It’s 1983, and for some reason, Facebook exists. Ronald Reagan is President. The Cold War is still a thing. And an increasingly isolated South African government’s apartheid rule is still at-large, holding revolutionary anti-apartheid fighter Nelson Mandela in Pollsmoor Prison. On December 5, 1983, Nelson Mandela dies while incarcerated. 1980s Facebook explodes with activity as people post about his passing.
The only catch is, instead of “Rest in Peace,” the overwhelming message from Americans is “Good Riddance.” Instead of calling Mandela a freedom-fighter, most people call him a “terrorist.” President Reagan makes an impromptu address from the Rose Garden to tell the American people that “a convicted terrorist finally got what he deserved.”
And that’s exactly how December 5 would have looked in 1983 from the United States. Sure, there was a huge mass movement – largely led by students and African-American civil rights activists, with some union involvement – to boycott, divest from, and sanction South Africa to end apartheid. But the Powers That Be, along with those who follow their lead, considered, labeled and treated Mandela as a terrorist. In fact, it wasn’t until July 2008 that President George W. Bush finally removed Mandela from a State Department list that included Osama bin Laden and Carlos the Jackal.
When Nelson Mandela passed on, after a long battle with a lung infection, my Facebook exploded with activity. Most of my 1,300+ Facebook friends posted about it, and all posted very positively. President Barack Obama and – in the craziest twist of irony yet – British Prime Minister David Cameron gave speeches “honoring Mandela’s legacy.” But exactly what legacy are they honoring?
The story most young people are familiar with is that Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) fought against apartheid. Mandela was imprisoned, but because of his example and the boycott, divestment, and sanctioning of South Africa, he was released. Apartheid was brought down, Mandela was elected the first black President of South Africa, and then he reconciled with the white Afrikaners who had him imprisoned. That last part is especially important to the Powers That Be to the point where they made a movie about it in 2009, starring Hollywood superstars Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon to drive home that Mandela was a reconciler, not a revolutionary.
But that’s not really the story at all. Millions of South Africans struggled, sufferred and died to defeat apartheid. Far from the farce taking place at the White House right now, their cause was hostily opposed by the United States and Britain, which used South Africa as an imperialist hatchet to attack other southern African nations that won their independence and pursued a socialist path, like Mozambique. The best and only friends of the African National Congress – and Nelson Mandela, in his own words – were the Soviet Union (the single largest provider of arms to the ANC), Cuba (fought with Angolan and Mozambican troops to deal the South African Defense Force and apartheid a crippling blow), Libya under Muammar Qaddafi, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, among many regional allies in southern Africa.
Mandela’s short list of friends on the international stage in 1983 would have looked (and did!) like a rogue gallery to the United States. After the fall of apartheid, Mandela toured the United States and, speaking to a union hall full of workers in Chicago, said that the three world leaders most responsible for the end of apartheid were Muammar Qaddafi, Yasser Arafat, and Fidel Castro. Funny how President Obama finds the time to declare a national day of mourning for Mandela while murdering one of the three men Mandela admired most two years earlier.
To get a sense of just how demonized Mandela and the ANC were, one need only look to modern day Zimbabwe. Like South Africa, the majority black government in Zimbabwe underwent a significant makeover in just 20 years by the Western media… it was just in the other direction.
After Zimbabwe brought down white minority rule in 1979, current President Robert Mugabe and other liberation leaders signed the Lancaster House Agreement, which was fairly similar to the deal struck with landowners in South Africa at the end of apartheid. The terms were that the US and the UK would subsidize the Zimbabwean government buying land from white settlers in exchange for those same violent, racist settlers getting disproportionate political representation and keeping their wealth. Its effects were practically the same as South Africa’s, where the majority black working population continues to live in perpetual poverty, get attacked by the police and vigilantes, and have no control over their nation’s resources.
In 2000, Zimbabwean workers and farmers got tired of this scheme and started forcibly seizing land from the whites. Unlike South Africa, the government of Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe supported, protected and expanded the farm occupations to create the largest, most progressive redistribution of land in Africa’s history. For this “crime,” Zimbabwe to this day faces crippling sanctions, Western-backed opposition forces, and racist demonization in the press.
I think the reason you see imperialist leaders, like David Cameron who spent the 1980s pasting up posters reading “Hang Mandela,” and right-wing/liberal media pundits – who called Mandela a terrorist 25 years ago – heaping praise on the departed leader and trying to make “reconciliation with the people who imprisoned him” his legacy is out of fear and recognition. These Powers That Be recognize that, in a revolution by oppressed people – especially in the United States – they would not receive the same treatment the whites in South Africa got. And they fear that prospect of losing their wealth and power more than anything. This is why Robert Mugabe is attacked in the most vicious, racist and hateful way and Mandela is held up as a human rights icon.
I don’t mean any shade on Mandela whatsoever. The decision to leave the unequal land ownership system of South Africa – the actual locus of white supremacist power – intact was something he had very little control over, again proven when we look to Zimbabwe.
It’s ironic that Bill O’Reilly may strike closer to the real Mandela than President Obama or his army of liberal distortionists. O’Reilly pejoratively reminded his viewers that while Mandela was “a great man, he was also a communist.” Indeed, this morning the African National Congress made a stunning acknowledgement in its obituary of Mandela: “Madiba was also a member of the South African Communist Party, where he served in the Central Committee.”
It’s not surprising, of course. Mandela spent a lot of time around communists and socialists like Fidel, Qaddafi, Samora Machel of Mozambique, Agostinho Neto of Angola, and for a time, Robert Mugabe. He made public statements to this effect, saying at one point, “The cause of communism is the greatest cause in the history of mankind, because it seeks to remove from society all forms of oppression and exploitation to liberate mankind, and to ensure peace and prosperity to all.” Even last year, party meeting minutes of the South African Communist Party showed that Mandela had been recruited, although the ANC’s acknowledgement of his service on the Central Committee shows his ties went very deep.
This is the Nelson Mandela that the Powers That Be want to bury. They want to remember Mandela the Great Reconciler. They want to forget about Mandela the Revolutionary. And they want Mugabe, the other southern African liberation leader still alive today, dead as a doornail.
This re-imagining of Mandela into a fantasy character safe for the USA is part of the imperialist project to re-colonize Africa. Just ask the people of the Central African Republic. While the world mourned Mandela’s passing, women, men and children were burning alive from French bomb blasts.
Nelson Mandela was a revolutionary, a communist and a world class hero. His greatest accomplishment was not reconciliation but rather leading the people of South Africa in a mighty and righteous revolutionary national liberation struggle. His legacy is not a call for moderation but in the millions around the world – from the West Bank and Gaza to Sanford, Florida – he inspired to fight for liberation. And the disgraceful pageantry put on by imperialists like Obama, Bush, Clinton, Blair, Cameron and others like them is unworthy of Mandela’s name.
Rest in power, Brother Mandela. May the rest of us fighting for freedom live up to your call.
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