The United States House of Representatives on Thursday unanimously passed a legislation to erase the government-imposed stigma against membership in the African National Congress of South Africa, the party of Nobel Laureate and former South African President Nelson Mandela.
The bill, authored by Congressman and California Democrat Howard Berman, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, would remove any notation that would characterise the ANC and its leaders -- including Mandela -- as terrorists, from all US databases.
Berman said, "This long-overdue bill is the direct result of a stunning and embarrassing story for the United States."
"Despite recognising two decades ago that America's place was on the side of those oppressed by Apartheid, the Congress has never resolved the inconsistency in our immigration code, which treats many of those who actively opposed Apartheid in South Africa as terrorists and criminals," he added.
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 racist white 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 a leading political party and today continues to lead South Africa in a multiracial, multiparty democracy.
Berman said, "Astonishingly, while South Africa completed its monumental political transition, the US position regarding entry for ANC's leaders remained frozen in time. Leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and Govan Mbeki--father of President Thabo Mbeki--were continually barred from entry to the US and had to apply for special waivers to gain entry."
Berman's legislation effectively removes the 'terrorist' label from the names of current and former ANC members. When the measure becomes law once President Bush signs it, ANC membership alone will no longer trigger additional investigation into an individual's application for a visa to the United States.
Congressional sources said that the legislation has the support of the State Department and is expected to receive unanimous approval from the US Senate.