By Ardain Isma
Men rise to greatness only when the moment is right, even when opportunities seem non-existent. Mandela’s ascendance to revolutionary sainthood took place long before he became a critically acclaimed statesman. He was ushered to the zenith of a struggle that many who now claim him as their own would, without a doubt, not hesitate to sink him to the other side of history if then they had the power to do so. The mere fact he had spent 27 years in prison is a testament to this altruism. As we mourn the passing of one the 20th century’s greatest men, it is quintessentially important that we contextualize this rush for redemption under the shadow of Mandela’s legacy.
Rush Limbaugh, who claims the throne of social conservatisms in the United States and who has been the staunchest opponent to liberal politics, now insists Mr. Mandela “had more in common with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas than he does with Barack Obama.” Limbaugh goes on to say that “Mr. Mandela’s only concern was that South Africa live up to the promise of its constitution.” It is statement like this one that helps to shed light on this reactionary consensus in a quest to gain false credibility. It is an attempt to create their own brand of Mandela—one that is quite simplistic, uncommitted and trivial.
In this politically charged cold-heartedness, they seem to forget it was Ronald Reagan, Godfather of the reaction, who remained adamant that Mandela be kept in prison, even as the entire world was hailing for his release. This happened during the darkest moment of the anti-apartheid movement, when the police were using live ammunitions against defenseless children crying for freedom. George Bush Senior, who succeeded Reagan, held on to the same policy against the ANC (African National Congress), the political organization that led the drive to uproot apartheid. To these days, Bush made no self-contrition and he only shifted his position, at least at the surface, when and solely when the protest movement at home spearheaded by well-known figures in both the US Congress and the prestigious circles in Hollywood successfully turned the tone and public opinion. In the logic of rightwing politics, every national liberation struggle is a strategic threat to western democracies and—by extension—to their imperial ambitions.
Nelson Mandela never believed in a bourgeois democracy
“Any leader, who keeps changing his positions based on who he is dealing with, does not fit to lead,” asserted Mandela in 1990 in New York during a historic Town Hall meeting. He had just been released from prison, and that was his first US tour. Then ABC News magazine Nightline star anchor, Ted Koppel, was interviewing him. The latter was trying to embarrass Mandela for his unwavering and unyielding support for governments and movements around the world that did not abandon the people of South Africa and provided logistic supports for his cause in the face of the most brutal regime humanity has ever registered. Koppel was also echoing the wishes and desires of a class he represented. In attempting to corner Mandela, he was referring mainly to Mandela’s friendship with Yasser Arafat who headed the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization), Muammar Gaddafi of Libya and Fidel Castro of Cuba.
Ted froze in stupefaction. He never expected Mandela to be so firm and blunt in his response. There was a deathly silence in the room, and Ted Koppel whose face turned pale and rouge, feeling totally humiliated, was unable to utter a single word. Mandela understood. He edged closer to the ABC anchor and wrapped his arm around his shoulder and threw a subtle grin to reenergize him. It was an awesome rescue from the brink.
Ted Koppel was also attempting to push his stardom to a new level. Had he succeeded in putting that blush on Mandela’s face, he would have strengthened the admiration the Miami Cuban community held for him.
Touring New York, Mandela was placed in the Pope Mobile, while millions around the country stood with an immeasurable glee to welcome him. He was also in route to Cuba. He told the Miami Herald then that Fidel was a brother in arms, and he stressed on the word to prove his emotion and admiration for the Cuban revolution.
Indeed Fidel and his country rose to prominence in 1990 after the Cuban forces in Angola beat back the South African army and its proxy UNITA headed by the most hated man of Sub-Saharan Africa, Jonas Savimbi. The historic battle of Cuito Cuanavale in southeastern Angola also known as the battle of Lomba River near the town of Cuito that ended in outright victory the Cuban forces on behalf of Angola was the catalyst behind the consolidation of Angola’s independence, the independence of Namibia and the negotiated settlement between the ANC (African National Congress) and the apartheid regime. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Cuito_Cuanavale )
In the logic of imperial politics, the western powers knew then only a negotiated solution could guarantee their fair share of the pie in Southern Africa vastly rich in diamond, oil and other valuable natural resources. Cuba negotiated skillfully and sincerely on behalf of its Southern African brothers, sticking to its guns to the very end and imposing the removal of all South African forces in Southern Africa as the precondition for the withdrawal of its troops there. (Also see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Namibia )
Mandela was very akin to that as he never ceased to acknowledge these facts wherever he went. Although he used pragmatism as the cornerstone of his political philosophy, he never believed in a democracy that only seeks to eternalize the privilege of one small group of people at the top echelon of society at the expense of the vast majority. On the contrary, he wholeheartedly believed in a participatory democracy, a people’s democracy foregrounded on the principle of justice for all. It was in that spirit that not only he never turned his back on his old friends, but also he has agreed to forsake those who robbed 27 years of his life.
Note: Dr. Ardain Isma is the chief editor for CSMS Magazine and the executive director of the Center For Strategic And Multicultural Studies. He also teaches Cross-Cultural Studies at the University of North florida (UNF). He is a scholar as well as a novelist and the author of several essays on multiculturalism and Caribbean politics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org