While virtually everyone across the political spectrum in the US has responded to the death of Nelson Mandela with statements of praise, it’s clear that the American right is largely being disingenuous. Now that Mandela is a global hero, they say nice things about him; while he was alive, and even while he was in prison, they savaged him as a communist and a terrorist. And a lot of them still do, despite the public statements.
Ted Cruz, for example, posted a laudatory message on his Facebook page and was buried under a deluge of comments from his followers expressing their disappointment with him for praising a communist and a terrorist. Right-wing bloggers and news outlets have been repeating the same thing. It’s especially ironic that so many on the right are calling Nelson Mandela a terrorist because he advocated armed resistance to the white apartheid government of South Africa, a government that denied them all rights and all say in their own country, that kept them in perpetual poverty, that killed and tortured them on a daily basis. Meanwhile, many of the people screaming about him being a terrorist for his militant resistance to such oppression are demanding a “second American revolution” because we’re allowing gay people to get married and not be discriminated against and giving poor people access to health care.
Think about all of the minor inconveniences that the Christian right routinely calls “tyranny” and “persecution” and then ask them what they would have done if they were a black South African living under apartheid. What would you have done if you were denied the right to vote, herded into ghettos under armed guard, kept in abject poverty, enslaved to work in mining operations for little pay and brutalized on a daily basis? If armed struggle against the government doing those things is “terrorism,” then call me a terrorist. And call everyone who is calling Mandela that one too, because in the same situation they would have done the same thing.
I should also note that these same people make all kinds of excuses when you point out that the state of Israel was created at least partly by the acts of militant groups like the Irgun, which bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946, killing almost 100 people. But call those people terrorists and the same people applying that label to Mandela would lose their minds over it.
One more level of irony: The same people who scream that we must have guns to protect us against our tyrannical government are calling Mandela a “terrorist” for advocating armed resistance to the astonishingly brutal apartheid government of South Africa. Remember, letting gay people get married and giving health insurance to poor people is commienazifascism that requires “second amendment remedies.” Denying the black majority of South Africa the right to vote, indeed any rights at all, torturing and killing them, using them as slaves in mining operations and dehumanizing them in every way possible? Oh, that’s not so bad. Only a “terrorist” would take up arms against that kind of government.
They also call him a communist, which is what they call virtually everyone who disagrees with them. And it’s true that he was closely allied with the South African Communist Party and that communist countries were supporters of the African National Congress. But this is primarily because the capitalist countries of the West were virtually unanimous in supporting the apartheid government because they wanted access to the minerals they were using virtual slave labor to procure in that country.
Cecil Rhodes, who owned many of those minds, said, “We must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labor that is available from the natives of the colonies. The colonies would also provide a dumping ground for the surplus goods produced in our factories.” And that’s exactly what they did, using black slave labor from South Africa to control 90% of the world’s diamond market and make unthinkable amounts of money from it.
In 1981, Ronald Reagan said he supported the South African government because it was “a country that has stood by us in every war we’ve ever fought, a country that, strategically, is essential to the free world in its production of minerals.” Mandela had promised to nationalize the mines if the ANC ever overthrew the government (a promise he broke when he became president), so he had to be smeared as an evil communist and the South African government had to be supported.
Is it really any wonder that the people struggling against this vile government would accept support from the only ones who would offer it? If we had acted on the principles we proclaim so loudly and supported democracy, freedom and equality, the outcome might have been completely different. But we wanted the minerals they were using slaves to get, so to hell with those inconvenient principles. So we supported the government who committed the most brutal and barbaric acts imaginable on the black people under their control. What the government did to them was a thousand times more brutal, more common and more terroristic than what those allied with Mandela did. So what does it say about those who call him a terrorist while supporting the government that imprisoned him?
Cathleen O’Grady, who works with me at the Foundation Beyond Belief, is South African herself and she said something on my Facebook page about it that really nails it:
“Madiba wasn’t a saint. He was great in part because his involvement with militarism was a response to an unspeakable situation, and his response changed as the situation changed, always guided by reconciliation and non-racialism. He is beloved because he took up arms when they were needed, and laid them down when he could.”
Very well said.