Imagine a person who planned acts of sabotage and incited violence, resulting in
the deaths of innocent civilians and damage to public property.
A man who
embraced brutal dictators throughout the Third World, such as Libya’s Gaddafi
and Cuba’s Castro, singing their praises and defending them publicly even as
they trampled on the rights and lives of their own people.
A person who
hugged Yasser Arafat at the height of the intifada, hailed Puerto Rican
terrorists who shot US Congressmen, and penned a book entitled, How to be a good
Picture all this and, believe it or not, you will be staring
at a portrait of Nelson Mandela.
The death of the South African statesman
last week has elicited an outpouring of tributes around the world, with various
leaders and media outlets vying to outdo one another in their praise of the
Highlighting his principled stand against apartheid, and his firm
determination to erect a new, post-racial and color-blind South Africa, many
observers have hailed Mandela in glowing terms, as though he were a saint free
of blemish and clean of sin.
But such accolades not only miss the mark,
they distort history in a dangerous and damaging way and betray the legacy of
Take, for example, the editorial in The Dallas Morning
News, which likened Mandela to Moses and labeled him “the conscience of the
And then there was Peter Oborne, the UK Telegraph’s chief
political commentator, who wrote a piece entitled, “Few human beings can be
compared to Jesus Christ. Nelson Mandela was one.”
Even taking into
account Mandela’s astonishing accomplishments and harrowing life story, he is
far from being the angel that much of the media is making him out to
After all, in 1961, Mandela co-founded Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of
the Nation), the armed wing of the African National Congress, which undertook a
campaign of violence and bloodshed against the South African regime that
included bombings, sabotage and the elimination of political
Indeed, in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela
justified a car-bomb attack perpetrated by the ANC in May 1983 which killed 19
people and wounded over 200, including many innocent civilians, asserting that,
“such accidents were the inevitable consequence of the decision to embark on a
His record of support for the use of violence and
terror was such that even the lefties at Amnesty International declined to
classify him as a “political prisoner” because “Mandela had participated in
planning acts of sabotage and inciting violence.”
No less distasteful was
Mandela’s unbounded affection for international rogues, thugs and
Shortly after his release from prison in February 1990, he
publicly embraced PLO chairman Yasser Arafat while on a visit to Lusaka, Zambia.
The move came barely a month after a series of letter-bombs addressed to Jewish
and Christian leaders were discovered at a Tel Aviv post office.
months later, on May 18, 1990, Mandela decided to pay a visit to Libya, where he
gratefully accepted the International Gaddafi Prize for Human Rights from
dictator Col. Muammar Gaddafi, whom he referred to as “our
While there, Mandela told journalists, “The ANC has, on
numerous occasions, maintained that the PLO is our comrade in arms in the
struggle for the liberation of our respective countries. We fully support the
combat of the PLO for the creation of an independent Palestinian
The following month, on his first visit to New York in June 1990,
Mandela heaped praise on four Puerto Rican terrorists who had opened fire in the
US House of Representatives in 1954, wounding five congressmen.
support the cause,” Mandela said, “of anyone who is fighting for
self-determination, and our attitude is the same, no matter who it is. I would
be honored to sit on the platform with the four comrades whom you refer to” (New
York Times, June 22, 1990).
Even in later years, he maintained a fondness
for those who used violence to achieve their aims.
In November 2004, when
Arafat died, Mandela mourned his old friend, saying that “Yasser Arafat was one
of the outstanding freedom fighters of this generation.”
Now you might be
wondering: why is any of this important? It matters for the same reason that the
historical record matters: to provide us and future generations with lessons to
be learned and pitfalls to be avoided.
By painting Mandela solely in
glowing terms and ignoring his violent record, the media and others are
falsifying history and concealing the truth.
They are putting on a
pedestal a man who excused the use of violence against civilians and befriended
those with blood on their hands.
By all means, celebrate the
transformation that Mandela brought about in his country, the freedom and
liberties that he upheld, and the process of reconciliation that he oversaw. But
to gloss over or ignore his failings and flaws is hagiography, not
And that is something Mandela himself would not have
In 1999, after he stepped down as South African president after
one term in office, he said, “I wanted to be known as Mandela, a man with
weaknesses, some of which are fundamental, and a man who is committed, but
nevertheless, sometimes he fails to live up to expectations.”
all need heroes, figures who seem to soar above our natural human limitations
and inspire us to strive for greatness.
But Mandela was not Superman. He
was neither born on Krypton nor did he wear a large letter “S” on his chest
along with a red cape.
He was a flawed human being, full of
contradictions and shortcomings, a man who alternately extolled violence and
reconciliation according to whether it suited his purposes to do so.
that is how it would be best to remember him.