Friday, December 06, 2013

Nelson Mandela (1918 - 2013)



It's funny in this 24/7 media dominated world we live in (only if you let it of course) how I could have missed the announcement that Nelson Mandela had died. The truth was that I was watching the Ashes and had given the news a wide berth.

Nelson Mandela was and always will be a divisive personality, the 'old mans freedom fighter is another mans terrorist' saying applied to him more than most. In fact I think that in Britain because of our experiences with the IRA during the 1970's up to the signing of the Good Friday agreement, his life before his release from the Victor Verster Prison on 11 February 1990 was the cause of many arguments among those on the left/right divide of politics. Mandela seemed to me to begin his political career in the mould of Malcolm X (by any means necessary) and grow into the Martin Luther King role of statesman.

Of course back in the day we all believed, okay not all but some, of us believed that Apartheid was possibly the worst regime and ideology since Slavery (being on the left of the political compass such things as Stalin's purges were rarely if ever mentioned) had been abolished and that the actions of the ANC were justified on the grounds that everybody should have the right to self determination and if you were denied the basic access to the democratic process and the Government of the day refused to discuss those democratic rights than perhaps blowing up the odd radio transmitter or Government building was justified. The ANC weren't just fighting what was effectively a civil war they were also fighting the Inkatha Freedom Party during the late eighties but for most people outside of South Africa the Sharpeville massacre, death of Steve Biko, release of Mandela and the numerous deaths during the 1980's (1985 was a particularly bloody year) were the edited highlights.

When we watched in horror as the arrogance of P.W Botha showed why millions inside of South Africa were looking for somebody to offer them hope we too hoped that black South Africans could obtain some recourse through the ballot box rather than a course of violence.

Of the many tributes and reactions to Mandela's death the one which caught my eye and mind was the one by the former US President George HW Bush who said "Mr Mandela had changed the course of history. As President, I watched in wonder as Nelson Mandela had the remarkable capacity to forgive his jailers following 26 years of wrongful imprisonment - setting a powerful example of redemption and grace for us all. He was a man of tremendous moral courage, who changed the course of history in his country. Barbara and I had great respect for President Mandela and send our condolences to his family and countrymen."  I think the use of the words 'wrongful imprisonment were telling, of course there is no truth in rumour that George W Bush simply commented, "Gee, was he the guy in Shawkshank Redemption?"

Of course Mandela's twin dream of democracy and a prosperous black population could not both be achieved during his lifetime but it was telling, and touching, to see so many white people on the streets and at the vigils commemorating his death, thirty years ago the whites would have been cheering his death now the population seemed united in mourning the man who did finally bring a rainbow nation into being.
 

9 comments:

Span Ows said...

Funny how in a few paragraphs you can pinpoint so many things being unsaid elsewhere: the Malcolm X to MLK transition, so true, the word "divisive" which was in every report about Maggie's death straight away, no questions and in all media: that word for Mandela, despite being true, is largely missing. Unfortunately the rainbow nation was missed and is now a myth and Mandela knew it, in fact he tried all he could to get what he knew was best but that wasn't to be. He was a great man which is why in SA white and black celebrate his life (in death), unfortunately SA has descended into the mire of murder and rapesville with the necklacing on view again (not that it ever went away completely) and the bloodiness and evil of the civil war (ANC/SACP vs 'Zulus') with its tens of thousands of black on black deaths being not so well recalled; one layer of blacks became rich and prosperous whilst most stayed 'down, much like Chavez's Boliburgueses replaced the old elite but became them too....sorry, losing track of what I wanted to say but you get the idea! Shawkshank Redemption...LOL, whenever I think of Mandela I hear Morgan Freeman's voice...."free man", wow.

Paul said...

Thank you very much for your opening line.

I agree with the rest of your post, there is so much to comment on and so many contradictions that it is difficult to know what to put in and what to leave out. You are right about the black on black which was what I touched on with the ANC/Inkatha struggles which cost thousands of lives and I think that the parallel with Chavez and other leaders is correct.

I was a bit cruel mocking George W Bush but to be honest his comments didn't make much sense and I couldn't resist a cheap dig.

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