Honoring Nelson MandelaBy FinalCall.com News | Last updated: Dec 5, 2013 - 8:45:08 PM
EDITOR'S NOTE: Prior to the passing of Nelson Mandela, former political prisoner, South African president, and Nobel Prize recipient, I wrote an editorial earlier this year about how to properly honor this great man. Now that he has physically departed us, I would like to offer these thoughts again. Look for updated coverage in the next edition of The Final Call Newspaper and on www.finalcall.com. Richard B. Muhammad, editor in chief.
When the name of this iconic leader is mentioned, what often follows are accolades for his coming together with the former rulers of South Africa’s brutal and deadly apartheid regime to chart a new course for his country. He became South Africa’s first Black president as White rule of the country’s Black majority ended.
He is also spoken of as a man of principle not known for conveniently changing sides because of popular opinion or pressure.
But as “Madiba,” the name the 94-year-old patriarch of the Rainbow Nation is lovingly called by his countrymen, was in a hospital in critical condition June 24 talk of his life must not simply be used to place him in a pantheon of giants of Black history—though he is and belongs in that hallowed place.
The life of a man of substance is not about personal accolades or personal achievements and a twisted type of tribute that lionizes him without enough focus on lessons from his life, the cause for which he fought and the price he paid.
Nelson Mandela was not just a man of purpose but a man of organization and a man connected with a movement. And it was precisely his connection with the African National Congress movement that made the White minority government fear and jail him. He was part of a movement that aimed to destroy an evil system of racial oppression, exploitation and segregation perhaps only exceeded by her twin system in America.
He was a man who stood with other men and other women as a cadre of freedom fighters, some jailed, some killed, some exiled.
So a twin call could arise, “Free Mandela!”—a focus on a man as a symbol of the resistance of a people and “End apartheid!”—a demand that the system that crushed suffering people be eliminated.
It was not an easy journey for him, nor his family. His former wife Winnie Madikizela–Mandela, a fierce warrior for freedom in her own right, was jailed. She was banned. She was imprisoned in her home. She was shot at. His children suffered without a father, so much so that at this heavy time they appealed for a personal moment not with the father of the nation, but for a little peaceful time with their father, their grandfather.
And while Mandela may be a name easily uttered today, it was not in 1962 when he was captured in South Africa, dressed as a chauffeur. His arrest was made possible because the CIA, yes the American Central Intelligence Agency, had an undercover infiltrator in the inner circle of the group. Cox News Service broke the story in 1990, just four months after Mr. Mandela’s release from prison.
“The news-service report said that at the time of Mr. Mandela’s arrest in August 1962, the C.I.A. devoted more resources to penetrating the activities of nationalist groups like the African National Congress than did South Africa’s then-fledgling security service,” the New York Times reported.
“The account said the American intelligence agency was willing to assist in the apprehension of Mr. Mandela because it was concerned that a successful nationalist movement threatened a friendly South African Government. Expansion of such movements outside South Africa’s borders, the agency feared, would jeopardize the stability of other African states, the account said.”
It should be noted for decades Mr. Mandela and the African National Congress were terrorists in the eyes of and legalities of Western nations—in particular the United States of America and Great Britain. Their excuse was that there was a communist influence pressing for South Africa and within the ANC, when in fact South Africa was America’s brother and ally not just in geopolitics but in the global system of White supremacy.
The irony of rising from prisoner to president wasn’t lost on Mr. Mandela. “I was called a terrorist yesterday, but when I came out of jail, many people embraced me, including my enemies, and that is what I normally tell other people who say those who are struggling for liberation in their country are terrorists,” he once said during an interview with broadcaster Larry King.
So in a world where South Africa faces serious problems of persistent Black deprivation and poverty, enduring White privilege and inordinate wealth control, corporate exploitation of workers and a gap between the haves and the have-nots, it will not be tributes to Mandela that will save the nation. It will take the courage to make hard choices and remember that the struggle was always about bringing life and dignity to a deprived people, their blood nurtured the protests and demonstrations that freed Mr. Mandela.
When Madiba toured the U.S. after leaving prison he spoke at the United Nations and at a press conference in 1990. Final Call editor Abdul Wali Muhammad raised the question of reparations for Blacks in America to Mr. Mandela in the media session. The ANC leader responded that the ANC and South Africans were willing to be guided by their brothers in America on that subject.
The question of Palestinian Liberation Organization and fellow “terrorist” Yasser Arafat’s support of the ANC and Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi’s backing of the ANC were raised. Mr. Mandela, who had essentially said the CIA role in his capture could be left as old history, chided the media for the push to disavow those who had backed the liberation struggle. When you supported the enemy, these men and their groups supported us, he said, refusing to distance himself from important allies.
When the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan visited Mr. Mandela in South Africa in 1996, critics howled and the South African leader ignored the jackals. Following the meeting, Mr. Mandela told the media he had shared the ANC’s various positions with the Minister and didn’t see major areas of disagreement.
Our memories of Madiba must be linked to lessons of struggle, overcoming pain to live by principles and the willingness to stand tall in moments of challenge. If we laud him and forget such lessons, our words betray us and dishonor him.