When South Africa's most famous freedom fighter and political icon died recently, loud and strident were the praises from international capitals around the world. People who covertly supported the odious political system of South African Apartheid suddenly were struck by a political epiphany and joined the frantic rush to canonize Nelson Mandela. The elite in the United States, the uber-rich 1 percent or 1 percent that hitherto hated the charismatic anti-apartheid fighter's guts, have essentially rushed to shove him into political sainthood.
And the funny thing is that if Mandela was alive today their fawning pseudo-adoration and glib hollow tomes of respect and admiration would send him rushing to the nearest washroom to regurgitate in disgust and revulsion. Now is it that a man who was vilified for over 30 years by successive United States presidents, white European leaders and their minions, and who remained "a terrorist" in U.S. State Department files until as recent as 2008, suddenly become the object of new-found love and devotion?
Such crass hypocrisy -- even for those expert practitioners of that baleful art -- is mind-boggling. It is as if the world and its people are so feeble minded and chronically forgetful that such arrogant condescension would be accepted as genuine articles of faith. This is nothing more than a blatant attempt to hijack the legacy of Mandela and pose a "we did it moment" meme for a tiny global elite who could never comprehend the suffering of Black South Africans -- even today -- in places like Soweto.
And for all their highfalutin bombast and chest thumping about having "been there for Mandela," they and their organizations did relatively little during Apartheid's darkest days but now magnify their feeble impact because "Madiba" cannot challenge them or call them out for their banal hypocrisy. For while they chortle and harp about their oftentimes manufactured and embellished relationship with Mandela and the anti-Apartheid struggle, they avoid mentioning Cuba where the African National Congress's (ANC) guerilla soldiers were trained, where its doctors, dentists and nurses were schooled, and where its economists, teachers and other professionals lived and were educated -- for free.
Today, the same people who hated Mandela for calling Cuba and Fidel Castro "our friend" are rushing to suddenly bite off piece of his legacy as if the world has forgotten their attempts to put Mandela in his place. These were the leaders of western governments that condoned, supported and defended Apartheid South Africa because only gold and diamonds mattered. These were the same people who said nothing when Mandela was jailed for 27 years -- a life sentence by United States legal standards -- and who beat up and jailed protesters IN THEIR OWN COUNTRIES for daring to say "Free Nelson Mandela."
In the end Western governments' decision to jettison the South African embarrassment was because the ANC and the international community made things so hot for them that the sheer dynamic undulations of South Africa's socio-economic and political contradictions made support for this terminal political system unsustainable and untenable. It was not love for Mandela or sympathy for the suffering Black South Africans but the fact that South Africa and Apartheid had become a liability to the West.
That is why at his death at age 95 the international marketization of Mandela and what he stood for is so absolutely galling, if not insulting to both Black and white working people whose support for him and their opposition to Apartheid was unconditional and based on the principle of human dignity -- all things that Mandela stood for.
The man was a study in human complexity, intertwined and mixed with an unimaginable capacity to love all people. Mandela was driven by a desire and ideal that all people are created equal and therefore Apartheid was an offense flying in the very face of God. White supremacy, the core ideology of Apartheid, was to him a revolting belief that Black skin equaled human inferiority whereas white skin was superior and thus "godlike."
He was also a pragmatist whose political principles were based on Democratic Socialism. Indeed, the rush to canonize and sanctify Mandela flies in the face of his history -- he was no pacifist. On the contrary, he saw violence as a tool in the fight against injustice. Mandela believed that the masses have a right, a duty, and an obligation to fight against the state's unjust laws and national oppression -- to use Malcolm X's words -- by any means necessary.
And his deep complexity was again on full display when he forgave his tormentors, extended a hand to his white oppressors, including his jailers, and launched his now famous "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" to heal a deeply divided and fractured nation. The towering example of him not holding apartheid's most notorious killers and murderers to account will be written about and debated on for generations to come.
How it must have pained him! But for the greater good and the unity of South Africa, Mandela had to set the example. He had to hold his nose to the stench of torture, abuse and white racism. For the sake of the nation he had to suppress his own anger and reject the natural human tendency to revenge. In this was the true greatness of Madiba.
Maybe this present generation would be more accommodating when it comes to the history of Nelson Mandela, South Africa and Apartheid. Maybe, having not lived through it, or being impacted by it or forced to reckon with it, this generation might be more forgiving. Republicans like to sing the praises of Ronald Reagan, who has also been canonized as a GOP saint. But no one wants to remember that even as he embraced a nascent Al-Qaeda as freedom fighters, literally in the same breath he called the ANC a terrorist organization and was bitterly opposed to the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act.
Maybe this generation would also forgive former United States Vice President, Dick Cheney, who vehemently opposed any sanctions against South Africa, believed that Mandela was a terrorist, and that the United States should support the white supremacist regime. Of course, the United States was one of the largest arms suppliers to the Boer government in Pretoria, and the sustained state sanctioned murder and killing of a few million Black people was the acceptable price of business and profits.
But Mandela was under no illusions about the United States and the people who now sing his praises in death. In early 2003, now in retirement and rated and revered as the world's elder statesman, he had this to say on the by then inevitable invasion of Iraq and the wider war on terror; "If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America." No wonder he was kept on the US government terrorist list until as late as 2008.
In conclusion let me posit this about the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela in a nutshell: From his time as a young lawyer, his activism with the ANC, to incarceration, liberation and iconic stature, Mandela knew where he was going. His essential and all-absorbing task was to put an end to the system of South African Apartheid. His was not the task to deal with the inequalities of the South African economy or its social challenges. He just did not have the time on earth and he knew that and accepted this fact of his life. But he knew that by ending apartheid be would put this Rainbow Nation on a firm path to social and economic justice.
He did that. Now it's the duty and responsibility of those coming after him to make him proud by building on his legacy.