Sexwale’s detention signals US terror watch list still active

Church Street bombing
Church Street bombing

A former black South African government Minister has been detained in New York apparently because his name is on a terrorism watch list.

Tokyo Sexwale became a member of the Black Consciousness Movement in the late 1960s and a local leader of the radical South African Students’ Movement. In the early 1970s, he joined the African National Congress’s armed wing to wage a terror campaign against white civilians.

Sexwale, a former Robben Island prisoner turned billionaire businessman, was stopped for questioning at John F. Kennedy airport for a second time while attempting to enter the United States on a recent business trip. He was also stopped for the same reason in 2002.

Sexwale has become a major player in the diamond industry, with his company reportedly being the third biggest after De Beers and JFPI Corporation. He was praised by no less a figure than Harry Oppenheimer, the patriarch of the Anglo-American and De Beers corporations, as having an understanding of the South African and international diamond mining industry that few can equal.

In the 1970s and 80s, the African National Congress (ANC) and various other groups were officially designated terrorist organisations as a result of waging a racial terror campaign against unarmed civilians, as well as women and children.

Other countries, including the U.S., followed suit. After the end of apartheid in 1994, certain names remained on the U.S. terrorism watch list. Even Nelson Mandela was only removed in 2008.

Ebrahim Rasool, the South Africa Ambassador to the U.S., was forced to intervene this week with the U.S. State Department to secure Sexwale’s release, according to a tweet by the South African public broadcaster SABC’s US correspondent, Sherwin Bryce-Pease.

Sexwale now intends to take legal again action through the American courts, the national broadcaster SABC reported. In 2002, when he was refused a visa to enter the United States, for the first time, it later transpired that he, along with many prominent South African anti-apartheid figures such as Nelson Mandela and South African cabinet minister Sidney Mufamadi, were still on the global terror list.

After initiating legal action, going so far as to having papers served on the U.S. Department of State and following personal intervention by Condoleezza Rice, Sexwale and the others received ten-year waivers from the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Department of Homeland Security, as the US felt that permanently delisting them would mean changing the law, which would be a “lengthy process”.

In April 2008 the waiver was lifted and the ANC members along with the ANC were removed from the terrorist list in the USA. However it seems that Sexwale remains on the terror list.

Soweto-born Sexwale is one of the country’s richest men, although he is a sworn Marxist. In 1975 he went into self-imposed exile to the then Soviet Union and received military training there to launch a terror campaign in South Africa.

A year later, on his return to South Africa, he was arrested, charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government and sentenced to 18 years in prison. After his release in 1990 he pursued careers in both politics and business.

The Church Street bombing, a car bomb attack on 20 May 1983 by Umkhonto we Sizwe, the terror group, in Pretoria, killed 19 and wounded 217, and was one of the largest attacks against whites.

A further black mark against Sexwale is the appearance of his name in a United Nations report on illegal transactions under the Oil-for-Food Programme. Sexwale’s Group 5 has received criticism for their involvement with corrupt tender contracts in South Africa.

The ANC reacted angrily to Mr. Sexwale’s treatment by U.S. authorities. “If indeed it is true, we think it is totally unacceptable,” said Jackson Mthembu, the party’s national spokesman.

“We would have thought the Americans would have taken all credible struggle heroes off the list. This is very disappointing. It makes us very worried. If Tokyo can be arrested, who will not be?

In 2008 Condoleezza Rice, the then U.S. Secretary of State, described it as “embarrassing” that Nobel peace laureate Mandela remained on the terrorist watch list and needed special permission to visit the country.

Later that year Mandela was removed under a bill signed by President George Bush but it is unclear if this applied to other ANC leaders.

A former US diplomat said on Sunday: “During the apartheid era the ANC and other organisations ended up being listed as terrorist organisations and it was difficult to get them removed because of various senatorial pressures. I was not aware there were still people whose names are specifically listed on such an index.”

Clayson Monyela, spokesman for South Africa’s international relations department, said it had been told that a resolution is needed in the U.S. Congress to remove all the names.