Today, South Africa is held the official memorial for Nelson Mandela, who passed away last week on 5th December at the age of 95. As everyone would expect, there have been a slew of homages, essays, op eds and tributes to Mandela in the last week, and I doubt they’ll end any time soon. Also as expected, plenty of known bigots and racists have appropriated the general spirit of Mandela’s legacy to push their agenda of denigrating Barack Obama, because what kind of person would they be if they DIDN’T shit on an erstwhile somber and reflective event to stoke flames of hate? Oh right...they’d be human, which they are not.
I also expected that there would be a few trolls that would have disparaging words for Madiba, because some people don’t like black people. Can you believe it??? Who knew? What I did NOT expect, though, was a statement like this: “Nelson Mandela was a communist guerilla. He allied with the Soviets.” When I first saw that in a comment under an NPR article, I shrugged it off as yet another troll, but then NPR actually talked about his ties to the Soviet Union. It was true! The African National Congress, when they had a militant wing, actually had ties to the Soviet Bloc! How could they do such a thing! Everyone knows how harshly the Soviet Union treated other minorities like European Jews and gays!
Then I thought about it...why wouldn’t they? If you put yourself in the shoes of a young Nelson Mandela, your native land is officially not yours thanks to 300 years of oppression, and the governing system, though “racially” a minority, gets support from the biggest superpowers of the time, namely the US and the UK, all in their pointless war against communism. If the capitalist government is oppressing me, and I can’t get any support, then why not go to the Soviets for help? Given a choice between rolling over and taking abuse and fighting, I doubt that the detractors would have done something different. The fight for equality is a war, and people do a lot of things they may not do in peacetime. Even the United States, the supposed bastion of freedom and equality, had a president who vetoed sanctions against Apartheid South Africa. I don’t think Reagan was a racist for doing so. I do, however, think he was only thinking about money and power. F*** humans. Fortunately, this was back in the day when Congress worked together, and they overrode the veto. So there you have it: the ANC DID ally with the USSR, back when NO ONE would help them, all in the name of power. The US and the UK, and the rest of the world, should be ashamed of themselves for doing so little so late in the Apartheid fight.
What is amazing, though, is what happened when Mandela went free. He didn’t start a civil war, as some thought would happen. He served one term as president and did everything he could to plant seeds of unity. I know that I would not have been so big of a man to forgive. A lifetime of fighting for freedom in every way possible against a 300-year old racist system, 27 years in a work prison, watching my friends and family die around me...I don’t know anyone who would not have harboured hot, acidic hate for the representatives of the oppressors. I would have been Nat Turner with gamma radiation augmentation. Mandela swallowed that hate, and rebuilt his society to foster equality.
Nelson Mandela was the most amazing man of the 20th and 21st Century. He was man enough to fight for what he knew was right when he could have just kept his head down and suffered the status quo. He took up arms when he needed, and stood in court to say his piece, even though he knew that it may have meant his head in a noose. Finally, when he was free, he knew when to put down the weapon and pick up the pen. I highly doubt anyone will equal that level of maturity and wisdom. South Africa is definitely not out of the woods, but it is eons away from what it was. Furthermore, I can’t think of any freedom fighter who has lived the the age of 95, and was able to see his vision progress. Rest well, Madiba.