Did Philips help NSA spying on Mandela?

This 13 December 2013 video from the USA says about itself:

“One of Our Greatest Coups”: The CIA & the Capture of Nelson Mandela

As South Africa prepares to hold a state funeral for Nelson Mandela, we look at how the CIA helped the South African [apartheid regime] track down and capture Nelson Mandela in 1962.

In 1990, the Cox News Service quoted a former U.S. official saying that within hours after Mandela’s arrest a senior CIA operative named Paul Eckel admitted the agency’s involvement. Eckel was reported as having told the official, “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.”

Several news outlets have reported the actual source of the tip that led to the arrest of Mandela was a CIA official named Donald Rickard. On Thursday, Democracy Now! attempted to reach Rickard at his home in Colorado. On two occasions, a man who picked up the phone hung up when we asked to speak with Donald Rickard. The activist group RootsAction has launched a campaign to urge the CIA to open its files on Mandela and South Africa and the media watchdog group Fairness in Accuracy in Reporting has questioned why corporate media outlets have largely ignored the story. We speak to journalist Andrew Cockburn who first reported on the CIA link to Mandela’s arrest in 1986 in the New York Times.

Translated from Dutch weekly De Groene, 7 August 2017:

Investigation: How Philips made a Dutch pocket telex “spyable” for the NSA

Encrypted, but not for America

Intelligence services fear that China will gain access to our secrets thanks to built-in back doors in Huawei equipment. The USA has had those back doors for a long time. At the end of the last century, for example, Philips made a difficult to crack pocket telex “spyable” for the NSA. A reconstruction.

By Huub Jaspers and Marcel Metze

Spring 2014. In a family restaurant in the woods around Eindhoven we find a source, let’s call him “Frank Molenaar”. The case on which he is going to provide us with information played in the mid-nineteen eighties. Yet he still wants to remain anonymous. The conversation takes place in a private dining room, without viewers or listeners. “What we are talking about was state secret at the time”, he explains, “public disclosure was punishable by imprisonment.” Is that still true? The General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) believes that the issue must remain secret for more than thirty years after that date. It rejects a request for disclosure. The then deputy director Marc Kuipers writes: “One of the (…) grounds for refusal is that the provision of the requested data must not harm national security. (…) The AIVD must be able to keep its sources, its working methods (…) and its current level of knowledge secret.”

This answer makes the story of “Frank Molenaar” all the more fascinating. It is about the NSA and how the US American eavesdropping service called in Philips to remove an encrypted pocket telex from the market. That pocket telex – a text device avant la lettre – was developed by the Dutch small business Text Lite. The encryption program that Text Lite had built in was difficult to crack even for the NSA. Something had to be done about it, the Americans thought.

What makes the issue even more fascinating is that the ANC would have used the pocket telex to transfer secret messages from Nelson Mandela – who was then imprisoned on Robben Island – from Zambia to London. Dutch activist Connie Braam had given the device to the ANC. This raises the question: has Philips helped the NSA to intercept Mandela?

Philips had been in contact with the NSA for some time. Subsidiary USFA – an abbreviation for Ultra Sonore Manufacturing Department – built cryptographic devices intended for sending and receiving encrypted diplomatic and military communications. But the development costs were high and sales outside the Netherlands were limited. That changed in 1977. That year, a USFA employee traveled to the NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, not far from Washington. What he discussed is unknown. What is certain is that it did not end with this one visit and that Philips USFA has since been on a leash of the NSA.

In addition to spying, the NSA also dealt with the development and construction of cryptographic machines and associated software. Shortly after the visit of the USFA employee, the NSA chose Philips as a subcontractor. The Dutch corporation was allowed to build a license for an NSA device for encrypted data transmission for the European NATO countries. Of course, that device contained an encryption program developed by the NSA itself, the so-called Walburn algorithm. Philips also installed another NSA encryption (Saville, developed by the NSA and the British GCHQ) in its new communication equipment for the Dutch army.

Since the alliance with the NSA, USFA had done significantly better commercially. So when the Americans presented themselves with a special request, Philips was open to that. According to “Frank Molenaar” – who was involved in the case in an undefined role – a secret meeting took place somewhere in the Netherlands in December 1984 where employees of both Philips and the NSA were present. The official language was English. The subject: a new encryption program for the PX-1000, the pocket telex that Text Lite had launched in 1983.

It was quickly clear to the Philips cryptographers that the new encryption was weaker than the encryption that Text Lite had built into the device, and would therefore be easier for the Americans to crack. They also understood the reason for this: a eavesdropping service must be able to eavesdrop, and therefore it is not in the interests of citizens and businesses to use devices that make it all that difficult.

The PX-1000 measured approximately twenty by ten centimeters and was equipped with a small display and a keyboard. You could type messages and send them as beeps via a normal telephone line to another PX-1000, which then made them text again – provided the owner had the correct encryption key. The device cost around a thousand guilders and would now be worth around 860 euros. By the time the NSA got wind of it, Text Lite had already sold quite a few of it, including to the Turkish army, in the Middle East and to Israel.

The company was still young, it was set up in 1981 as a producer of light newspapers – light bars with current advertising texts. The PX-1000 was an idea of technical director Hugo Krop. Krop had added ‘a very naughty feature’ to the PX-1000 on his own initiative, he said a few months before his death, in 2018. “Not because someone asked for it, but simply because it was possible.” In a hacker magazine from the USA he had read ‘how you could make the official Data Encryption Standard from America in about 1 K (1000 bits)’. There was just room for such a mini-file on the PX-1000 chip. …

Krop’s co-director Arie Hommel remembered how after the introduction of the PX-1000, Text Lite received signals that people in security circles were not happy with their beautiful device. “Occasionally someone from England came over from Scotland Yard to ask why and to whom we sold those things. They seemed to be bothered by it because they could not listen to them. And they were not the only ones. ”

The NSA was also not happy. The Americans did not contact Text Lite themselves, but engaged Philips for that job. Neither Hommel nor Krop remembered the date of the phone call from Eindhoven, but that must have been somewhere in 1984, before Text Lite went public (that happened in December, via a listing on the Amsterdam parallel market). Hommel: “We were asked to come to a Van der Valk hotel near Utrecht. That’s where the Philips people said extremely harshly: you have a product that contains encryption and we want to get rid of that. ”

According to Krop, their conversation partners were USFA employees. He confirmed Hommel’s description of the conversation: “They presented themselves with a proposal: a) how much money do you want, b) do you want to track down and buy back all devices and c) we will give you a new, at least as good, encryption key and then go we distribute that device. And by the way: this is not an offer that you can refuse. You just have to do it.” According to Arie Hommel, it was not clear that this offer was inspired by the NSA, but Hugo Krop suspected it. During a conversation with the radio program Argos, he spontaneously dropped: “Yes, if the NSA wants something, they will always get it done.”

The Text Lite directors agreed – partly enticed by an amount that according to Hommel was somewhere between thirty and forty million guilders. Philips took over the PX-1000 and tried to trace as many unsold copies as possible. It is not known whether copies have been retrieved that had already been sold. In 1990 the anti-militarist action group Onkruit occupied the USFA complex and thereby seized internal documents. It turned out that Philips resold twelve thousand PX-1000s, along with another twenty thousand chips with the DES-algorithm, to the American company Reynolds – which can no longer be traced and, according to various anonymous sources, has probably been a cover for the NSA. The selling price was around 16.5 million guilders – which roughly corresponds to the retail value.

It was a sad moment in Philips history. The corporation had once set up USFA at the request of the Dutch government. It had been warned in 1944 by its top cryptologist Colonel J. A. Verkuijl that the US had almost reached the point where it could crack the Swiss Hagelin coders used by the Netherlands.

Immediately after the war, Philips had advised the government to build its own cryptographic devices. That would reduce the chance of American hacks. By developing high-quality cryptographic technology itself, the Netherlands would also have the chance to be admitted to the exclusive group of countries that shared secret intelligence: the US, the United Kingdom and Canada (this club was later expanded to include Australia and New Zealand and became known under the nickname Five Eyes). …

The first secret telex was not ready for production until 1957. In 1962, USFA had won a NATO bid with its Ecolex IV telex, so that success seemed within reach. But competition from German (Siemens, AEG), British, Swedish / Swiss (Hagelin), Norwegian (SATK) and American sides was fierce. It had taken until 1977 – the year of the NSA alliance – for USFA to once again win a NATO bid, this time with the secret telex Aroflex. What had begun as an attempt to prevent American eavesdropping had ended in cryptological dependence on those same Americans.

Thanks to the stories of ‘Frank Molenaar’, from a few other anonymous sources and from the Text Lite directors Krop and Hommel, it is clear how the NSA, with the help of Philips, removed the overly encrypted PX-1000 from the market and replaced it with a new version PX-1000Cr. What they could not answer were two other questions: how much weaker was the new encryption of the PX-1000, and did the ANC actually use the device in communication between Mandela and ANC-London?

It took five years before we found the answers to those questions. Marc Simons and Paul Reuvers helped us analyze the weakened algorithm in the PX-1000Cr. They are the owners of a software company in Eindhoven and have set up a virtual “cryptomuseum” in their free time. They also collect as many old crypto devices as possible. Simons and Reuvers had copies of the original PX-1000 and the weakened PX-1000Cr. They succeeded in reading out the memories and schematically drawing out the encryption algorithms in both versions.

Bart Jacobs, professor of cyber security in Nijmegen, found an interested student, who only needed three months to come to the conclusion that the original version indeed contained the decryption algorithm. A second student would continue the research, but was offered a job even before graduating. The only man who could give a definitive answer is Cees Jansen, a mathematician and cryptographer who worked at USFA in the 1980s. However, he did not want to go into detail. After some insistence, Jansen appeared willing to look more closely at the algorithm scheme of the weakened PX-1000CR, as made by the men of the cryptomuseum, together with professor Bart Jacobs.

In an Argos radio broadcast, Jansen described this algorithm as “clearly weaker” and confirmed that the NSA should have been able to crack it much faster than the DES-algorithm in the original PX-1000. Our anonymous source “Frank Molenaar” had told us that this weakening amounted to a halving of the number of bits per encryption block: that made use of 64-bit blocks, the NSA backdoor used 32-bit blocks. Professor Bart Jacobs explains that this amounts to a weakening of 2 to power 32, or a factor of more than four billion. That is huge. Suppose the NSA computer had taken a year to crack a DES-message, that time would have been reduced to 0.007 – or seven thousandth – seconds via the weakened back door.

In 2010, the TV program Andere tijden dedicated a broadcast to Operation Vula. It had set up the ANC in the mid-1980s to steer diverted ANC fighters back into South Africa and to set up a communication line with Nelson Mandela. Mandela was still imprisoned on Robben Island at the time, but his release was already expected (eventually it only came in 1990). Andere tijden revealed that the Dutch anti-apartheid movement had played a role in Operation Vula in all sorts of ways.

Activist Connie Braam, eg, had acquired some copies of the original PX-1000 and gave them to the ANC. Were they used too? The man who knows all about this is the white South African writer Timothy Jenkin. At the time, he was responsible for the secret communication within the ANC. His famous escape in 1979 from a heavily guarded prison in Pretoria is currently being filmed with Daniel “Harry Potter” Radcliffe in the lead role. Jenkin confirms by telephone that the ANC has used the PX-1000. But only within Europe: “For communication between London and Amsterdam, and later also between London and Paris.” The PX-1000 turned out to be unsuitable for communication between Zambia and London and was therefore not used for messages from Mandela, says Jenkin. High-quality and interference-free lines were required to transfer the encrypted audio signals via the telephone without error. “We tested it. It worked well from a quiet hotel room, but not from public telephone booths.”

Has the NSA intercepted and cracked the ANC European PX-1000 communication? We do not know. Perhaps the answer will one day come from declassified NSA archives. And has the NSA benefited from the “back door” that Philips put in it? That too remains a mystery. Not long after the acquisition, Philips launched the new version of the PX-1000 in 1985 with the addition of “Cr” (for crypto) and the new, weaker algorithm. Text Lite took care of the production and also developed a successor: PX-2000 (1985), which was “backward compatible” with the PX-1000 and probably also contained the back door. The devices were also sold under license and under different brand names (Siemens, Alcatel, Ericsson) in a number of European countries, such as Germany, England, France, Austria and Sweden. It is not clear whether the back door was in it, it is possible that the manufacturers involved have replaced this with their own encryption algorithms. There was also a version for the Dutch government. The weakened algorithm was not there, the government had its own encryption developed for which the details are unknown to date.

In any case, one conclusion remains: since Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013, we know that the NSA goes very far in monitoring global electronic communications. The story of the PX-1000 is not very important on a global scale. But it is significant that the NSA also spent quite a bit of money and energy back then to ensure that electronic communication devices could be monitored. There is no reason to believe that the service has stopped that.

One last question remains: who actually made that weakened algorithm, that back door in the PX-1000? At the end of the conversation in the family restaurant in the woods near Eindhoven, “Frank Molenaar” leans towards us. “I would just like to emphasize that this algorithm did not come from Philips,” he says. “It came from the USA, it came from the NSA.”

Nelson Mandela exhibition in London, England

This 2013 AFP video says about itself:

A new exhibition called “We love Mandela” opens its doors in London, showcasing the work of 21 artists who have been touched by the life of Madiba.

From daily News Line in Britain:

Monday, 11 February 2019


The official exhibition
26 Leake Street Gallery
Waterloo Tunnels, London SE1 7NN (nearest tube Waterloo)
Until April 8th 2019
Tickets from £16.20

NELSON Mandela is celebrated in this timely exhibition celebrating his life of revolutionary struggle – which saw a black leader take on the reactionary apartheid state of South Africa and emerge as the nation’s first black President.

Mandela belonged to the Aba Thembu people – one of the four African nations resident in the Eastern Cape, (south and west of what is currently Durban) from the early 15th century. His great grandfather King Ngubengcuka is credited by history with the uniting of a historic kingdom during the early 19th century.

Mandela, however, was ‘given’ the name of Nelson on his first day at a British-run school. ‘He was led to believe that white people were superior,’ the exhibition makes clear. As part of Thembu tradition he was also circumcised at age 16. Just a few years later he was expelled from Fort Hare University, where he was studying, for participating in a student demonstration.

His first job, which he took up after running away to Johannesburg, was as a mine security officer. 1940s Johannesburg was also where he first met fellow-ANC member Walter Sisulu. But it was after 1948 that the racist National Party (NP), which following the end of the early-century Boer War had stood for full black slave labour exploitation, first came to power in South Africa.

In that same year Mandela, dissatisfied with the caution of its older leadership, founded the ANC Youth League. But after 1955, when the ANC successfully mobilised supporters all across the country in support of its Freedom Charter, the NP response was ‘eighteen months in planning’, the exhibition tells us. It wasn’t until December 1956 that it ‘swooped’ on Mandela.

‘Just after dawn on the morning of 5th December,’ Mandela wrote in his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, ‘I was woken by a loud knocking on my door. . . No neighbour or friend ever knocks in such a peremptory way, and I knew immediately it was the security police.

‘ … He (Head Constable Rousseau) produced a search warrant, at which point the three of them immediately began to comb through the entire house … ‘After forty-five minutes Rousseau matter-of-factly said: “Mandela, we have a warrant for your arrest.” And the words leapt out at me: “HOOGVERRAAD – HIGH TREASON”…

‘It is not pleasant to be arrested in front of one’s children, even though one knows that what one is doing is right.’

After that the state – slowly but surely – had to find ways and means to make sure its charges ‘stick’, and reverse ‘not guilty’ verdicts. Increasingly, Mandela ‘did not return home’ and even became called ‘The Black Pimpernel’, as his autobiography later told the world.

But meanwhile, the government developed new ploys. What is now known as his Rivonia Trial followed in December of the subsequent year, 1961. ‘Too many people had known I was in Durban,’ his autobiography noted. Later he ‘heard an announcement over the police radio of my capture … At sunset, on the outskirts of Johannesburg, we were met by a sizeable police escort. I was abruptly handcuffed’.

He continued: ‘I was locked in a cell by myself. In the quiet, I was planning my strategy for the next day, when I heard a cough from a nearby cell … I sat up in sudden recognition and called out, “Walter?”’

During the Rivonia trial, as is well-known, over a hundred witnesses testified that Mandela had ‘incited African workers to strike during the three-day stay-at-home in May 1961’. He said of this: ‘It was indisputable … that I was technically guilty on both charges.’

Later Mandela famously said to the Rivonia court: ‘Only through hardship, sacrifice and militant action can freedom be won. ‘The struggle is my life. I will continue fighting for freedom until the end of my days.’

The exhibition also focuses on Mandela’s commitment to education, with one filmed sequence showing him insisting: ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’

Nevertheless, in another clip he also stresses: ‘You don’t have to have education in order to know that you have the right to education.’ He also stressed: ‘Like the gardener, a leader must take responsibility for what he cultivates. He must mind his work, try to repel enemies, and preserve what cannot otherwise be preserved.’

The exhibition focuses too on some of Mandela’s final words, when he said: ‘The time has come to fully hand over our work. ‘It is in your hands now.

‘As long as poverty and gross inequality persists in our world, none of us can truly rest.

‘We are marching towards a new future, based on strong foundations of respect. ‘We must all get down to work to build a better future. It is in the hands of all of us now.’

Nelson Mandela in Tour de France cycling race

This Twitter message of today is by Belgian cyclist Serge Pauwels, a member of the South African Dimension Data cycling team, now riding in the Tour de France race; which today commemorates Nelson Mandela.

Reinardt Janse van Rensburg with Mandela helmet. NOS photo

The photo shows South African cyclist Reinardt Janse van Rensburg of the same team, also with special Mandela helmet.

The Tour De France was briefly halted after riders were accidentally pepper-sprayed by police during a farmers’ protest.

Nelson Mandela, 100 years celebration

This video from the Netherlands says about itself:

The honorary doctorate of Nelson Mandela

29 May 2018

2018 will mark the centenary of the birth of Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), former President of South Africa. Mandela received an honorary doctorate from Leiden University in 1999. The then Rector Magnificus Willem Wagenaar honoured Mandela as ‘a true defender of freedom’. We celebrate the legacy of Nelson Mandela by organising a lecture on 1 June 2018. More information here.

Dutch neonazis want to ban foreign languages, Nelson Mandela

This video about the second world war is called Nazi Collaborators – Season 1 Episode 10 ”The Dutch Collaborators”.

In 1971 the extreme right Nederlandse Volks-Unie party was founded with as its main aim rehabilitation of Dutch nazi criminals who had collaborated with Hitler.

Dutch daily De Gelderlander of 28 December 2017 reports on the local elections which will be on 21 March 2018.

In Arnhem city, one of the participant parties will be the neonazi Nederlandse Volks-Unie (NVU). Earlier this year, they demonstrated jointly with their fellow xenophobe Geert Wilders of the PVV party against the new, Moroccan Dutch, mayor of Arnhem.

The NVU election platform says they want to make it illegal to speak foreign languages. There will be an exception for tourists, they say. And usually, xenophobes of this type also don’t mind if bosses of multinational corporations from the USA, Japan or Germany don’t speak Dutch after years in the Netherlands. This linguistic bigotry is against working class people.

Another NVU election platform plank is changing the name of the Nelson Mandela bridge to Willem Alexander bridge, after the king of the Netherlands. The NVU considers the first South African president after the end of apartheid ‘a communist terrorist’. Already in the 1970s, when they were founded, they supported white supremacy in South Africa.

South African Mandela’s comrade Ahmed Kathrada, RIP

This video from the commemoration in South Africa after the death of Nelson Mandela says about itself:

Mandela‘s fellow inmate gives emotional speech

15 December 2013

Fighting back tears, Ahmed Kathrada, who was jailed with Mandela on the Robben Island and is a family friend, said the last time he saw Mandela was when the anti-apartheid hero was fighting for his life in hospital. Kathrada said he met Mandela 67 years ago, and was saddened to see that he had become a “shadow of his former self”, but spoke highly of his campaign against racial segregation.

Today, veteran anti-apartheid fighter Ahmed Kathrada himself has died. See also here.

This video from South Africa says about itself:

Zenani Mandela pays tribute to Ahmed Kathrada

28 March 2017

‘CIA helped apartheid regime arrest Nelson Mandela’, ex-CIA man admits

This video from the USA says about itself:

“One of Our Greatest Coups”: The CIA & the Capture of Nelson Mandela

13 December 2013

As South Africa prepares to hold a state funeral for Nelson Mandela, we look at how the CIA helped the South African track down and capture Nelson Mandela in 1962. In 1990, the Cox News Service quoted a former U.S. official saying that within hours after Mandela‘s arrest a senior CIA operative named Paul Eckel admitted the agency’s involvement.

Eckel was reported as having told the official, “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.”

Several news outlets have reported the actual source of the tip that led to the arrest of Mandela was a CIA official named Donald Rickard. On Thursday, Democracy Now! attempted to reach Rickard at his home in Colorado. On two occasions, a man who picked up the phone hung up when we asked to speak with Donald Rickard.

The activist group RootsAction has launched a campaign to urge the CIA to open its files on Mandela and South Africa and the media watchdog group Fairness in Accuracy in Reporting has questioned why corporate media outlets have largely ignored the story. We speak to journalist Andrew Cockburn who first reported on the CIA link to Mandela’s arrest in 1986 in the New York Times.

From Slate.com in the USA:

Former U.S. Spy Says CIA Played Key Role in Nelson Mandela’s Arrest

By Daniel Politi

May 15 2016 11:51 AM

A former CIA spy said he played a key role in getting Nelson Mandela arrested in 1962, which led to a 27-year imprisonment. Donald Rickard, who was working as the U.S. vice consul in Durban at the time, said he was the one who provided the tip about Mandela’s whereabouts on that fateful day, according to the Sunday Times.

So, Rupert Murdoch‘s far Right Sunday Times (for readers who only believe right-wing media).

Rickard gave the explosive declaration mere weeks before his March 30 death to British film director John Irvin. The former spy had no apparent qualms about what he did because Mandela was “the world’s most dangerous communist outside of the Soviet Union.”

Rickard claims he found out that Mandela would be traveling from Durban to Johannesburg and told police authorities so they could set up a roadblock. When Mandela’s car was stopped, agents immediately recognized the most wanted man in the country and took him into custody. “I found out when he was coming down and how he was coming … that’s where I was involved and that’s where Mandela was caught,” Rickard said. The former agent didn’t reveal how he received the information but said he firmly believed Mandela was “completely under the control of the Soviet Union, a toy of the communists.”

The interview appears to confirm suspicions that the CIA was tracking Mandela, according to the BBC. The report is likely to increase pressure on the U.S. intelligence agency to release documents that could help clarify its role in Mandela’s arrest.

Mandela’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) party was quick to react to the news, saying it puts in evidence a pattern of Washington involvement in the country’s politics. “That revelation confirms what we have always known, that they are working against [us], even today,” ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa said. “It’s not thumb sucked, it’s not a conspiracy [theory]. It is now confirmed that it did not only start now, there is a pattern in history.”

When the 88-year-old Rickard spoke to Irving two weeks before his death he contradicted statements he had made in the past when he vehemently denied any involvement in Mandela’s arrest. In 2012, the Wall Street Journal wrote about the “mystery” of Mandela’s detention and noted reports “about a junior U.S. diplomat at the Durban consulate who allegedly boasted at a party of steering the police to Mr. Mandela.” Rickard denied everything. “That story has been floating around for a while,” he told the paper over the phone. “It’s untrue. There’s no substance to it.”

Nelson Mandela remembered

This is a music video of the song “Nelson Mandela” from the album “In the Studio” by British band Special AKA (the Specials).

Lyrics are here.

By Peter Frost from Britain, about South Africa:

In the footsteps of the great liberator

Thursday 5th February 2015

Peter Frost visits the former Victor Verster prison where Nelson Mandela took some very important steps on his long march to freedom

It was something of a pilgrimage. My wife Ann and I had pitched the rented camper van in which were exploring South Africa on a pretty campsite among the vineyards near Paarl the handsome capital of the Cape Winelands.

An early start the next morning saw us driving along the spectacular valley of the Dwars River. Our destination was the far from romantically named Drakenstein Correctional Centre.

It was a journey we had been hoping to make for many years. The prison is still in use and outside were a cluster of worried-looking families joining the queue to visit incarcerated loved ones.

We were beginning to have doubts about the wisdom of our visit when a young smiling prison officer in a smart brown uniform knocked on our window.

“Hi,” she said with a smile. “Tourists? Are you from England? No doubt you are here to see where our beloved Madiba took his famous steps to freedom. Follow me,” she said.

So there we were just inside the gates of the former Victor Verster Prison where Nelson Mandela spent the last part of his 27 years of imprisonment.

The prison officer told us that the cottage where Mandela spent the last few months of his long sentence is now a South African national heritage site. Just outside the prison gate she showed us the fine statue of the great man himself.

Back in 1964, Nelson Mandela was one of eight men accused of conspiracy and sabotage in the notorious Rivonia trial, named after a suburb of Johannesburg where African National Congress (ANC) leaders had their secret headquarters in a farmhouse.

In an electrifying speech from the dock at the beginning of his defence, Mandela told the court: “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination.

“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live, and to see realised. But my lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Passing sentence, apartheid judge Justice de Wet compared the convicted men’s crime to high treason but said that after careful consideration he had decided not to impose “the supreme penalty.” Mandela was sent to prison for life.

Margaret Thatcher and many British Tories thought the judge had been too lenient. They called for Mandela to be hanged. Present House of Commons’s Speaker John Bercow led a Tory student campaign under the slogan “Hang Nelson Mandela.”

Mandela served the first 18 years of his sentence in the notorious maximum-security prison on Robben Island. When they first landed on the island a warder greeted Mandela and his ANC comrades with these words, “This is the island. This is where you will die.”

The prisoners faced a harsh regime in a new cell block specially constructed for political prisoners. Each had a single cell just 7ft square around a concrete courtyard, with a slop bucket. No books or reading materials were allowed, although this rule would eventually be relaxed a little.

Hard labour in the baking hot quarry on the island was hell. The white-hot sun reflecting of the bleached limestone nearly blinded Mandela.

In his prison cell he secretly worked on the first part of what would become his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. ANC comrades helped him hide draft pages from the guards.

In 1982 he was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in Tokai, Cape Town.

From there, on December 9 1988, Mandela was moved to the Victor Verster Prison, now renamed the Drakenstein Correctional Centre.

Already the apartheid government, running scared and aware that their time was up, needed to hold negotiations with the man who, despite having spent the last 27 years in prison, was clearly the leader of the South African people.

For those negotiations Mandela lived in a small cottage inside the prison’s farm compound. President FW De Klerk sent high-ranking ministers and civil servants to talk with Mandela.

He was incarcerated there for another 14 months until finally he was taken to meet and talk with De Klerk himself. The two discussed arrangements for Mandela’s release.

Just after 4pm on February 11 1990 the date set by De Klerk, Mandela, then aged 71, walked free. One hand held the hand of his wife Winnie. The other was raised in the clenched fist of an ANC victory salute.

At that moment, as the camera flashes went off to record the moment, Mandela switched from being a symbol of the oppressed to the global symbol of courage and freedom that would define the rest of his life.

After his release Mandela would live for almost another quarter-century. He became president of a new South Africa, his beloved rainbow nation.

It was a long journey from imprisoned freedom fighter branded as a terrorist to one of the world’s greatest ever leaders.

Like so many important journeys this one started with a single step and a short walk through the gates of Victor Verster Prison 25 years ago this weekend.

FW de Klerk’s legacy in question on anniversary of Mandela’s release. South Africa’s last white president has been praised for his role in ending apartheid but questions linger over atrocities committed on his watch: here.

Political change is often unexpected

This video from South Africa is called Nelson Mandela‘s speech after he was released from prison after 27 years in 1990.

By Ian Sinclair in Britain:

Change – good or bad – is gonna come

Monday 17th november 2014

The meteoric rise of Podemos in Spain — and Ukip in Britain — shows rapid political change, both progressive and reactionary, can happen, says IAN SINCLAIR

Though it’s been ignored by the British media, the explosive new poll showing the continuing rise of the new Spanish political party Podemos has huge ramifications for politics in Britain.

The El Pais survey found that Podemos has become the most popular party in Spain, gaining 27.7 per cent of the potential vote, ahead of the ruling conservative party (20.7 per cent) and the opposition Socialist Party (26.2 per cent).

What’s particularly impressive about this result is Podemos was only formed in January 2014, and is unapologetically leftist, or as a Financial Times blog warns, “Podemos’s policies are vague, populist, anti-capitalist and anti-globalisation.”

“Podemos” should be the one-word response to political apathy and resignation, to anyone who says “Nothing ever changes” or argues that votes can only be won in the neoliberal, soul-destroying space between New Labour and the Tories or the Democrats and Republicans.

However, it’s important to understand this isn’t an isolated event. If you have your political antenna tuned to the right frequency, hopeful moments when politics makes a radical jump beyond previously accepted norms and assumptions, or at least has the potential to do so, pop up all the time.

If I had written an article in 2003 saying a black man would be the president of the United States in five years I would have been ridiculed.

In Greece, the left-wing Syriza party went from receiving 4.6 per cent of the vote in the 2009 general election to achieving 26.6 per cent of the vote in 2012, becoming the main opposition party.

In Canada, the New Democratic Party moved from being the progressive party with no chance of getting a whiff of real power, to unexpectedly leap-frogging the Liberal Party in the 2011 general election and becoming the nation’s second party.

And let’s not forget Ukip which, by coming first in the 2014 European elections, became the first party in over a century other than Labour or the Conservatives to come first in a nationwide election, albeit for the European Parliament.

Obvious and trite it may be, but it bears repeating: things do change. Often for the better, sometimes for worse — usually frustratingly slowly. But under the right conditions, change can be rapid and unexpected — even to those involved in pushing for the political change themselves.

Former New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges was in Leipzig on the afternoon of November 9 1989 with the leaders of the East German opposition. He recalled that they told him “maybe within a year they’ll be free passage back and forth across the Berlin Wall.”

Within a matter of hours the Berlin Wall — at least as an impediment to traffic and people — no longer existed. For Hedges this proved that “even those closely associated with these movements don’t know where they are going and often don’t know what their potential is.”

The fall of the Soviet Union, the end of apartheid and the Arab uprisings all blindsided many of the top experts who had spent their entire professional lives studying these countries.

In terms of British politics, Podemos’s stratospheric rise gives succour to all those hoping to break the power of the ossified three-party system.

And it also puts a huge dent in the popular argument that all progressives should rally around the Labour Party to keep the Tories out. Admittedly, thus far it is right-wing Ukip that has swept up anti-Establishment political disaffection, but the Greens too are experiencing rapid growth.

Podemos’s rapid rise should give a huge boost to everyone pushing for radical change — especially in the face of the looming climate crisis.

As Naomi Klein explains in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, because of endless delays in addressing rising emissions, only an immediate, massive transformation will now save us from levels of climate change that will pose an existential threat to humanity. And by “massive transformation,” Klein means something on the scale of the Marshall Plan or the national mobilisation during the second world war.

None of this will happen of its own accord. I’m no hispanophile but Podemos will have only reached its current level of popularity through the daily toil of thousands of activists and millions of supporters.

“If you want to make changes in the world, you’re going to have to be there day after day doing the boring, straightforward work of getting a couple of people interested in an issue, building slightly bigger organisations, carrying out the next move, experiencing frustration, and finally getting somewhere,” Noam Chomsky argues. “That’s how you get rid of slavery, that’s how you get women’s rights, that’s how you get the vote.”

Sounds like bloody hard work to me. But as freed slave Frederick Douglass famously said: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Ian Sinclair is the author of The March That Shook Blair, published by Peace News Press. @IanJSinclair

British actor Richard Attenborough helped honour Nelson Mandela

This video is called BBC News – Filmmaker Richard Attenborough dies at 90.

By Will Stone in Britain:

Tuesday 26th August 2014

Tributes pour in for progressive actor who died aged 90

BELOVED actor Richard Attenborough was remembered yesterday for his “determination and courage” in helping to erect the statue of Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square.

The award-winning star, described as a “titan of British cinema” by film academy Bafta and famed for his roles in blockbusters Jurassic Park, Gandhi and The Great Escape, died at lunchtime on Sunday at the age of 90.

But left groups remembered his achievements off the screen too.

Jude Woodward, former culture and creative industries advisor at City Hall under Ken Livingstone, told the Star that few have mentioned Attenborough’s “irascible” nature, which she believed helped make sure the bronze statue of South Africa’s former president and anti-apartheid activist was built.

Mr Attenborough helped set up a fund for the statue with the widow of the late anti-apartheid activist Donald Woods, who originally came up with the idea and received approval from Mandela in 2001.

“He was absolutely determined,” she said, recalling that they had initially battled to get the nine-foot statue put up outside the High Commission of South Africa in Trafalgar Square.

However Westminster Council rejected the planning application on the grounds its location would disrupt events in the area.

After much discussion the council finally agreed to erect the £400,000 sculpture, designed by Ian Walters, in Parliament Square alongside the statues of other iconic figures including Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Disraeli.

This video from London, England is called Nelson Mandela‘s speech at the unveiling of his statue.

Mandela himself attended the unveiling of the sculpture in 2007, six years after it was first approved, and the statue is still the only one of a black person in the square.

Ms Woodward said that it was “a real achievement” and a “right and fitting legacy” to Mandela that the statue was erected in his lifetime.

Describing Mr Attenborough, she added: “If things got in his way he would not brook opposition. He was absolutely determined there would be a tribute to Mandela and that it would be erected while he was living.”

Also paying tribute, Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “The death of Richard Attenborough is a sad day for the film world and the Labour movement. He and his work will be remembered.”

BFI chief executive Amanda Nevill added: “the world has lost a very, very special person.”