Dec 06 2013
Nelson Mandela passed away at the age of 95 yesterday. Clearly the world has lost a great man. He was great not just because of his struggle against apartheid-but when the tables finally turned, he did not give into the natural instincts to take vengeance on his oppressors-but to seek a middle path that made a nation that needed all of its citizens regardless of the color of their skin. South Africa will now find out if his legacy can survive or if the nation will go down the same rathole that other nations have gone down. Given the track record of his successors, I am less than totally optimistic.
Now cards on the table-I am one who is very much ambivalent about British colonialism. While I recognize its racial underpinnings and the foolishness there in, at the same time I side with Niall Ferguson who made the conclusion that the nations that were once part of the British Empire have, in general, fared much better than those that were not. In spite of the many bad things that British colonialism engendered-the simple truth about Africa remains that there are too many nations on the continent and until they start to unify and put their tribalism behind them, they will accomplish little of greatness.
And thanks to Nelson Mandela, South Africa could be a leader in that process. His legacy is unique one.
Which is why I shake my head in such complete astonishment, at the sheer buffoonery of some commenters -who have keyed on just his early life. Nelson Mandela's life cannot be examined in an American context. Those who try to do so are fools and idiots.
I advise anyone who rants and raves about the idea of Mandela being a communist, to go back and read "Cry The Beloved Country" sometime. And then go read it again. Apartheid stayed afloat on a river of violence and oppression, and while South African tried to halt the advance of history, the world went on to pass it by. What made Mandela great was that when he finally got the chance to assume power-he well understood the powder keg of emotions that had been repressed for so many years-and worked to make the transition to black majority rule a lot more orderly than many would have expected. For the complicated world of South Africa, that was nothing short of a miracle.
Most Americans who rant and rave about Mandela's Marxism don't understand context-nor do they appear to understand much of South African history since the "vortrekkers" arrived in the 1800's. First and foremost, Mandela was an advocate of economic and social justice. There is nothing wrong with that-and if anything he was ahead of his time. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend". The National Party used the fear of communism much to its advantage all through the 60's and 70's. And like it or not-the United States aided them for a long time in that effort. Or do we forget the fact that even Saint Ronnie aided and abetted apartheid?
Ronald Reagan was angry. It was October 1986, and his veto against the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act had just been overridden — and by a Republican-controlled Senate, at that.
He had appeared on TV a month earlier to warn Americans against the Anti-Apartheid Act, decrying it as "immoral" and "utterly repugnant." Congress disagreed, and one month later, it produced the two-thirds majority needed to override Reagan and pass tough new measures against South Africa's apartheid government. These measures included a ban on bank loans and new investments in South Africa, a sharp reduction of imports, and prevented most South African officials from traveling to the United States. The Act also called for the repeal of apartheid laws and the release of political prisoners like African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela, who had spent the last 23 years in prison.
It is difficult to fully comprehend the evils of apartheid today. Blacks were denied citizenship and the right to vote. They were forcibly relocated into impoverished reservations. People of color were barred from operating businesses or owning land inside white areas, which comprised most of the country. Sexual relations or marriage between people of color and whites was strictly forbidden. Racial segregation was enforced in public areas, including schools, hospitals, trains, beaches, bridges, churches and theaters. To enforce apartheid, the government often resorted to police brutality, the imprisonment and assassination of political dissidents, and the murder of black protesters.
The United States had a complicated relationship with South Africa. Hawks in the U.S. national security complex had argued since 1948 that South Africa was an important ally in the fight against communism. Their arguments persuaded presidents from Truman to Nixon to stifle criticisms of apartheid in the interest of maintaining good relations with the white South African government, whose leaders surpassed Joseph McCarthy in their anticommunist zeal.
Reagan thought he was right. But he was wrong. And so are people who are fixated with Mandela's so called "communism". Like a lot of my viewpoints of today and yesteryear-the world in the aggregate has rejected them. I my long for the sun never setting on the British Empire and all male warships-but the world has passed those ideas by. It is what it is.
Let me repeat. You cannot look at Nelson Mandela's life through any prism but a South African one. Go back and study some of the history.
And then honor a truly great man who hopefully set his country on better course than many of his counterparts in Africa. He's not Ghandi. But South Africa is not India either.
"What's the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter?" Which side of the aisle you are on.
And never forget he lost 27 years of his life to a prison cell. That changes people.
God speed and give you rest and peace, Mr Mandela.