In his 12-day visit to the United States, former South African political prisoner Nelson Mandela has received a warm, friendly reception - even adulation. His talk Tuesday before a joint session of Congress was generally accepted in the same cordial atmosphere. But some nagging questions need to be raised.
There is no doubt that Mandela is a genuine folk hero in his long struggle against South African apartheid. His calls for a democratic, multi-racial South Africa with justice for all make good sense. However, some of his other utterances are less reassuring.In his meetings with President Bush, Mandela refused to renounce violence, although he said it has been scaled back and is considered only as a last resort. Yet the willingness to turn to violence is disturbing.
Other causes for concern include the stated policies of Mandela's African National Congress. The ANC has long been involved in armed struggle. It has had close association with communists and has supported the nationalization of major private South African industry.
The latter goal would undermine the most developed business community in all of Africa and runs counter to the experience of the Soviet Union and the East bloc where state-owned industry is blamed for many of the economic problems and privatization is eagerly sought.
Mandela did tackle that issue in his speech to Congress, saying that the ANC holds no ideological position which dictates that it must adopt a policy of nationalization. He promised that foreign businessmen could have confidence in their investments. But the differing statements about nationalization still leave a lingering sense of unease.
It's no secret that Mandela is supported by such despotic and terrorist regimes as Cuba, Libya and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Mandela has visited with Fidel Castro, Moammar Gadhafi and Yasser Arafat - not the kind of friends to reassure the rest of the world.
When asked about the relationship with such regimes that have serious human rights problems, Mandela is unapologetic and says only that "We have no time to look into the internal affairs of other countries."
Ironically, he then appeals to the United States to help finance the ANC and to keep sanctions against the South African government. In other words, he is all for the United States and the rest of the Western world interfering in the internal affairs of South Africa.
If such interference is justified in South Africa, why not in Libya, Cuba and similar places? Mandela does not answer that question. But if he is to present himself as a leader in a moral cause, his easy embrace of tyrants and terrorists makes people wonder.
Americans and the rest of the world should not just uncritically throw themselves at Mandela's feet. It is all right to acknowledge his achievements and dreams, but let's keep asking the hard questions and insisting on clear answers.