Friday, 6 December 2013

The mourning for Mandela feels almost like the mouning in the USSR for Stalin

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I had Mandela fatigue as soon as I saw the news on Facebook last night that the great man had died. Today it reminded me a bit of the mourning in Russia for Stalin. I couldn't help

finding the general glumness slightly amusing, but Godless people need saints too, I know, and often choose unsaintly ones. Think of the nocturnal habits of Martin Luther King and Gandhi.

The whole thing is strange. Peter Oborne, who usually has very good judgment, said Mandela was Christ-like. Has Peter heard of Barrabas? Charles Moore whom I usually agree with was almost as hyperbolic.
Mr Mandela was a great man, and a real man, but I feel the adoration is very overdone - people like Lech Walesa deserve that kind of admiration. Things would have been much worse in South Africa without Mr Mandela and may still be. But why does Mr De Klerk not get the adulation and hero worship? De Klerk is responsible for majority rule, though it was inevitable at some point. It is too soon to say if it will prove to be a good thing. 

Apartheid was an unpleasant, unjust system, very different from the paternalism in British colonies, but for most of Africa white rule ended too soon, from the Africans' point of view, because an educated black elite wanted power. The communism which many other African countries endured after independence was very much worse than white rule. South Africa would have become Communist had the ANC came to power before Gorbachov did, perhaps Mozambiquan style, where, under Mr Mandela's friend Samora Machel, the whites fled, and for a short time property and even religion were abolished. The National Party, for all its sins, and the end of Communism in Eastern Europe saved South Africa from this fate.

I admired Mr. Mandela, but I really hate the widespread idea that some global hero has died. Oddly, nationalists who have white skins are treated as wicked but ones with brown or yellow skins are considered good. But the reason why Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Mandela make up a secular triptych of saints is to do with how people feel about race - and about other things too, like the social revolution of the 1960s, about the role of women, about tradition and change. About killing one's corrupt father. 


And indeed under majority rule South Africa became progressive. One of the early things the ANC did was to legalise abortion and South Africa in the 1996 was the first country in the world to make discrimination against homosexuals illegal. Readers can decide for themselves what they think of these two things.

One very good article that spoke about the real Mandela is here. He was a nationalist, which is fine, a Communist, which is not fine at all, a revolutionary, like Washington, Lenin and Hitler, a (not very competent) terrorist and in the end a unifying figure whose presidency prevented a race war. He was always a man of the far left, not the conscience of the world. For those who doubt he was a Communist here is the proof.

I regret that the whites did not make an independent state of the Western Cape where half the population is 'coloured'. I was also surprised that De Klerk did not reserve any special rights for whites in Parliament, unlike those in Zimbabwe. Had the whites made terms a decade earlier much more could have been done but the Cold War was waging and the ANC were firmly on the Soviet side. Even after Mandela's release from prison many Afrikaaner politicians wanted to carve out a separate Afrikaaner state, which might have been a good idea. The problem is that the Africans, unlike the aboriginals in Australia and North America, outnumbered the whites everywhere.

Mandela chose to use violent methods and of course committed the crimes for which he was imprisoned. He received a fair trial. In a dictatorship Mandela would have been killed but the National Party tried him by the book and gave him much more time for political speeches than he would have got in England. It was because they were Christians that they later did not ruthlessly crush the uprising as Stalin or Brezhnev would have done. 


While Mandela was in gaol and after ANC supporters murdered and tortured very many people, including many Zulus, who had made terms with the government. But Chief  Buthelezi, the Zulu leader, once more famous than Mandela, is forgotten now. Mandela could have left gaol much earlier had he renounced violence. Had he done so the leadership of the blacks might have gone to one of his lieutenants, who were much smaller men, but it might not have done. In this case, apartheid might have taken much longer to end but with many fewer killings, killings which have continued after majority rule until the present day and show no signs of abating. They are slowly persuading whites to leave. 

The magnanimity and lack of bitterness that Mandela showed when he took power was of course magnificent. His great achievements were to win round the whites, who came mostly to love him, and to preserve the white domination of the economy, so essential to the whole country. Neither of these were expected when De Klerk released him.

Mandela, like Bill Clinton, had charisma and, unlike Clinton, great dignity. Mandela was,  like many nationalist leaders, a heroic figure. His life was Shakespearian, fascinating, noble in many ways, but I do not understand why so many clergymen like him. After all, he was a rebel who did not give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's. But clergymen are more left-wing than they used to be when they were sent to convert Africans during the European scramble for Africa and the clergy have often backed nationalist rebels in various times and places, including Ireland and America.

Talking of the clergy, my sermon for today, in the words of my father's Mass book, is let us be submissive to our superiors and condescending to our inferiors. And, in the words of Pope,
For forms of Government let fools contest,

Whate'er is best administered is best.
Let the final words be Mandela's. Mandela in 1991 - when he and his murderous wife, Winnie, went to what they called their "second home", Cuba - said:


Long live the Cuban Revolution. Long live comrade Fidel Castro... Cuban internationalists have done so much for African independence, freedom, and justice. We admire the sacrifices of the Cuban people in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in the face of a vicious imperialist campaign designed to destroy the advances of the Cuban revolution. We too want to control our destiny... There can be no surrender. It is a case of freedom or death. The Cuban revolution has been a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people.


[Footnotes for royalists:

Mandela began his bombing campaign at the end of 1961, a few months after South Africa abolished the monarchy so he did not commit treason against the Queen. Had the Queen married Div how might things have been? People spoke of it before she met Prince Philip.]

18 comments:

  1. A long time ago when I was a waitress, Mr Nelson Mandela came to our hotel and walked along a red carpet lined by directors and VIPs. He pushed through the line of VIPs and walked up to the waiters in the background struggling to get a glimpse of him and took my hand and shook it and said "I want to shake the hand of the most important person in this hotel today because you are responsible for feeding me" - one my best life experiences. RIP Mr Mandela our country will never again have someone as valuable as you.

    De Klerk was a Government for the white man, my mothers generation was banished to the kitchen and people like me (single parent) and people like my brother (fabulous gay man) were burnt at the stake. With Mr Mandela's government the attitude was "get out of the kitchen bitches and live your dreams" there was spatulas and aprons flying all over the place and the only ones left with sour faces was the (straight) white man

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    1. I'm sure you felt thrilled at Mandela's praise. The reality is however that feeding the old terrorist (or the responsibility of it) didn't make you the most important person in that hotel. This is the left, all talk and feelings, no substance

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  2. Of course my irritation is not aimed at Mandela. He was 'great ' man - and 'great' people are flawed as perfection is constraining. No the ' lack of respect' is aimed at those who imply or state his sainthood. I think he was brave, forgiving and possessed of huge integrity. But I doubt his insight - he remained steadfast supporter of Mugabe and Gadaffi - even when there evil was apparent and evidenced. He stood up for any demagogue who was anti-American. So let the coverage be respectful but honest - hagiography is essentially reductive and diminishing. But We all need heroes I suppose now God has gone.

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  3. National Public Radio's virtually called for a candlelight procession and his canonization by Pope Francis.

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  4. De Klerk was a remarkable statesman. Mandela is more admired because it is harder to be generous after being incarcerated for 27 years. I am no fan of the ANC by any means, simply commenting.

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  5. 'I regret that the whites did not make an independent state of the Western Cape where half the population is 'coloured'.' ... What a racist comment!

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  6. Good article, much of which I agree with. That comment from the waiter reminds me that Rhodes Boyson did much the same to me. I was a minor functionary working for Sir Arthur Armitage. Boyson's aides were trying to introduce him to Sir Arthur and he pushed them aside and said "never mind that. Who's this fellow?"

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  7. I think admiration for anyone who bombed women and children and used necklacing on human beings is very overdone.

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    1. He did not use necklacing - nor did the ANC at least officially - but necklacing was very much worse than the things the police did. Yes double standards abound.

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    2. I remember Winnie Mandela saying it in the mid-80s "with our boxes of matches and our necklaces we shall liberate this country." Necklacing is what she was referring to. But Nelson was as much responsible for the Church Street bombings and other MK terrorism as Slovo and Tambo.

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  8. It was the Oppenheimers and other big business interests who were the main push behind racial integration because they wanted to make better use of black cheap labour. That being the case you cannot blame the black Africans for wanting to rule themselves and for using force of arms to achieve it. Mandela was a great man who fought to liberate his people. Of course life was going to deteriorate when the blacks took control which is why the whites should have completely seperated themselves politically and economically into a smaller territory. If they'd done that they'd still have a country. Instead they kept on with a very unworkable system.

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  9. I agree with most of what you said about Mandela, however you should let the man rest in peace.

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    1. I just got bored with uncritical eulogies. Yes he had fine qualities as I said but I do not like the ANC.

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  11. Mr Wood,

    Thank you for the much-needed rebalancing. Where I am today it is like state sponsored idolatry

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  12. The historian in you...
    I don't have time for readings -- what were the nocturnal habits of MLKing and especially Gandhi? I'm very ignorant regarding both, but judging purely on the very superficial aspects of physical appearance, I wonder what kind of habits could have had a man like Gandhi, probably weighing 50 kilos, that robe of his included...

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  13. Thank you for a more balanced appreciation. Mandela was a great man, the irreproachable part of his legacy being reconciliation, but as you imply, it is a legacy not without contradictions. Your view that in a dictatorship he would have been killed is almost certainly correct. In a forgotten episode of the mid-nineties, through his pan-africanist Vice-President Thabo Mbeki, he maintained an ongoing "constructive engagement" shuttle diplomacy with the Abacha regime in Nigeria, which had sentenced the writer, Ken Saro Wiwa and some seven of his supporters to death after a show-trial. Contrary to the advice of their white officials, Mandela and Mbeki were taken in by Abacha and on the eve of Auckland Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, as Mandela arrived, the eight were executed. Having previously opposed sanctions against Nigeria, his position changed 180 degrees; it could not have escaped him that under a such a "brother's" regime he would not have survived!

    On the subject of De Klerk, it is worth noting that he gave the credit for fundamental reform in South Africa to his predecessor, finger-wagging P.W.Botha. It needs to be remembered that Botha was the man who had the courage to split his own party in the late seventies and proceed with the dismantling of a system which the verligtes or "enlightened ones" had recognised, could not work. It was an unenviable task, with Cuban and other Soviet surrogates on the northern borders and the threat of a "people's war" from the ANC/Communist Party alliance. Though Botha was keen to release Mandela, with black local councillors targeted for "necklacing" - the ANC effectively did put an end to Botha's black municipal reforms by this method - there was no possibilty of releasing Mandela without his renouncing violence as a means of achieving change. It was De Klerk's good fortune to assume power as the Soviet dream imploded and the ANC lost its backer; the SA army returned from a South-West Africa which became independent within mere months, the South African port of Walfisch Bay thrown in for good measure! Sadly, maybe because of his body-language as much as anything else, Botha has never received the credit which he deserves!

    A final thought on Mandela's mixed legacy. While he understood the need for principled consistency and although a loyal party-man, was prepared at times to go against the party line on questions of deeper principle, he clearly did not understand the neo-apartheid implications of so-called affirmative action and black economic empowerment. These effectively define and discriminate on the basis of race, emptying the civil service on the national and local levels of white expertise, encouraging an exodus of white skills, perhaps as many as 1.5 million in twenty years, and as a result, huge levels of corruption and consequently an inability on the part of the ANC to deliver the promises made to the previously disenfranchised!

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