Nelson Mandela was the greatest leader of our age. He died today at 95 of a lung infection connected to the tuberculosis he contracted while serving 27 years as a political prisoner. All South Africans, and everyone around the world who admires his heroic adherence to his principles and his extraordinary decision to embrace and forgive his former oppressors, is in deep mourning over his loss.
There was, of course, a time when Forbes would not have been so effusive in their praise, and that was the time when Nelson Mandela forged his moral authority.
More reflections below the fold
Frank Schnittger Nelson Mandela RIP
I first became aware of Nelson Mandela in a personal way, when, as a 17 year old undergraduate student, I came in contact with South Africans who had been banned by the Apartheid regime for their political activities and who were now campaigning for an end to Apartheid throughout Europe.
Basil Moore, author of an anthology of Black Theology which included a contribution from Steve Biko had been banned for campaigning against Apartheid in his role as General Secretary of the South African University Christian Movement. He lived under house arrest, his neighbours hung and strung up the the family pet from a lamp post outside their home, and he eventually escaped by sneaking across the border into Zimbabwe. Eva Strauss was banned for marrying a black man (and also perhaps for her outspoken political and feminist views). Colin Winter, Bishop-in-exile of Namibia had been deported for his opposition to Apartheid in Namibia and support for striking migrant workers.
When Mandela visited Dublin to be made a Freeman of the City, my kids waved ANC flags in his honour. We had to show our support. Only after the end of Apartheid did I feel it right to visit South Africa itself, where I have since been fortunate to make many friends. In their lives I have seen the changes that the end of apartheid has made, and how much Mandela contributed to that process. May he rest in peace. Sometimes people do not know the good they do in and for others. We never met, but his struggle helped to change my life.
In the desire to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s life — an iconic figure who triumphed over South Africa’s brutal apartheid regime — it’s tempting to homogenize his views into something everyone can support. This is not, however, an accurate representation of the man.
Mandela was a political activist and agitator. He did not shy away from controversy and he did not seek — or obtain — universal approval. Before and after his release from prison, he embraced an unabashedly progressive and provocative platform. As one commentator put it shortly after the announcement of the freedom fighter’s death, “Mandela will never, ever be your minstrel. Over the next few days you will try so, so hard to make him something he was not, and you will fail. You will try to smooth him, to sandblast him, to take away his Malcolm X. You will try to hide his anger from view.” ...
1. Mandela blasted the Iraq War and American imperialism. Mandela called Bush “a president who has no foresight, who cannot think properly,” and accused him of “wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust” by going to war in Iraq. “All that (Mr. Bush) wants is Iraqi oil,” he said. Mandela even speculated that then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan was being undermined in the process because he was black. “They never did that when secretary-generals were white,” he said. He saw the Iraq War as a greater problem of American imperialism around the world. “If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America. They don’t care,” he said.