modern equivalent might be appointing a woman ambassador to Saudi Arabia."

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"Reagan was not silent about the imprisonment of Mandela, either," Gingrich wrote. "He argued in a 1986 speech that 'Nelson Mandela should be released to participate in the country's political process' and counted this step as a 'necessary component of progress toward political peace.'"

"This is not the record left-wing pundits looking to smear Reagan have been presenting," he added.

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