Mandela Flash 90

The Nelson Mandela Foundation denies a report that was first published in Haaretz, according to which former president Nelson Mandela received weapons training from the Israel's Mossad spy agency in 1962.

If the Mossad connection existed, this would be an embarassing revelation for the Mandela family, seeing as Mandela publicly cultivated links with the PLO and likened Israel to a "terrorist state." He has been called "an enabler of anti-Semitic terrorism."

The Nelson Mandela Foundation issued a statement following the report, in which it said that it “can confirm that it has not located any evidence in Nelson Mandela's private archive (which includes his 1962 diary and notebook) that he interacted with an Israeli operative during his tour of African countries in that year.” The Foundation noted that both the diary and the notebook were used as evidence against Mandela in the 1963-1964 Rivonia Trial for sabotage.

“In 1962 Mr Mandela received military training from Algerian freedom fighters in Morocco and from the Ethiopian Riot Battalion at Kolfe outside Addis Ababa, before returning to South Africa in July 1962,” the Foundation continued. “In 2009 the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s senior researcher travelled to Ethiopia and interviewed the surviving men who assisted in Mandela’s training – no evidence emerged of an Israeli connection.”

Mandela visited other African countries in 1962 in order to drum up support for the African National Congress's struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa. According to the letter – which was classified top secret and sent to officials in Israel in October 1962 – a man who identified himelf as David Mobsari approached the Israeli embassy in Ethiopia and sought help earlier that year.

The subject line of the letter was the "Black Pimpernel", a term used by the South African press to refer to Mandela.

Haaretz quoted the letter as saying: "As you may recall, three months ago we discussed the case of a trainee in Ethiopia by the name of David Mobsari, from Rhodesia. The aforementioned received training from the Ethiopians [embassy employees who were "almost certainly" Mossad men, according to the English-langauge Haaretz] in judo, sabotage and weaponry."

The Hebrew version of the Haaretz story does not include the sentence about "the Ethiopians." 

It added that “Mobsari” had shown interest in the methods of the Haganah and other Jewish underground movements that had fought the British occupation of the Land of Israel before the establishment of the state of Israel.

It went on: "He greeted our men with 'Shalom', was familiar with the problems of Jewry and of Israel, and gave the impression of being an intellectual. The staff tried to make him into a Zionist. In conversations with him, he expressed socialist world views and at times created the impression that he leaned toward communism.

"It now emerges from photographs that have been published in the press about the arrest in South Africa of the 'Black Pimpernel' that the trainee from Rhodesia used an alias, and the two men are one and the same."

According to Haaretz, a later handwritten annotation to the letter confirmed the Black Pimpernel was Mandela. The newspaper said the letter was kept in the state archives, and was discovered a few years ago by David Fachler, a student researching a thesis on relations between Israel and South Africa.

Israel's Foreign Ministry website states that "The Israel State Archives holds a document (not released for publication) showing that Mandela (under an assumed identity) met with an unofficial Israel representative in Ethiopia as early as 1962 … The Israeli representative was not aware of Mandela's true identity. Instead the two discussed Israel's problems in the Middle East, with Mandela displaying wide-ranging interest in the subject. Only after his arrest in 1962, on his return to South Africa, did Israel learn the truth."

The BBC has published an interview with Col. (ret.) Fekasu Wakene of Ethiopia, who reportedly was the man who trained Mandela when he was in Ethiopia. "All we knew was that he was our guest from abroad and that he would spend some time with us," he said. "Everything was kept very secret. We were kept in the dark."

Mandela was trained in “sabotage” by a special police force called the Riot Corps, and received briefings on “military science, how to run an army and how to use a gun,” said the BBC. Ethiopia, under Emperor Haile Selassie, trained many other African liberation struggle fighters at the time.

The two versions of Mandela's training can both be true – if Mossad was somehow involved in the training Mandela received from Ethiopia, or if Mandela received training from Ethiopia and also approached the Israeli embassy there.