How the CIA sent Nelson Mandela
to prison for 28 years

by William Blum


When Nelson Mandela was released from prison in February 1990, President George Bush personally telephoned the black South African leader to tell him that all Americans were "rejoicing at your release". This was the same Nelson Mandela who was imprisoned for almost 28 years because the CIA tipped off South African authorities as to where they could find him. This was the same George Bush who was once the head of the CIA and who for eight years was second in power of an administration whose CIA and National Security Agency collaborated closely with the South African intelligence service, providing information about Mandela's African National Congress.{1} The ANC, like all left-leaning nationalistic movements, was perceived by Washington as being part of the infamous (albeit mythical) International Communist Conspiracy.

On August 5, 1962, Nelson Mandela had been on the run for 17 months when armed police at a roadblock flagged down his car outside Howick, Natal. How the police came to be there was not publicly explained. In late July 1986, however, stories appeared in three South African newspapers (picked up shortly thereafter by the London press and, in part, by CBS-TV) which shed considerable light on the question. The stories told of how a CIA officer, Donald C. Rickard by name, under cover as a consular official in Durban, had tipped off the Special Branch that Mr. Mandela would be disguised as a chauffeur in a car headed for Durban. This was information Rickard had obtained through an informer in the ANC.

One year later, at a farewell party for him in South Africa, at the home of the notorious CIA mercenary, Colonel "Mad Mike" Hoare, Rickard himself, his tongue perhaps loosened by spirits, stated in the hearing of some of those present that he had been due to meet Mandela on the fateful night, but tipped off the police instead. Rickard refused to discuss the affair when approached by CBS.{2}

While Mandela's youth and health ebbed slowly away behind prison walls, Rickard retired to live in comfort and freedom in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. He resides there still today. His brother, Samuel Harmer Rickard, III, was a CIA officer as well for many years.


1. New York Times, July 23, 1986

2. The Guardian (London), August 15, 1986; The Times (London), August 4, 1986


Written by William Blum, author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II;

William Blum page