Fundamentally Freund: Misrepresenting Mandela

Mandela was flawed human being, full of contradictions and shortcomings, a man who alternately extolled violence and reconciliation.

By
December 9, 2013 22:07
4 minute read.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela

nelson mandela_311 reuters. (photo credit: REUTERS/Elmond Jiyane/GCIS)

 
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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 Communist.

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 man.

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 Mandela himself.

Take, for example, the editorial in The Dallas Morning News, which likened Mandela to Moses and labeled him “the conscience of the world.”

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 be.

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 opponents.

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 military struggle.”

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 killers.

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.

Three 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 brother.”


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 state.”

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.

“We 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 history.

And that is something Mandela himself would not have wanted.

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.”

Sure, we 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.

And that is how it would be best to remember him.

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