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Yesterday, the world lost one of its greatest thinkers, political leaders and revolutionaries, former South African president Nelson Mandela. His death at the age of 95 — an age the vast majority of radical revolutionaries never reach — has prompted an outpouring of tributes, many of which either gloss over the United States government’s support of apartheid or whitewash Mandela’s own complex history and beliefs. With that in mind, here are short excerpts from articles that truly honor Mandela’s legacy and should not be missed. (Above, the “free at last” speech Mandela delivered on May 2, 1994, the day he won the South African presidential election.)

“Don’t Sanitize Nelson Mandela: He’s Honored Now, But Was Hated Then,” The Daily Beast:

As with [Martin Luther] King, it is this subversive aspect of Mandela’s legacy that is most in danger of being erased as he enters America’s pantheon of sanitized moral icons. But it is precisely the aspect that Americans most badly need. American power and human freedom are two very different things. Sometimes they intersect; sometimes they do not. Walking in Nelson Mandela’s footsteps requires being able to tell the difference.

“Mandela Will Never, Ever Be Your Minstrel,” OKWonga.com:

Dear revisionists, Mandela will never, ever be your minstrel. Over the next few days you will try so, so hard to make him something he was not, and you will fail. You will try to smooth him, to sandblast him, to take away his Malcolm X. You will try to hide his anger from view. Right now, you are anxiously pacing the corridors of your condos and country estates, looking for the right words, the right tributes, the right-wing tributes. You will say that Mandela was not about race. You will say that Mandela was not about politics. You will say that Mandela was about nothing but one love, you will try to reduce him to a lilting reggae tune. “Let’s get together, and feel alright.” Yes, you will do that.

“Mandela Was No Care Bear,” Washington Monthly:

…while both Mandela’s personal charisma and his willingness to extend forgiveness to his bitterest opponents were morally magnificent in their own rights, they were just as much political tactics as they were dedications to a moral principle. Popular media tends to vastly understate the extent to which nonviolence is about powerstruggle, and victory. Mandela was not a pacifist (in fact, under his presidency, the South African military briefly invaded Lesotho), he wanted to obtain freedom for his people by the best route possible. The same can be said about his post-Apartheid dedication to reconciliation.

Make no mistake, Nelson Mandela was a great leader, a moral beacon, and in my view the finest diplomatist of the 20th century. Calling him the George Washington of South Africa, with respect, doesn’t give him nearly enough credit. This is why the more rough-edged facets of his character being airbrushed out of popular history is so offensive—it was precisely because of these that he had such brilliant success.

The Iconicity Of “Peaceful Resistance,” Medium:

Before it falls down the memory hole, it should be noted that the online US edition of the New York Times marked the sad passing of the great Nelson Mandela with this odd headline: “Nelson Mandela, South African Icon of Peaceful Resistance, Dies”. (They’ve since changed it to “South Africa’s…Moral Center”, which sounds like a place FIFA could have held business ethics conventions during the last World Cup.)

“Icon of Peaceful Resistance” makes it sound like Mandela was an advocate and practitioner of nonviolence. He wasn’t. Apartheid was above all a socioeconomic system of structured viciousness: the whites were not going to give up their advantages without a fight. The struggle against Apartheid was necessarily bloody. The symbolic force of an “icon”, no matter how noble its martyrdom, could not have defeated Apartheid. It had to be defeated at the cost of lives. Mandela always knew this.

“Six Things Nelson Mandela Believed That Most People Won’t Talk About,” Think Progress:

In the desire to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s life — an iconic figure who triumphed over South Africa’s brutal apartheid regime — it’s tempting to homogenize his views into something everyone can support. This is not, however, an accurate representation of the man.

Mandela was a political activist and agitator. He did not shy away from controversy and he did not seek — or obtain — universal approval. Before and after his release from prison, he embraced an unabashedly progressive and provocative platform. As one commentator put it shortly after the announcement of the freedom fighter’s death, “Mandela will never, ever be your minstrel. Over the next few days you will try so, so hard to make him something he was not, and you will fail. You will try to smooth him, to sandblast him, to take away his Malcolm X. You will try to hide his anger from view.”


The Frisky

This post originally appeared on The Frisky. Republished with permission.

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  • noirluv45

    I was thinking about Mr. Mandela and how he made such an impact on, not just S.A., but the world. So many people are honoring this man. I hope we’ll take a lesson from his book and make an impact on the world around us.

    So many times we focus on the trivial things in life like how good we look or don’t look, our hair, clothes, what car we drive, etc. I’m not saying those concerns are bad, but in the scheme of things, what do they really matter when we take our last breath. Just a thought.

  • noirluv45

    Great article!

  • Anthony

    I already said that there is an attempt to deny the fact that Mandela and the ANC gave up on non-violence after the Sharpville Massacre in 1960. Mandela refused to leave prison early because he would not renounce armed struggle. DeKlerk had give up the non-violent demands before Mandela would start the negotiations.

    And yes, it was to his country’s advantage to encourage reconciliation, it was because he was simply warm and fuzzy, furthermore, the ANC was integrated, and white men and women served time in prison on behalf of the freedom of all South Africans along with Blacks, Indian, and Coloured South Africans.

    • Anthony

      I meant to say it was not simply because he was warm and fuzzy.

  • vintage3000

    Thank you for posting these sources, and for Anthony’s comments here as well that are educating me. I don’t know as much about Mr. Mandela as I should, but even then a few things I have read since yesterday seem like his legacy is already being perceived incorrectly. One Indian leader referred to the greatness of Mandela’s life and that he was “very Ghandian”. My first thought was, Ghandi was a racist and he was no where on the same level as freedom fighter Mr. Mandela.

    I will never forget the image of Mandela walking out of that prison; my mother called me from long distance so we could see it together. I’m not one for hyperbole, but it really was like watching a king. Can’t imagine how powerful it was for the South African people.

    • UgoBabeeee

      Ghandi was a racist? Please educate me on that……

    • inspirator

      Ghandi openly despised black people.

      “We were then marched off to a prison intended for Kaffirs [offensive term equivalent to the n-word],” Gandhi complained during one of his campaigns for the rights of Indians settled there. “We could understand not being classed with whites, but to be placed on the same level as the Natives seemed too much to put up with. Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilized — the convicts even more so. They are troublesome, very dirty and live like animals.”

      In an open letter to the legislature of South Africa’s Natal province, Gandhi wrote of how “the Indian is being dragged down to the position of the raw Kaffir” — someone, he later stated, “whose occupation is hunting and whose sole ambition is to collect a number of cattle to buy a wife, and then pass his life in indolence and nakedness.”

      On white Afrikaners and Indians, he wrote: “We believe as much in the purity of races as we think they do.”

    • UgoBabeeee

      @Inspirator…thanxx for the drop…didnt know that…will domore research :)

    • UgoBabeeeee

      ive been doing a little research and from what i see it seems that the racist speech and behaviour preceeded his non-violent movement- came from the time he briefly lived in south africa (how ironic!!)….so i dont know if it is fair to label him racist on that period- am looking for what his position or view was regarding blacks once he became involved fully in tryin gto overthrow the europeas from india….did he renounce his racist views or not..me personally, i dont care if he is or not as am not a ghnadhi fanatic-its just that this is shocking to learn/hear.. i just want to be sure that this is what he was about before tarnishing/speaking against what the public deems is his legacy ……