Was Nelson Mandela a Terrorist?



I stumbled upon this website and I thought this website was pretty interesting. I think this question is relevant to politics, since this is all we hear about on the news. On the mainstream media, he's praised for being an anti-apartheid. Yes, this is the movement he led.

However, there are some aspects of his history that struck me. To me, he was a little bit of a terrorist and even an anti-white racist. I read that be planted many bombs and killed many innocent white people, and I'm not talking about any political leaders. I also heard that he bombed a school bus, and put a tire soaked with oil on someone and lit it up. He was involved in the following events:

  • Church Street West, Pretoria, on the 20 May 1983

  • Amanzimtoti Shopping complex KZN, 23 December 1985

  • Krugersdorp Magistrate’s Court, 17 March 1988

  • Durban Pick ‘n Pay shopping complex, 1 September 1986

  • Pretoria Sterland movie complex 16 April 1988 – limpet mine killed ANC terrorist M O Maponya instead

  • Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court, 20 May 1987

  • Roodepoort Standard Bank 3 June, 1988

So the question is - was he a terrorist, a Gandhi, or somewhere in between? Explain please.


Posted 2013-12-07T19:37:44.467

Reputation: 984

1Is there specific credible evidence re: school bus bombing? – user4012 – 2013-12-08T13:41:56.727

1You are aware that Nelson Mandela was in prison for all of the events you list above? – DJClayworth – 2013-12-08T21:22:47.853

1For what it's worth: "History is written by the victors" and "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter". I like @DVK's answer and definitions, though. – Bobson – 2013-12-09T14:54:53.247

@DVK Agreed, very nicely put. – Shahar – 2013-12-09T16:07:55.717

@DVK - In general, I agree with your definition. That's why I put those cliches in response to the question, not your answer. However, you touch on the one problem I do have with it: "human shields protecting a weapon". Is the "acceptable" injury or death of noncombatants as a byproduct of the pursuit of the destruction of a legitimate military target "terrorism" or not? You focus on deliberately targeting them, but between deliberately doing so and deliberately avoiding doing so is "I don't care either way". – Bobson – 2013-12-09T16:33:11.497

3@Bobson - it's simple to distinguish. If you have a way of hitting the target and avoiding civilian deaths and you purposely choose not to avoid them, it's terrorism. If you simply don't have that choice (as in, the choice is, you kill human shields, OR you let people hiding a rocket behind human shields kill your own side), it's NOT terrorism, but "war is crap" reality, coupled with the other side clearly violating Geneva convention by using human shields. "I don't care" is a rare attitude - given the adverse reaction on most people's part, if you don't need human casualties, you try to avoid – user4012 – 2013-12-09T17:31:22.350

@DVK - Is "Acceptable collateral damage" actually that rare an attitude? Even if not, your new definition (purposely choosing not to avoid civilian deaths) is at odds with your original definition (deliberately setting out to target civilians). If I choose not to buy from a company I don't approve of, that's very different from actively picketing them. – Bobson – 2013-12-09T18:20:37.363

@Bobson - if avoiding civilian deaths is easy, then I see no meaningful difference. E.g. if you have a choice between shooting a military target with a rifle, or an RPG, and he's surrounded by people, choosing an RPG makes you a terrorist, since you had a meaningful choice while keeping your objective. – user4012 – 2013-12-09T20:54:16.987

1@Bobson - Basically, there are 3 options for why you chose to kill non-combatants: (1) You had no other realistic way to get your combatant target [ likely doesn't make you a terrorist but details matter ]; (2) You could get your target without collateral damage but truly didn't care about collateral. That makes you a looney psychopath, but not necessarily a terrorist. (3) You chose to kill non-combatants since you see some political benefit from their deaths (frighten others from doing what you don't want them to do).... – user4012 – 2013-12-09T20:58:38.103

@Bobson - ... My point is that, because typically killing non-combatants turns off both the world and your own population, rational "freedom fighters" would never go with #2 even if they are a psychopath and didn't intrinsically care - e.g. they would choose to avoid collateral damage due to "good for the cause" reason if not ethical/moral one, assuming they didn't WANT those deaths for other reasons. Therefore, I conclude that anyone who kills non-combatants and isn't in case #1, must be in case #3. That is, they WANTED non-combatant deaths for political benefit. Thus, they are terrorists. – user4012 – 2013-12-09T21:01:11.677

@DVK - I'll accept that, since I can't think of an example for #2 right now. Just because it could theoretically exist, doesn't mean that it did. I feel like I have heard examples (maybe from the Vietnam war? WWII?) but since I can't remember them right now, they could certainly have fallen under the viewpoints quote (i.e. told as "justified", but still objectively meeting your #3 definition) – Bobson – 2013-12-09T22:28:30.527

@DVK you simplify it too much. Here's a case for our #2: you can hit your target surrounded by human shields, using rifle - with 50% probability, and using RPG - with 99% probability. Choosing an RPG seems justified, in war setting, or for high-threat target (commander who memorized launched codes or whatever). OTOH enemy propaganda will harp on the point that you could still shoot him with the rifle. Your side's propaganda could argue that the terrorist target is responsible for human shields deaths coz he put them there (or allowed them to volunteer). And if they volunteered, it makes ... – Genli Ai – 2013-12-16T18:50:55.310

@DVK And if they volunteered, it makes them combatants, even if under-armed. Not completely unarmed, because they are armed with the propaganda value of their intended self-sacrificial deaths. So it's suddenly not so simple anymore. Plus, where you use the term "terrorist" for the rogue-acting military personnel during war, I think the more proper term is "war criminal". – Genli Ai – 2013-12-16T18:53:35.810



The definition of "terrorism" and "terrorist" was covered on this site before.

I will copy/paste the relevant parts of the answer:

Since 1994, the United Nations General Assembly has repeatedly condemned terrorist acts using the following political description of terrorism:

"Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them."


A definition proposed by Carsten Bockstette at the George C. Marshall Center for European Security Studies, underlines the psychological and tactical aspects of terrorism:

Terrorism is defined as political violence in an asymmetrical conflict that is designed to induce terror and psychic fear (sometimes indiscriminate) through the violent victimization and destruction of noncombatant targets (sometimes iconic symbols). Such acts are meant to send a message from an illicit clandestine organization. The purpose of terrorism is to exploit the media in order to achieve maximum attainable publicity as an amplifying force multiplier in order to influence the targeted audience(s) in order to reach short- and midterm political goals and/or desired long-term end states."

Note that the purposes and end goals of terrorism are 100% irrelevant - merely the tactics (targeting non-combatants on purpose).

As such, if any of the acts that Mandela did targeted non-combatants on purpose, he was a terrorist, pure and simple.

Now, as to whether he did any such thing or not, I think Skeptics.SE is probably a better place to ask. The schoolbus bombing sounds like the most obvious example, but one would need evidence that he actually did that. Obtaining that evidence seems out of scope for Politics.SE and your question didn't link to any.


Posted 2013-12-07T19:37:44.467

Reputation: 84 347

This is the start of a good answer, but just because the OP didn't provide any evidence doesn't mean that you shouldn't. Wikipedia:Mandela 1961 Mandela co-founded Umkhonto we Sizwe ("Spear of the Nation", abbreviated MK) with Sisulu and the communist Joe Slovo. As a co-founder with Joe Slovo, you might find him responsible, "commanded by Aboobaker Ismail. Such units had been authorised by Oliver Tambo, the ANC President, in 1979. At the time of the attack, they reported to Joe Slovo as chief of staff, and the Church Street attack was auth

– user1873 – 2013-12-08T17:02:29.440

4By that definition, the US is the most terrorist nation on Earth. UK and Russia being the next in line... – Alex – 2013-12-09T14:26:47.087

5@Alex - name one time US targeted a non-combatant ON PURPOSE? Don't let ideology get in the way of reading comprehension – user4012 – 2013-12-09T15:36:53.187


Here's just one random case of many. I'm not the one letting "ideologies" in the way of reason and common-sense. Sure, in your mind all the US aggression actions seem justified, but that doesn't change the fact that by your own logic you live in a terrorist country

– Alex – 2013-12-09T16:17:41.360

Your entire answer pretty much boils down to "maybe he was, maybe he wasn't". I'd hardly call that an answer – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica – 2013-12-09T16:37:52.907

@SamIam - you disagree with the fact that "did he participate in a specific action" belongs a lot more on Skeptics than here? – user4012 – 2013-12-09T17:32:46.513

@DVK I think that it is on topic for both sites, but just because you think that this question would be more appropriate for the other site, doesn't mean that you should post a non-answer on this one. – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica – 2013-12-09T17:49:41.470

3@SamIam - I didn't say this question is off topic. I think the specific "did he do it" is. This site is not for digging into whether someone did or didn't do something rumored about them. – user4012 – 2013-12-09T17:56:21.617

@SamIam - if OP (or someone else) improves the question by posting specific acts proven to be attributed to Mandela, I will improve my answer based on those facts. – user4012 – 2013-12-09T21:02:32.793

@Alex - You are only a terrorist if you are against the government in power. If you target criminals, you are a vigilante, if you target enemy "terrorists" you are a militia. – SoylentGray – 2013-12-13T17:13:34.153

@DVK - Bull Run, Trail of Tears, Nuremburg, Canicattì massacre, No Gun Ri Massacre, My Lai Massacre, Abu Ghraib Torture, Phoenix Program, 80's Afganistan, Waco, Ruby Ridge... Do I really need to go on? – SoylentGray – 2013-12-13T17:18:02.187

@Chad - reading comprehension problems? You're a terrorist if you target non-combatants for political purposes. This has nothing to do with government in power. Criminals (leaving aside due process issues - let's assume they are proven to have committed the crime) aren't noncombatants - (and most "vigilantes" aren't going after their targets to score political points). Neither are enemy terrorists. Once you take up violence, you lose the non-combatants status. Easy. – user4012 – 2013-12-13T18:08:39.670

@Chad - Won't argue around Indian wars - there were plenty of terrorism committed on all sides there. But somehow I doubt the OP meant that far. Nuremberg Trials targeted chain of command, hardly people who can be labeled innocent civilians. Note how none of my definition included non-uniformed politicians - some people argue that's terrorism but it's not universally accepted... – user4012 – 2013-12-13T18:13:55.040

@DVK - The US targeted non-combatants for political purposes in all of those, and I meant the fire bombing of not the trials at. I would have used dresden but that was more UK than US – SoylentGray – 2013-12-13T18:14:08.440

@Chad - No Gun Ri, even if you accept the worst possible interpretation, wasn't done to score political points, and falls under the same "fire on human shields" category. It may be a war crime, if you stretch, but not terrorism. Same with My Lai. Wasn't done to achieve a political purpose, AND wasn't part of officisl American strategy (whitewash is a different story). Not familiar with Phoenix. 80's Afgnistan, you forgot which side was killing women and giing children mines masked as toys. Hint: the country name had 4 letters, not 3. – user4012 – 2013-12-13T18:15:03.593

@DVK - The orders were given at No Gun Ri with the intent of demonstrating to the civilian population that cooperating with the VC was going to get you killed. That was a political message – SoylentGray – 2013-12-13T18:16:29.433

1@Chad - No Gun Ri was Korea. WHAT VC? sigh – user4012 – 2013-12-13T18:19:15.723

@Chad - Firebombing, I am more willing to see as terrorism. But so far, that's the only acceptable example, and that's in a middle of a world war which saw far worse war crimes. – user4012 – 2013-12-13T18:22:15.317

@Chad - Abu Ghraib as far as I know didn't kill anyone and most so-called "torture" was mild psychological pressure. You don't seem to understand what real torture entails. Plus, none of it was for political purpose. Waco, and Ruby Ridge, I don't know enough about the motivations of the LEAs to be sure. From what little I know, they didn't intend to make any political statements when they fired. Plus, again, this seems more of human shield situation - I'm pretty sure they'd happily take out Koresh alone if they could. – user4012 – 2013-12-13T18:24:50.830

@dvk - I was thinking My Lai. It is still attacking civilians for political purpose in NGR... My Lai happened because of the make them pay for cooperating strategy. Yes the USSR And the US were both terrorizing civilians in afganistan in the 80s... so are you saying that makes it ok? – SoylentGray – 2013-12-13T18:25:29.033

let us continue this discussion in chat

– user4012 – 2013-12-13T18:25:43.710

@Chad - example of USA killing non-combatants to make a political point in Afghanistan in 80s? – user4012 – 2013-12-13T18:26:19.883

@Chad - from what I know of Mai Lai, the killings weren't done on order from above. Just local psychotics diving off a deep cliff. Again, there's a difference between a war crime and terrorism. – user4012 – 2013-12-13T18:27:54.517

@DVK there's a difference between a war crime and terrorism In some cases they can be both. – SoylentGray – 2013-12-13T18:30:24.743

@DVK I am tired of doing your research for you look up the crap from the CIA Files on afganistan yourself. – SoylentGray – 2013-12-13T18:31:52.783

1@Chad - claims typically require evidence. Extraordinary claims, extraordinary evidence. – user4012 – 2013-12-13T20:43:44.633

@Chad - they can be both when the issue involved deliberately targeting non-combatants for political purpose. Which is why I agreed with firebombings – user4012 – 2013-12-13T20:44:31.120

2@DVK - The proof is out there. We trained OBL and were involved in the resistance against the Russians, and that included making some events appear to the the result of russians. It is part of the reason OBL used for hating the US. You asked for one example to back up the claim that the US is a terrorist government I provided 11 with little thought. 1 may not make the claim 11 do. – SoylentGray – 2013-12-13T21:14:04.847

3@Chad - so far, of 11 only one makes the cut (firebombing) that happened within the last 100 years; and even then isn't usually labeled as terrorism by most people (I'm willing to). The rest don't conform to that definition, or you didn't provide any proof of it despite your claims to (e.g. Afghanistan or Mai Lai) – user4012 – 2013-12-14T02:58:52.583


Was Nelson Mandela a Terrorist?

Yes and no: but mostly "no", not in the sense that the word "terrorist" means today.

  • Yes, because he organized the planting of bombs for sabotage (e.g. of electric pylons).
  • No, because he did so in a way that was purposefully intended to avoid killing anyone.

I tried to explore or 'prove' this question in detail on the Skeptics forum: Was Nelson Mandela a killer?


Posted 2013-12-07T19:37:44.467

Reputation: 19


Lets be honest. If Mandela was not arrested he wouldve killed many more innocent people. He never apologised for all the innocent men, woman and children he sent to their deaths (black and white) althoug he admitted to being the master mind behind it all. The answer to your questions whether he was a terrorist or not can be answered with a question: Would you not call a man a terrorist if he ordered a bombing of a restaurant and killed your entire family and never even bothered to ask for forgiveness? 27 year sentence is a bargain for mass murder.


Posted 2013-12-07T19:37:44.467

Reputation: 27


I'll give the most controversial answer ever and I'll receive many downvotes and might be banned from using this site. I'm from a small country in the middle east called Lebanon and I'm Christian so I'm not a terrorist according to the "American standard".

I believe that there's no such thing as terrorism, there's no such thing as right or wrong, if you look at the big picture.

We had a civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1990. We, the Christians had to defend ourselves from the Syrians and the Palestinians, and the Lebanese Muslims and the Druze. So what we did? We did what we had to do, that is killing everyone who stands in our way, including innocent people and children, we did thing that you cannot imagine, we wanted to make a statement, we wanted the enemy to fear us, otherwise he won't stop, fear is the most powerful human instinct.

We made a deal with the devil, we made a deal with Israel to stop the Syrians, Israel later invaded Lebanon, trust we'd definitely do this deal again if we were in a survival situation, the enemy of your enemy is your friend.

We even Killed each other, Christian militias went to war against each other, they were after the power.

Were we terrorists? Maybe, maybe. It's easy for you, sitting at your home, drinking hot chocolate to judge others. But what if I invaded your home, killed your entire family, what would you do? Would you call a lawyer? Would you seek justice? No, you would seek revenge - reckoning.

I don't even blame Bin Laden. I do hate him so much, because people like him killed Christians in my country back then and are doing so now in Syria. But I don't blame him.

Even in Syria now, no one is a terrorist, or maybe everyone is. Bashar Al Assad is killing all the Sunnis, AKA the revolution including civilians and children. But the Sunnis are killing everyone who is not a Sunni, (Christians, Shia, all) including civilians and children.

Part of me says that Bashar is a murderer killing little babies, the other part of me says the Sunnies are murderer too, they killed children too, priests, entire Christian Villages, don't believe CNN, the medias are liars, the Sunnis are no better than Bashar, so I came to the point where I just don't care about what happens in Syria. The US knows that, that's why they haven't sent any troops to stop Bashar, they realize that it's a mess, a killer is trying another killer, much like assassins the movie. It's a chess game, the US is waiting to see who's going to come on top in the middle game, before they make their move in the end game.

Real life is not a poem, where the pen is more powerful than the gun, get over it. I think Mandela did what he had to do, period.


Posted 2013-12-07T19:37:44.467

Reputation: 105

"I believe there is no such thing as terrorism, there is no such thing as right or wrong." Not believing in right or wrong (absolute or reltive), does not mean that terrorism does not have an accepted definition. Terrorism has a definition, and not believing in it doesn't prevent it from existing. Your answer is akin to saying, "I don't beleve that there are radical islamist," because you don't believe that muslims exist. – user1873 – 2014-01-13T23:34:33.457

@user1873 I said in Syria now, no one is a terrorist, or maybe everyone is. you see, there's a political leader in my country who has killed many Christians. After the war, a journalist asked him what do you have to say about your dirty actions in war? He replied There's no dirty war and a clean war, war is war similarly I consider Sharon a terrorist, you might consider him a hero, if you were from Israel. And one must ask, is he a terrorist or not? Many Arabs, like bin laden consier the US soldiers to be terrorist because they invaded their countries and stole their resources etc – Lynob – 2014-01-13T23:50:43.670

@user1873 I believe there's no such thing as right or wrong because we're all doing wrong things, it's in our human nature, it's okay for the shark to eat people, it's his nature. So I consider that there's no terrorists or lets say everyone is terrorist, either way is fine for me – Lynob – 2014-01-13T23:53:54.967

@user1873 In fact I believe politicians and money are the true evil in this world, all of the conflicts are created by politicians, I believe that we, as a human species, don't need leaders, it's a big discussion, far beyond the scope of this question, so I'd rather not to go into it but I wanted to let you know what I really believe in – Lynob – 2014-01-13T23:58:13.333

1If we all aren't killing civilians, we cannot all be terrorists. Words have meanings. The scope of this question isn't what you believe in, it is I Mandela a terrorist. If your definition is that everyone is a terorist, because you define it as "people who do wrong" (i.e. sinners, download music, drone combatants, provide a good for monetary gain "dirty capitalists"), you should just shorten your answer. "Mandela is a person, all people are terrorists, Mandela is a terrorist, QED" – user1873 – 2014-01-14T00:12:02.293


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– user1873 – 2014-01-14T22:36:27.720

Isn't this question supposed to be about Nelson Mandela? – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica – 2014-01-20T17:26:47.353

1@SamIam - It appears to be addressing the whole notion of the label of terrorist. If no one is a terrorist then Mandela can not be a part of a non existant whole. – SoylentGray – 2014-01-22T20:11:57.427