It’s been almost a quarter century since the Cold War ended. But the recent death of Nelson Mandela has stirred up quite a few old ideological ghosts.
When high-profile Republicans, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, released statements of praise for Mandela after his death on Dec. 5, 2013, they were deluged with negative comments by Americans who felt Mandela was either a communist, a terrorist or both.
On Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor just hours after Mandela died, host Bill O’Reilly discussed Mandela’s legacy with former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa. The exchange got the most attention for Santorum’s comment equating Obamacare with apartheid — namely, that “we have a great injustice going on right now in this country, with an ever-increasing size of government that is taking over and controlling people’s lives. And Obamacare is front and center in that.”
In this item, however, we’ll be fact-checking a different claim — the one by O’Reilly that preceded that statement. Mandela, O’Reilly said, “was a communist.”
Before looking into the claim, we will note that O’Reilly’s point was more nuanced than this fragment in isolation.
O’Reilly said “Nelson Mandela — I spent some time in South Africa. He was a communist, this man. He was a communist. All right? But he was a great man. What he did for his people was stunning — the sacrifices that he made. He could have repudiated and got out of that prison. He wouldn’t do it. He was a great man. But he was a communist.”
So was he?
We checked with seven scholars of Mandela and 20th century South African history, and most agreed that Mandela was — at least for a while - a member of the Communist Party. However, they added that the label is far from the sum of a very complex political leader.