The news of Nelson Mandela's death reached me this afternoon. It was a sad moment for me, the ending of an era of South African history - and perhaps the harbinger of a much more difficult time ahead, now that his stabilizing influence as 'Father Of The Nation' has been removed. The other leaders of his generation - Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Beyers Naudé and the like - have mostly died already. The few of them who remain - of whom Archbishop Desmond Tutu is probably the best-known - will die soon.
There are those who persist in regarding Mr. Mandela as an unreconstructed Communist terrorist. Some of them - I've seen their words online - are already lauding his death, speaking of having a drink to celebrate the occasion. They are fools. They are blind to facts and to reality. Certainly he worked alongside Communists, and had constant involvement with Communists in running the African National Congress, its armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe, and eventually the government of South Africa; but he always denied that he was himself a Communist. In my (well-informed) opinion, this is true. As he stated in his 'Speech From The Dock' at the Rivonia Trial in 1964:
It is perhaps difficult for white South Africans, with an ingrained prejudice against communism, to understand why experienced African politicians so readily accept communists as their friends. But to us the reason is obvious. Theoretical differences amongst those fighting against oppression is a luxury we cannot afford at this stage. What is more, for many decades communists were the only political group in South Africa who were prepared to treat Africans as human beings and their equals; who were prepared to eat with us; talk with us, live with us, and work with us. They were the only political group which was prepared to work with the Africans for the attainment of political rights and a stake in society. Because of this, there are many Africans who, today, tend to equate freedom with communism. They are supported in this belief by a legislature which brands all exponents of democratic government and African freedom as communists and bans many of them (who are not communists) under the Suppression of Communism Act. Although I have never been a member of the Communist Party, I myself have been named under that pernicious Act because of the role I played in the Defiance Campaign. I have also been banned and imprisoned under that Act.
It is not only in internal politics that we count communists as amongst those who support our cause. In the international field, communist countries have always come to our aid. In the United Nations and other Councils of the world the communist bloc has supported the Afro-Asian struggle against colonialism and often seems to be more sympathetic to our plight than some of the Western powers. Although there is a universal condemnation of apartheid, the communist bloc speaks out against it with a louder voice than most of the white world. In these circumstances, it would take a brash young politician, such as I was in 1949, to proclaim that the Communists are our enemies.
There's much more at the link. I strongly recommend that you click over there and read the whole thing. It provides much more information about Communism in relation to the struggle of African peoples for independence and equality - a perspective that many in the West don't understand to this day. I wish that association had never happened, because it produced untold misery for millions and killed countless thousands over the years . . . but let's be honest. Communism was, for a long time, the only major political movement that was prepared to support African nationalism in its struggles. The West sat back and made money out of its former colonies (including making multi-millionaires and even multi-billionaires out of the rulers of those former colonies with misallocated 'aid' money, not to mention outright bribes). If the West had been prepared to live up to its principles of human rights and democracy in Africa, much of the damage done to that continent and its peoples by Communism would never have been possible.
Mr. Mandela was, in my opinion, a statesman - one of very few politicians who rise to that status. His death removes one of the last restraining influences on more militant African nationalist politicians - and, yes, Communist-influenced politicians - who have been pressing for swifter and more ruthless redistribution of the country's wealth (such as it is). I think the restraint they've shown in the face of Mr. Mandela's implacable opposition to such destructive tactics may now evaporate, and politics in South Africa may become much more radicalized. I hope I'm wrong . . . but only time will tell. One can only pray that his legacy of wisdom, restraint and pragmatism will endure. Thank you to Quotespick for putting that legacy into this image.
May the soul of Nelson Rohihlahla Mandela rest in peace, and may his sins be forgiven him.
In the tradition of African praise singers, let him be remembered. (Lyrics and translation here - scroll down to see them.)
EDITED TO ADD: In response to some comments to this article, and some very misguided articles elsewhere on the Internet, I've written a second article to address the subject of Mr. Mandela's involvement with terrorism in greater detail.