The ongoing discussion about the late Nelson Mandela has me scratching my head. Those who are rationally examining the facts of the matter aren't the problem. The difficulties arrive when those who've already made up their mind, and refuse to re-examine their position, get involved. They react, rather than responding rationally. The expression "My mind's made up - don't confuse me with the facts!" describes their perspective very well.
On the one hand you have the moonbats - people of left-wing/progressive/extreme liberal persuasion who regard Mr. Mandela as a messiah, a 'light-bringer', someone incomparable and beyond reproach. He was none of those things. He was a former terrorist, a man of extreme views, a man who once espoused and committed violence. He was a very flawed human being. He overcame most of those handicaps, and changed remarkably in the latter years of his life; but that doesn't alter the fact that he was hardly an angelic choirboy for much of his life.
On the other hand, you have the wingnuts - people of right-wing/conservative/extreme libertarian persuasion who regard Mr. Mandela as an unreconstructed Communist terrorist, personally responsible for most (if not all) of the violence (particularly anti-White violence) perpetrated in Africa (not just South Africa) since World War II. They flatly refuse to even consider that, despite his openly admitted alliance and association with Communists, he may not have been one himself, citing instead obscure academic references (never official, first-hand Party sources or documents) to assert that his membership of the SACP is proven (I have news for them - it's not). They froth at the mouth at even the suggestion that he may have had any positive attributes.
Neither moonbats nor wingnuts are willing to consider the plain, objective evidence that is easily available to anyone with the inclination to obtain and study it. That's the problem, right there. Their minds have been made up in the light of their pre-existing ideological positions. They aren't interested in - they may even be afraid of - anything that might cause them to have to reconsider those positions.
(The Mandela case isn't the first time I've run into this, of course. To cite just one other example, I wrote a series of articles challenging those who condemn all Muslims because of the actions of fundamentalist religious fanatics in Islam. They're listed in the sidebar under the heading 'Discrimination, distrust and xenophobia', if you'd like to read them. You can just imagine the wingnut response to those articles . . . to say that 'they didn't want to know' puts it very mildly! The objective, independently verifiable evidence I provided and the rational arguments I advanced were of no interest to them whatsoever, because their minds were already made up.)
If you want independent, balanced, fair perspectives on Mr. Mandela, I haven't found many better than these:
- "NELSON MANDELA: HE WAS NEVER SIMPLY THE BENIGN OLD MAN. The version of Mandela's story repeated over decades by white liberals has obscured some difficult truths about his revolutionary fervour".
Rian Malan, who is a masterful observer of South Africa (and whose book 'My Traitor's Heart' is, in my opinion, not only magnificently written but an essential, indispensable perspective on the South African struggle for justice), writes a balanced and thoughtful article about Mr. Mandela's undeniable left-wing political leanings and the way he gave expression to them in and beyond South Africa. He certainly was a revolutionary by anyone's standards. The remarkable thing, IMHO, is that he didn't become so radicalized as to end up another Lenin or Castro or Pol Pot. He avoided that precipice.
- "NELSON MANDELA: WHERE NOW FOR SOUTH AFRICA? Nelson Mandela's legacy to his country is that extremism now belongs to the past".
Tim Butcher reminds us that Mr. Mandela deliberately pulled back from the political arena after shepherding South Africa into full democracy, and allowed other leaders to emerge and the situation to stabilize. This was perhaps his greatest gift to his country: not to cling to the power he could have had for the asking, but to withdraw gracefully and avoid the cult of personality that's been inculcated by so many others in his position.
- "NOT A SAINT, BUT A SAVIOUR OF HIS COUNTRY: Mandela was a man who 'made the weather', to use Churchill’s phrase".
An editorial in the Telegraph sums up the impact he had on South Africa and the world. It concludes:
This epic life teaches lessons of eternal relevance. The first is that nothing is inevitable. Today, we are often regaled with alleged inevitabilities, whether over a supposedly unreformable welfare state at home, or the apparently unstoppable decline of the West in the heat of Asian competition. The South Africa of three decades ago appeared set on an immovable course to civil war. Had Mandela accepted the doctrine of inevitability, then catastrophe would indeed have overwhelmed his country.
How was the allegedly inevitable avoided? The answer to this question provides the second enduring lesson of Mandela’s story. Political leadership can tip the balance of history. Politicians are not helpless playthings of irresistible forces. Instead, they can change history — or “make the weather”, in Churchill’s phrase – if they possess the resolve and the skill. Mandela’s courageous and enlightened leadership prevented catastrophe.
Like many great men, Mandela possessed glaring faults. He was shamelessly unfaithful to his first wife, Evelyn. He had strained relationships with his children. He was capable of monumental blunders, such as his decision to launch an armed struggle in 1960 that achieved nothing save for inviting the government to shut down the ANC by arresting its entire leadership, thereby setting back the anti-apartheid struggle by a decade or more.
Inexcusably, Mandela turned a blind eye to the appalling excesses of his second wife, Winnie. Yet he never claimed to be a saint and always protested when that label was foisted upon him. What, then, is his monument? It can be simply expressed: Nelson Mandela, in a moment of supreme crisis, saved his country. He did so by guile, generosity and indomitable will. He was the kind of man who comes upon this earth but rarely.
Go read all three of the articles linked above, particularly the first. They're well worth your time.
I know what's going to happen next weekend, when Mr. Mandela is buried. There'll be huge official ceremonies in all major South African centers, centering around Qunu in the Transkei where he'll be buried. However, it's later that night that the real memorials will be held. They won't involve politicians, or pundits, or anyone the world considers 'important'. These will be held by and for the 'simple' people, the 'ordinary' people . . . the backbone of Africa, when all's said and done.
On hilltops and in kraals throughout the country, fires will be lit. The old people will gather round to tell stories of the Mandela they remember - the imprisoned leader whose example inspired them through the evil years, until he emerged from behind bars to become their liberator. For them his legend has by now eclipsed his reality. It's the legend that will be handed down for centuries, if not millennia. Their grandchildren and great-grandchildren will draw close to listen, and learn, and absorb the stories to pass on to their own grandchildren and great-grandchildren in years and decades and centuries to come.
As the sparks fly upward into the star-speckled sky the praise singers will intone Mandela's glory, composing songs that will be handed down for generations to come. As the coals redden the sangomas and inyangas will sprinkle them with muti, waving leafy branches through the smoke, inviting - imploring - importuning the ancestral spirits to welcome into their midst a Great One, the Father Of The Nation. There will already be those offering sacrifice to Mandela's spirit, asking his aid.
I can almost taste the salt of their tears, and smell the smoke of their fires, and hear their chants, and feel the vibrations in my body as they beat their drums and stamp their feet in the dance. I won't be there in body, but I'll be there in spirit . . . because these people, the ordinary people of Africa, beyond politics or ideology, were near and dear to my heart, and a part of it will always be theirs. I'll mourn their loss with them. It's something I can't explain. Only those who understand tribal Africa will understand what I'm saying here. It's too deep for words.
It's winter here in the USA, not summer as it is in South Africa right now. Even so, weather permitting, I might go outside next weekend and light a fire for Madiba myself. I did it for Inyati. Might as well do it again. I think both of them will understand.