On Mandela: 'Prison Became a Crucible'

The most fitting memorial to Nelson Mandela is to make a success of what he helped to establish

by Desmond Tutu

Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu at Mandela's Presidental Inauguration

For 27 years, I knew Nelson Mandela by reputation only. I had seen him once, in the early 1950s, when he came to my teacher-training college to judge a debating contest. The next time I saw him was in 1990.

When he came out of prison, many people feared he would turn out to have feet of clay. The idea that he might live up to his reputation seemed too good to be true. A whisper went around that some in the ANC said he was a lot more useful in jail than outside.

When he did come out, the most extraordinary thing happened. Even though many in the white community in South Africa were still dismissing him as a terrorist, he tried to understand their position. His gestures communicated more eloquently than words. For example, he invited his white jailer as a VIP guest to his inauguration as president, and he invited the prosecutor in the Rivonia trial to lunch.

What incredible acts of magnanimity these were. His prosecutor had been quite zealous in pushing for the death penalty. Mandela also invited the widows of the Afrikaner political leaders to come to the president's residence. Betsie Verwoerd, whose husband, HF Verwoerd, was assassinated in 1966, was unable to come because she was unwell. She lived in Oranje, where Afrikaners congregated to live, exclusively. And Mandela dropped everything and went to have tea with her, there, in that place.

He had an incredible empathy. During the negotiations that led up to the first free elections, the concessions he was willing to make were amazing. Chief Buthelezi wanted this, that and the other, and at every single point Madiba would say: yes, that's OK. He was upset that many in the ANC said Inkatha was not a genuine liberation movement. He even said that he was ready to promise Buthelezi a senior cabinet position, which was not something he had discussed with his colleagues. He did this to ensure that the country did not descend into a bloodbath.

He said of the Afrikaners: you can very well understand how they must be feeling. He reached out to them using the symbol of the South African rugby team, the springbok, which was excoriated by many black people as a symbol of Afrikaner power.

Rugby was the white man's sport, especially for Afrikaners, and Mandela's master stroke at the World Cup final was when he strode on to the turf wearing his Springbok jersey. Almost any other political leader would have seemed gauche, but he carried it off with aplomb. The whole arena, which was probably 99% white, mostly Afrikaner, erupted into cries of "Nelson! Nelson!" It was extraordinary. And who would have believed that in the townships they would be celebrating a rugby victory?

Of course I saw him angry. After the Boipatong massacre, in 1992, in which 42 people died, the ANC pulled out of negotiations, and he was quite livid. He claimed the intelligence services had warned [the president] FW de Klerk something untoward was going to happen, that there was collusion between the security forces and Inkatha. I don't know whether De Klerk ignored that warning. Madiba said it was clear black lives meant nothing.

Another time, he told me that when he and De Klerk were at the Nobel peace prize ceremony in Oslo, something had upset him greatly. There was a group singing Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika, regarded as the anthem of the liberation struggle, and De Klerk and his wife talked through the singing; they didn't show respect.

But his anger was never greater than his patience or forgiveness. People say, look at what he achieved in his years in government – what a waste those 27 years in prison were. I maintain his prison term was necessary because when he went to jail, he was angry. He was relatively young and had experienced a miscarriage of justice; he wasn't a statesperson, ready to be forgiving: he was commander-in-chief of the armed wing of the party, which was quite prepared to use violence.

The time in jail was quite crucial. Of course, suffering embitters some people, but it ennobles others. Prison became a crucible that burned away the dross. People could never say to him: "You talk glibly of forgiveness. You haven't suffered. What do you know?" Twenty-seven years gave him the authority to say, let us try to forgive.

One of the greatest traumas of his life is what happened between him and Winnie. He really loved Winnie. Soon after he came out of jail, I invited them for a Xhosa meal. And as they sat there, you can't imagine anyone more besotted. The hurt was deep. It's marvellous that he found Graça. But you feel a little sad, because Winnie went through so much, and it would have been a perfect ending to a fairytale had they lived happily ever after.

The most fitting memorial to Mandela is to make a success of what he helped to establish. He was clear that, ultimately, no one is indispensible. He was a great one for stressing that he was a loyal member of the ANC, and that no one was bigger than the movement. But, of course, we know better.

Anyone, anywhere in the world, who gets to be a leader knows that here is the benchmark. And they must ask themselves: how do I measure up?

 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace

 

12 Mandela Quotes That Won't Be In Corporate Media Obituaries

Sanitizing Mandela

- Common Dreams staff

Nelson Mandela, who died yesterday at age 95, was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary who served as President of South Africa from 1994-1999.

During the 1950's, while working as an anti-apartheid lawyer, Mandela was repeatedly arrested for 'seditious activities' and 'treason.' In 1963 he was convicted of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Mandela served 27 years in prison before an international lobbying campaign finally won his release in 1990.

In 1994, Mandela was elected President and formed a Government of National Unity in an attempt to diffuse ethnic tensions. As President, he established a new constitution and initiated the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses and to uncover the truth about crimes of the South African government, using amnesty as a mechanism.

Nelson Mandela was a powerful and inspirational leader who eloquently and forcefully spoke truth to power. As tributes are published over the coming days, the corporate media will paint a sanitized portrait of Mandela that leaves out much of who he was. We expect to see 'safe' Mandela quotes such as "education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world" or "after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb."

We wanted to share some Nelson Mandela quotes which we don't expect to read in the corporate media's obituaries:

  1. "A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favor. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens."
     
  2. "If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America. They don't care for human beings."
     
  3. "The current world financial crisis also starkly reminds us that many of the concepts that guided our sense of how the world and its affairs are best ordered, have suddenly been shown to be wanting.”
     
  4. "Gandhi rejects the Adam Smith notion of human nature as motivated by self-interest and brute needs and returns us to our spiritual dimension with its impulses for nonviolence, justice and equality. He exposes the fallacy of the claim that everyone can be rich and successful provided they work hard. He points to the millions who work themselves to the bone and still remain hungry."
     
  5. "There is no doubt that the United States now feels that they are the only superpower in the world and they can do what they like."
     
  6. “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”
     
  7. “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”
     
  8. “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”
     
  9. “No single person can liberate a country. You can only liberate a country if you act as a collective.”
     
  10. "If the United States of America or Britain is having elections, they don't ask for observers from Africa or from Asia. But when we have elections, they want observers."
     
  11. “When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.”
     
  12. On Gandhi: "From his understanding of wealth and poverty came his understanding of labor and capital, which led him to the solution of trusteeship based on the belief that there is no private ownership of capital; it is given in trust for redistribution and equalization. Similarly, while recognizing differential aptitudes and talents, he holds that these are gifts from God to be used for the collective good."

Source: en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Nelson_Mandela

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Nelson Mandela’s Inconvenient Appreciation for Cuba

by Dan Beeton

Nelson Mandela and Cuba's Fidel Castro had a deep and long-lasting friendship.

President Obama traveled to Soweto, South Africa this week for the memorial service for former president and anti-apartheid movement leader Nelson Mandela. Over 60 heads of state also attended the services, but only five were invited to speak - among them Cuban president Raúl Castro, with whom Obama shook hands – the first such greeting between the presidents of the United States and Cuba since President Bill Clinton shook hands with Fidel Castro on the sidelines of a U.N. summit in 2000. Obama’s handshake with Castro was condemned by a number of Republican members of Congress. Senator John McCain likened it to Neville Chamberlain shaking hands with Hitler, while perennial Cuba-hater Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen – who in the past has openly called for Fidel Castro’s assassination – called it “a propaganda coup for the tyrant [Castro].” Cruz made headlines for himself by walking out on Castro’s speech at the ceremony, with a spokesperson saying that “Sen. Cruz very much hopes that Castro learns the lessons of Nelson Mandela.”

But while Republicans have received attention for their criticism of the handshake – just as they did when Obama similarly greeted democratically-elected then-president of Venezuela Hugo Chávez in 2009 – Obama’s speech at the event has been described by some as a rebuke of some foreign governments, including Cuba’s. “There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality,” he said without apparent irony, while in Singapore a U.S. delegation was concluding (unsuccessfully) the latest round of efforts to get other countries to agree to a variety of controversial and potentially harmful measures in a proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. As we have described in a research paper, most U.S. workers would lose out from the planned TPP in the form of reduced wages.

As many analysts, historians and observers have pointed out, the condemnation of the Obama-Castro handshake is also ironic considering Mandela’s long appreciation for the Cuban government and its unwavering opposition to apartheid and similar racist regimes in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Mozambique and South Africa. Most notably, Cuba provided 36,000 troops to beat back the efforts of the South African military to crush independence in Angola.

As the Huffington Post’s Roque Planas points out, while Cuba provided Mandela, the African National Congress and South Africa with inspiration, guidance, resources, training and doctors, “The U.S. government, on the other hand, reportedly played a role in Mandela’s 1962 arrest and subsequently branded him a terrorist -- a designation they only rescinded in 2008. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan vetoed the Anti-Apartheid Act.” Then there’s the small matter of U.S. and South African support for the counter-revolutionaries in Angola. As Piero Gleijeses, a professor of U.S. foreign policy at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and author of several books including Visions of Freedom: Havana, Washington, Pretoria and the Struggle for Southern Africa, 1976-1991 said yesterday in an interview with "Democracy Now”: “…the role of the United States as a country, as a government, past governments, in the struggle for liberation of South Africa is a shameful role. In general, we were on the side of the apartheid government. And the role of Cuba is a splendid role in favor of the liberation."

The Republican members of Congress are not alone in attempting to rewrite history and remake Mandela in their image. Notably, various world leaders past and present who supported apartheid and Mandela’s imprisonment have gushed over what a great man he was now that he’s passed on. But Mandela maintained integrity in his outspoken criticism of the U.S., saying that “If there’s a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America. They don’t care.” Such sentiments are reminiscent of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statement that the U.S. is “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” and his outspoken condemnation of the war in Vietnam, which earned him the wrath of the foreign policy establishment and the media – when he was still alive.

In contrast, British Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg used the occasion of a Special Session honoring Nelson Mandela to call on the House of Commons to support human rights activists in Afghanistan and Honduras:

Right now, all over the world, there are millions of men, women and children still struggling to overcome poverty, violence and discrimination.

They do not have the fame or the standing of Nelson Mandela, but I’m sure that he would tell us that what they achieve and endure in their pursuit of a more open, equal and just society shapes all our lives.

Campaigners like Mary Akrami, who works to protect and empower the women of Afghanistan; Sima Samar, the Head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission; or organisations like the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras which works in the shadow of threats and intimidation.

They are just 3 examples of the individuals and organisations who deserve our loyalty and support just as much as the British campaigners in the Anti-Apartheid movement in London showed unfailing loyalty and support towards Nelson Mandela in his bleakest days, and here I also want to pay tribute to the Rt. Hon Member for Neath and his fellow campaigners for what they did at the time.

U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske also made remarks on human rights in Honduras, Tuesday, International Human Rights Day. She condemned campesinos and others resisting murder and brutality in the Aguan Valley, and indigenous Lenca communities fighting the imposition of development projects on their land over their objections. In Honduras' context of political repression and rampant impunity for security forces who commit abuses, such comments further imperil some of Honduras' most vulnerable and historically disenfranchised communities.

 

Dan Beeton is International Communications Director at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C.

 

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