Friday, December 6, 2013

What is Nelson Mandela's legacy?

Too many people assume it's fun to be a contrarian.

I recommend they try wading through this week's inescapable sincere and heartfelt celebrations of the life of Nelson Mandela with a little voice in the back of their minds whispering that they've got it all wrong.

It's not the least bit fun.

When I was a kid our church had a viewing of the movie Sarafina! about South African activists who struggled against the Apartheid government using non-violent protests. This shaped my view on the struggle against Apartheid. I never learned many details about Mandela's life and I always just assumed he was a political prisoner who spent 27 years in prison for nonviolent activism against the clearly evil and racist government before an international campaign convinced them to free him.

I was wrong.

A dozen years ago I did a project for a college class about how South Africa was still plagued with violence, rape and poverty even after Mandela became president. I didn't understand economics at the time but I hit upon the idea that while Mandela was a great resistance leader in an important struggle, he didn't have the right skills to manage a country.

Fast forward to yesterday when after his death this picture surfaced online:

Oh boy.

I'm willing to cut Mandela some slack here. Although he dishonestly denied being a communist, Mandela was something of a Stalinst. However, he adopted these views decades before the fall of the Berlin Wall and wasn't presented with the same evidence we have today. He downgraded slightly over time and became a democratic socialist, and political interference prevented him from putting most of these views into practice when he was president.

He also allied himself with the USSR, China, Fidel Casto and even Muammar Gaddafi.
Yes, he was wrong, and he really should have known better, but having these terrible ideas can be overlooked when it's the man who ended Apartheid.

But that brings up a much more disturbing issue. Mandela's fight against the Apartheid government included terrorism. That's why he went to prison. Mandela tried non-violence and found it ineffective and was one of the founders of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the fighting force for African National Congress, which is the socialist political party that now dominates South Africa. Besides receiving combat training from communists, Umkhonto we Sizwe (which is abbreviated as MK) committed numerous acts of terrorism.

If MK restricted its activities to violence and bomb blasts at government soldiers and buildings I could understand comparing Mandela to America's Founding Fathers in the revolutionary war. However, they also bombed civilians and Mandela may have been part of the planning process, and it seems he continued to do so during his prison sentence.

While some MK operatives went rogue and bombed places without any guidance, such as Andrew Zondo when he bombed a shopping center because it was filled with white people, the group also planted antitank land mines on rural roads, killing at least a score of black laborers.

Did I mention Amnesty International refused to take his case because of his embrace of violence?

Details are murky on what MK actions were planned by Mandela and how many of them he gave his blessing from prison. This is all new to me and many of the sources linking Mandela to terrorist acts from MK are unknown to me and should be treated skeptically. One even has John Birch Society ads next to it. Because of this source quality, I don't feel comfortable labeling him a terrorist.

I asked some friends who studied international politics about this and I was told "I thought everyone knew Manedela was a terrorist." His story, they said, is one of redemption.

Contrast that to the left-wing search results that come up about Mandela and terrorism. There are numerous links out today trying to shame right wingers like Dick Cheney and Ronald Reagan for calling Mandela a terrorist in the past. None of them even mention MK or attempt to discuss the issue. They just want the reader to think it's a wild allegation.

Joan Walsh of Salon declared that Mandela renounced his violent past, but I've been unable to find any quotations where he did so.

This revelation of Mandela using violence to fight Apartheid undermines a lot of the inspirational quotes from Mandela people are passing around, such as "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." Clearly he didn't believe that when he was forming MK.

The Apartheid government was evil, and Mandela made a major contribution to the world in his pivotal role in dismantling it. However, the superficial and outright fanciful stories about his life floating around today are glossing over a lot of important information. It's an extremely lonely feeling to witness everyone else compare a man to Gandhi when you know he had grenades stuffed in his pockets.

Addendum: I'm surprised and impressed to see the most fair, positive, mature, warts-and-all obituary come from Breitbart. Some of the facts I came across are different than in here, such as its distancing him from terrorist planning, and I still endorse it. Please read.


  1. Wow, I had no idea about these non-saintly parts of Mandela's legacy. My sincere gratitude.