For those who have been living incommunicado, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela died on 5th December. Ironically his death was announced during the London premiere of the film about Nelson Mandela, the Long Walk to Freedom.
The World’s media and politicians have done what they do at the death of any famous person. Yes, the overdone hype and hysterical grief has been nauseating. Irrespective of who dies, the media seem unable to do anything other than go overboard about the death. This is even more so when one considers that the death of a 95 year old is not unexpected. The death of someone like Diana, Princess of Wales, was more shocking and newsworthy in that it was unexpected.
The out pouring of grief and tributes to Nelson Mandela portray a rather distorted view of his life and his achievements. There has been a large degree of airbrushing and manipulation of the truth.
He was released from prison in South Africa in 1990 after 27 years in prison. At the time of his release, South Africa was on the brink of a civil war on racial grounds. The Apartheid government was on the brink of being overthrown. The black movement was both powerful and divided. Powerful in that the apartheid government was clinging to power, and divided in that there was a lot of horrible infighting. Remember the Necklace murders?
Prior to and following his release from Prison, Mandela led the ANC in their negotiations towards free , fair elections in South Africa. He achieved the seemingly impossible in that between his release from prison in 1990 and his death in 2013 civil war did not break out in South Africa. To my mind that is an incredible achievement and that peaceful transition to majority rule in South Africa post 1990 is to be remembered.
His words of forgiveness and reconciliation after his release from prison are remembered by many
“Great anger and violence can never build a nation. We are striving to proceed in a manner and towards a result, which will ensure that all our people, both black and white, emerge as victors.” (Speech to European Parliament, 1990)
“Without democracy there cannot be peace.” (South Africa, May 9, 1992)
“Reconciliation means working together to correct the legacy of past injustice.” (December 16, 1995)
“I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.” (From Long Walk to Freedom, 1995)
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” (From Long Walk to Freedom, 1995)
“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” (From Long Walk to Freedom, 1995
However, to remember him only for these sound bites and his actions post 1990 is to airbrush out important parts of history.
ANTI APARTHEID MOVEMENT
Whilst Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for terrorism offences, others carried on the anti apartheid struggle. It is to underplay the work they all did if we give all the credit to Nelson Mandela. He himself never claimed the praise or the glory for the struggle against apartheid. He recognised the limited role he was able to play.
In the UK for example, we had the continuous protest outside South Africa House. (Incidentally a protest that would not be able to happen now under the latest legislation passed by recent Labour and Tory governments!), the trade unions, student unions etc. with their boycotting of companies that traded with South Africa – e.g. student boycotts of Barclay’s Bank. The sporting ban on teams going to South Africa or on musicians playing Sun City in South Africa.
Perhaps one of the things that did the most to raise awareness in the UK was the song by the Special AKA, “Free Nelson Mandela”. This song perhaps did more than anything in the previous 20 years to make the public aware of Nelson Mandela.
This of course is not to suggest that it was only because of those in the UK that Nelson Mandela was released. The ending of apartheid was as a result of the efforts of people across the world and in particular in South Africa.
By the time Mandela was released from prison the tide had turned against the South African Government, and Mandela was effectively a charismatic figure head for the anti apartheid movement.
He was however, either shrewd enough or magnanimous to realise that bitterness and armed struggle was not the way to get black majority rule in South Africa. It is to his credit that he managed to prevent a civil war and bring about peaceful change. Virtually no other African country has undergone such a peaceful change to black majority rule / independence
What cannot be ignored is the fact that Nelson Mandela remained to his death a convicted terrorist. Now of course one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Mandela as part of his campaign against apartheid supported the use of violence and terrorism to achieve that end. It is clear that he was a thorn in the side of the authorities and they tried everything they could to stop him.
However, terrorism is not the appropriate response in my view. Ghandi in India brought about change by totally peaceful methods. Mandela was not content to take peaceful action. He wanted to use violence and terrorism to force his will on others. There is nothing democratic about terrorism.
Mandela played a key role in bringing the ANC to the view that force had to be met with force if black liberation were ever to come to South Africa. After calling for a general strike in May 1960, Mandela had vanished underground. The strike attracted less support than Mandela hoped, and he began telling friends “the days of nonviolent struggle were over.” In June 1960, Mandela proposed to the ANC executive the undertaking of an armed effort against the South African government: “The attacks of the the wild beast cannot be averted with only bare hands,” he said. The ANC executive initially decided, however, that the time was not ripe to take up arms.
Eventually, Mandela’s arguments won over the ANC, which voted to establish a separate and independent military organ,
Umkhonto we Sizwe, or “Spear of the Nation” (or MK, for short). In June 1961, Mandela sent to South African newspapers a letter warning that a new campaign would be launched unless the government agreed to call for a national constitutional convention. Knowing that no such call would be forthcoming, Mandela retreated to the Rivonia hideout to began planning, with other supporters, a sabotage campaign. The campaign began on December 16, 1961 when Umkhonto we Sizwe saboteurs lit explosives at an electricity sub-station. Dozens of other acts of sabotage followed over the next eighteen months. (Indeed, the government would allege the defendants committed 235 separate acts of sabotage.) The sabotage included attacks on government posts, machines, and power facilities, as well as deliberate crop burning.
Mandela spent much of the early months of the sabotage campaign at the Rivonia safe-house, where he went by the name of “David.” At Rivonia, Mandela met with other leaders to shape strategy and plan a possible future guerrilla war against the South African government. His goal, he always said, was not to establish a government ruled by blacks, but to move to a multi-racial democracy that would abolish repressive laws that separated African families, restricted their travel, imposed curfews, and denied other basic human rights. In February 1962, Mandela left South Africa to garner support from foreign governments for the goals of the ANC and to receive six months of military training is Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
It should not be forgotten that Nelson Mandela admitted to the acts of sabotage at his trial. It was therefore by his own words that he is a terrorist, not by the words of an unjust government.
The aims of Nelson Mandela and his colleagues to establish a multi racial democracy is one that today we would say is an honourable one. Back in the 1970s or early 1980s for example, the majority view regarding racism was very different.
One of the undoubted facts of history is that it is always written by the winners. Have you never thought how come the good guys always seem to win? So it is with Nelson Mandela, the history is written by those who opposed apartheid and so he is feted as some sort of saint and his past is airbrushed from history.
Indeed the quote I used earlier from his speech in 1990 to the European Parliament should be looked at again.
“Great anger and violence can never build a nation. We are striving to proceed in a manner and towards a result, which will ensure that all our people, both black and white, emerge as victors.” (Speech to European Parliament, 1990)”
Now, ask yourself how that sits with his acts of terrorism for which he was jailed?
History often distorts the truth. The reality is that Mandela had many great qualities, but he also had other less pleasant qualities.
The same is true of everyone. Indeed, the person I and many people regard as the greatest ever Britain, Winston Churchill is remembered as a great wartime leader and the man who saved Britain from Hitler and the Nazis. He was indeed a great wartime leader and it is his leadership that did help defeat Nazi Germany.
However, Churchill was also a person with some very unpleasant views.
For example, this on the use of chemical weapons. Something that would result in War Crime charges being brought today. Indeed it was partially the use of chemical weapons that resulted in the invasion of Iraq
I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisonous gas against uncivilised tribes.
Writing as president of the Air Council, 1919
Or how about his views on Ghandi and on India itself:
It is alarming and nauseating to see Mr Gandhi, a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the east, striding half naked up the steps of the viceregal palace, while he is still organising and conducting a campaign of civil disobedience, to parlay on equal terms with the representative of the Emperor-King.
Commenting on Gandhi’s meeting with the Viceroy of India, 1931
(India is) a godless land of snobs and bores.
In a letter to his mother, 1896
Or how about his views on Racism in particular in the USA and Australia
I do not admit… that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia… by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race… has come in and taken its place.
Churchill to Palestine Royal Commission, 1937
On Hitler in 1937:
One may dislike Hitler’s system and yet admire his patriotic achievement. If our country were defeated, I hope we should find a champion as admirable to restore our courage and lead us back to our place among the nations.”
From his Great Contemporaries, 1937
Then there was his decision as home secretary to use troops against unarmed striking civilian miners at Tonypanddy in Wales.
These quotes/ views/ actions are like those of Nelson Mandela airbrushed out of history because they do not portray the image of the subject those who write the history want us to have.
All history is subjective and the truth is rarely fully told by any one party. Most people have a less pleasant side as well as the pleasant one people want you to remember- similarly with those portrayed as evil in history, there is usually a more palatable side to them as well.
One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter is a common statement.
Last night someone said to me
Mandela was a courageous freedom fighter who inspired South Africans to overthrow the evil Apartheid system.…..
Now, try changing a couple of names there
Osama Bin Laden was a courageous freedom fighter who inspired Muslims to (attempt to) overthrow the evil Western system….
Why is one deemed to be acceptable and one not to be? I would suggest it is because of your view on the “Evil” system, not because of your views on the actions.
You oppose the latter view and support the former? Why? Both used terrorism to support their views. Thus you are not condemning terrorism because you think it was fine for Mandela to use terrorism to achieve his ends.
What you are doing is condemning Osama Bin Laden because his views were not the same as yours. If terrorism was fine for Mandela to use, then surely it is fine for Bin Laden to use as well?
Alternatively, terrorism was not an appropriate action for either party to use. We should be condemning terrorism no matter who uses it, irrespective of the cause behind it. As someone once said:
“Great anger and violence can never build a nation.”