Nelson Mandela, the former South African leader who died earlier this month, was trained in weaponry and sabotage by Mossad operatives in 1962, a few months before he was arrested in South Africa. During his training, Mandela expressed interest in the methods of the Haganah pre-state underground and was viewed by the Mossad as leaning toward communism.
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These revelations are from a document in the Israel State Archives labeled “Top Secret.” The existence of the document is revealed here for the first time.
It also emerges that the Mossad operatives attempted to encourage Zionist sympathies in Mandela.
Mandela, the father of the new South Africa and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, led the struggle against apartheid in his country from the 1950s. He was arrested, tried and released a number of times before going underground in the early 1960s. In January 1962, he secretly and illegally fled South Africa and visited various African countries, including Ethiopia, Algeria, Egypt and Ghana. His goal was to meet with the leaders of African countries and garner financial and military support for the armed wing of the underground African National Congress.
A letter sent from the Mossad to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem reveals that Mandela underwent military training by Mossad operatives in Ethiopia during this period. These operatives were unaware of Mandela’s true identity. The letter, classified top secret, was dated October 11, 1962 – about two months after Mandela was arrested in South Africa, shortly after his return to the country.
The Mossad sent the letter to three recipients: the head of the Africa Desk at the Foreign Ministry, Netanel Lorch, who went on to become the third Knesset secretary; Maj. Gen. Aharon Remez, head of the ministry’s department of international cooperation and the first Israel Air Force commander; and Shmuel Dibon, Israel’s ambassador to Ethiopia between 1962 and 1966 and former head of the Middle East desk at the Ministry.
The subject line of the letter was “the Black Pimpernel,” in English, the term the South African media was already using for Mandela. It was based on the Scarlet Pimpernel, the nom de guerre of the hero of Baroness Emma Orczy’s early 20th century novel, who saved French noblemen from the guillotine during the French Revolution.
“As you may recall, three months ago we discussed the case of a trainee who arrived at the [Israeli] embassy in Ethiopia by the name of David Mobsari who came from Rhodesia,” the letter said. “The aforementioned received training from the Ethiopians [Israeli embassy staff, almost certainly Mossad agents] in judo, sabotage and weaponry.” The phrase “the Ethiopians” was apparently a code name for Mossad operatives working in Ethiopia.
The letter also noted that the subject in question “showed an interest in the methods of the Haganah and other Israeli underground movements. “It added that “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,” the Mossad operative wrote.
“In conversations with him, he expressed socialist worldviews and at times created the impression that he leaned toward communism,” the letter continued, noting that the man who called himself David Mobsari was the same man who had recently been arrested in South Africa.
“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.”
A handwritten annotation on the letter refers to another letter sent about two weeks later, on October 24, 1962. The annotation noted that the “Black Pimpernel” was Nelson Mandela, followed by a short review that quoted from an article about Mandela in Haaretz.
This letter was kept for decades in the Israel State Archives and was never revealed to the public. It was discovered there a few years ago by David Fachler, 43, a resident of Alon Shvut, who was researching documents about South Africa for a Masters thesis on relations between South Africa and Israel at the Hebrew University’s Institute for Contemporary Jewry.
Born in Israel, Fachler grew up and received his Masters of Law degree in South Africa. “If the fact that Israel helped Mandela had been discovered in South Africa, it could have endangered the Jewish community there,” Fachler told Haaretz.
Video: Nelson Mandela's first televised interview, recorded on the year before he visited the Israeli embassy in Ethiopia.