By Alan Gold | The Australian
July 11, 2008
ON an overcast day in London's Hyde Park, dozens of the world's most famous glitterati recently came together to join with a crowd of 50,000 adoring fans to shower Nelson Mandela with their love and unquestioning devotion on his 90th birthday.
When presidents, prime ministers and Hollywood superstars line up to wish you happy birthday, and when your bash is hosted by superhero Will Smith, you know you've reached the very zenith of international recognition and are already inscribed in the annals of hagiography.
There are very few international statesmen or women as famous as Mandela. Since his time in prison and his subsequent presidency of South Africa, he has superceded Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa and pope John Paul II as the moral conscience of the world. All Mandela has to do is to speak out against something he perceives as evil or wrong, and it immediately becomes holy writ for journalists, politicians and tens of millions of idolising disciples who see him as a rock of integrity standing firm against a tidal wave of straw men.
While the rock concert was in full swing, I received an email from a South African friend, somebody who has long been mystified by the international reverence of Mandela.
"Why," my friend wrote, "are these kids cheering for him and treating him like some messiah? Don't they know his history, that he was an advocate of violence and sat idly by while his organisation committed murder and torture?"
It's remarkable how time can ameliorate history. What the congregation rocking in Hyde Park probably didn't know was that long before most of them were born, Mandela was one of the leaders of the African National Congress, who created an armed wing called the Umkhonto we Sizwe or Spear of the Nation, which was dedicated to bombing civilian, industrial, military and government targets. South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission has accused it of torture and executions without due process.
And far from being a prisoner of conscience during his time as inmate 46664, Mandela was jailed for advocating the violent overthrow of the government. In his quarter of a century in prison, Mandela refused to publicly renounce terrorism as a weapon.
The universal hatred of the apartheid regime in white South Africa has blinded us to the reality of the acts of murder, torture and terrorism committed by the Spear of the Nation, which Mandela and his colleagues presided over in their leadership of the ANC. This helps to explain why, until the beginning of July 2008, Mandela was still on the US list of terrorists.
Of course, it's easy to understand why Mandela is so revered. He's the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, and in the past four decades has been awarded more than 100 prizes, citations and degrees. Nor should his accomplishments since being released from his prison be diminished.
More than any other, he is the leader credited with bringing down the hated and racist apartheid regime.
But before he is accorded the same Mahatma status as Gandhi, who peacefully reclaimed India from the British and a man whom Mandela says was his guiding light and inspiration, it's important to examine his record as a freedom fighter. What it shows is that like so many black Africans fighting the evil of apartheid or colonialism, he has a record of advocating and condoning violence.
During his presidency of South Africa, he deliberately courted leaders of nations who abuse the human rights of their citizens. It's by examining his often overlooked past that Mandela is revealed as anything but a saint. And it's all too tempting to forgive him and his colleagues their excesses because they were fighting a brutal and oppressive white racist regime that treated blacks as subhuman.
But were we to justify the means in light of the end result, then we would have to condone every act of terrorism and the carnage of every freedom fighter's atrocity. Gandhi showed the world that non-violent non-co-operation is a far deadlier weapon than bombs and bullets.
Since he stepped down from the leadership of a nation with rising tides of crime and infection, his legacy can be divided between the man who ended white racist rule and the failed leader who left South Africa far worse off than when he was elected.
Yet he is still elevated to near sainthood by a largely unquestioning West, an icon carried aloft on the idealism of the young and the shoulders of those who hate racism.
Because of the reverence in which he is held, few in the media ask him why it is that he has made a profession of befriending and supporting those dictators who are the declared enemies of the West.
During his time as president, Mandela was a strong supporter of Uganda's insane dictator Idi Amin, of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, of Hafez al-Assad of Syria, of Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, of Fidel Castro of Cuba, of the theocratic leaders of Iran, and many other dictators. This may be viewed as guilt by association, but when he became president and apartheid was demolished as an instrument of government, Mandela rarely publicly acknowledged that it was the sanctions and disinvestment by Western governments and corporations, and the voices of men and women of conscience in the West, who had been largely responsible for the overthrow of white rule.
Yet despite his nation's debt to America, Europe and nations that went out of their way to oppose apartheid, Mandela has been hugely critical of the West, associating instead with its enemies.
It's a pity that so few people looked beyond the iconic image when he emerged from incarceration and questioned Mandela's actions and principles. If they had they done so, it's likely that his 90th birthday flock would have been much smaller.
Alan Gold is an author and was a delegate to the UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa.
Source: The Australian