As quickly as you can say "Tata Madiba," the Nelson Mandela Foundation has swatted away allegations that suggest the late anti-apartheid leader received weapons training from the Israeli secret service.
The claim sprung from a secret letter written in 1962 and revealed on Friday by Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The letter spoke of a "David Mobsari from Rhodesia" who was trained in "judo, sabotage and weaponry" by "the Ethiopians," which Haaretz reported as referring to Ethiopia-based Mossad agents. The letter's subject line, "The Black Pimpernel," refers to an early nickname for Mandela, and it suggests that Mobsari was Mandela:
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 day after the claim was made, however, the Nelson Mandela Foundation said that it "has not located any evidence in Nelson Mandela's private archive... that he interacted with an Israeli operative during his tour of African countries in that year."
The foundation, dedicated to preserving Mandela's legacy, acknowledged that Mandela did receive military training in 1962, but that it was from Algerian freedom fighters in Morocco, and that later investigations proved that there were no links to Israel.
It's worth noting that while it keeps his archives, the Nelson Mandela Foundation is hardly an objective voice in this matter, making this ultimately a game of he-said-Haaretz-said about a very recently deceased icon, so it's impossible to discern the truth. But according to ABC News, Mandela's African National Congress and Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization did enjoy close ties, including in joint military training, and Mandela has said that he would "never forget Israel's close ties with South Africa's apartheid regime."