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A Couple of Quick Listen’s from NPR: Honoring Nelson Mandela

I must admit, I tend to dislike the tone, style and substance of the radio pieces posted at NPR, although I still sometimes listen to and read some of what gets covered.  I thought these were worth sharing, specifically because they help get at more of the fullness of Nelson Mandela's legacy and example, and help tell some of the story that isn't being covered as much.

In Soweto, Remembering Mandela As A Figure Of Resistance, on NPR's Morning Edition   (4 min, 31 sec)

While the world remembers Nelson Mandela as the great reconciler, some ordinary South Africans are remembering him in their own way — as a powerful figure of resistance. And they're looking toward the country's future with both hope and uncertainty.


As We Memorialize Mandela, Remember Those Who Stood With Him, by Scott Simon   (3 min, 7 sec)

...But the man who was prisoner 466/64 on Robben Island was a giant among heroes who offered their lives for freedom as valiantly as he did. In a way, the acclaim the world now heaps so justly on Nelson Mandela commemorates them, too.



Now Praised By Presidents, Mandela Wasn’t Always Admired In The U.S. (NPR Story)

As the days pass leading up to tomorrow's national memorial service in Johannesburg, I've been looking out most for the articles that really describe the fullness of Mandela's leadership over the years, especially more of the reality of his relationship to the United States.  Some would say it's 'complicated', although I would say it reflects the truth of this country's relationship to freedom movements around the world, especially as it relates to people of African ancestry.

All of this having been said, I came across this piece by Greg Myre today via NPR.  The following is my take on the key points.  Some highlighted excerpts follow below.

The key points:

  1. While U.S. presidents and other American political leaders are speaking so highly of Mandela today, they fully supported (at worst) and accepted (at best) their oppressive and racist policies for decades, before being pressured to support 'reforms' in South Africa.  While the Congressional Black Caucus isn't mentioned by name, it was this caucus that really kept the torch of freedom and justice for South Africa lit in this country.
  2. The justification for supporting the racist South African government was that they stood with the United States against Communism during the Cold War.  It was a cover, as the people and institutions advancing this position tended to be some of the same people and institutions opposing Civil Rights efforts in this country.  This didn't change until it became politically and financially expedient to do so well into the 1980's.
  3. Mandela's politics were firmly grounded in a "By Any Means Necessary" philosophy, including armed resistance.  This earned Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress a decades-long space on this country's terrorist watch list, a list Nelson Mandela remained on until 2008 - 14 years after being released from prison, and eight years after the end of his term as the democratically elected President of South Africa.
  4. During and after his term as President, Mandela publicly and privately challenged this country's foreign policy, and continued to support other international political leaders... against the wishes of (and threats by) the United States government.


When I refer to the Disneyfication of Mandela, I'm referring to the tendency to manufacture a "Mandela" that appeals to the sensibilities of people, primarily white, who always want to believe in the best possibilities of their moral selves, but who fail to acknowledge and challenge the worst of their moral selves... the part that allows them to completely ignore or rationalize the injustices happening all around them, in places near and far.

As such, don't expect to hear much or any of this "complicated" history during President Barack Obama's remarks at tomorrow's memorial service.  While you might give the president another pass, at least be clear in your own mind that the idea of Mandela we're being fed by many is but a caricature of the real man and leader.

There's more we can learn by studying the fullness of Nelson Mandela's example.  Understanding this fullness makes it even more clear why he's so loved and respected across the globe.  More importantly, understanding the fullness of his example puts into perspective what we should and must expect of each other and ourselves.


A few excerpts from Myre's NPR article...

As President Obama travels to South Africa for Nelson Mandela's memorial service on Tuesday, it might seem as though Mandela was an eternal object of admiration for U.S. presidents and the American public. But that wasn't the case by a long shot.

During Mandela's 27 years behind bars, successive U.S. administrations worked with, or at least tolerated, South Africa's white leaders. Only in his final years of incarceration did he and the anti-apartheid movement become a cause that gained traction in the United States.

In 1981, when apartheid was still in full force, President Ronald Reagan told CBS that he supported the South African government because it was "a country that has stood by us in every war we've ever fought; a country that, strategically, is essential to the free world in its production of minerals."


For years, the U.S. labeled the ANC a terrorist group because it carried out attacks against civilian targets in South Africa. And it was Mandela himself who established the ANC's armed wing in the early 1960s before he was imprisoned.

The U.S.-South African relationship began to change after black South Africans launched a major uprising in 1984 pushing the anti-apartheid struggle onto American TV screens and newspaper front pages.

Soon after, U.S. politicians, many of them Democrats in Congress, began marching in front of the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C., getting themselves arrested by the dozens.

Congress then passed economic sanctions against South Africa in 1986. Reagan vetoed the bill, but Congress overrode him. The sanctions were limited and were never going to bring down the South African government. But the law marked the moment in the U.S. that South Africa became a moral and civil rights question, as opposed to a Cold War issue.


However, Mandela was at odds with U.S. foreign policy on multiple occasions.

He remained loyal to those who provided moral and financial support to his group during the years when the ANC had few friends in the West. This led Mandela to meet and praise leaders such as Cuba's Fidel Castro and Libya's Moammar Gadhafi.

The year after he was freed, Mandela called Castro "a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people."

Mandela also spoke out against the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and took issue with the U.S. campaign against Iran's nuclear program.

But on Tuesday, Obama is scheduled to address a packed stadium in Soweto, and the only topic that matters will be the way Mandela remade his country and served as an inspiration to the world.



President Nelson Mandela’s (Second) Speech Before the U.S. Congress – October 6, 1994

On October 6, 1994, President Nelson Mandela addressed a joint session of Congress for the second time, imploring the United States, in many ways, to be the country that truly reflects the values it espouses, a country that allows all people to live with the full dignity of a human being and in which all people can fulfill their potential.  More importantly, he reminds the United States of its influence, and thus responsibility, for encouraging the same throughout the world.

In his address, Mandela speaks with ultimate humility, and is very benevolent in his praise of the aspirational idea of the United States, clearly aware of this country's complex relationship to both the construction and maintenance of the Apartheid state in South Africa, as well as (although extremely reluctantly) its demise over time.

When you begin to understand the fullness of Mandela's intellectual analysis and his thoughtfulness of strategy - both during his early African National Congress activist years and during his post-prison years, what you begin to hear in this speech is an elder African statesman calling out the hypocrisy of United States foreign policy, and calling it to task in honoring its own rhetoric on questions of democracy, human dignity and freedom.  While Mandela moved toward a political strategy in the later years of his life, he appears to have consistently maintained his independence of thought and was not shy about challenging US foreign policy.

Here's one selection from this approximately 50-minute speech.  The full speech follows just below.  Mandela's remarks begin right around the 11 minute mark.

It will perhaps come to be that this interconnectedness will produce among you, the distinguished members of these Houses of Congress, as among other actors on the world stage, policies which will spring from a common recognition of the fact that success or failure in the conduct of human affairs, can no longer be measured within the limited sphere defined by national boundaries that are the legacy of an ancient reality, away from which life itself has moved society a thousand leagues. If what we say is true, that manifestly, the world is one stage and the actions of all its inhabitants part of the same drama, does it not then follow that each one of us as nations, including yourselves, should begin to define the national interest to include the genuine happiness of others, however distant in time and space their domicile might be.




How US disinvestment helped end apartheid: Ron Dellums w/ Rachel Maddow

Former Rep. Ron Dellums, talks with Rachel Maddow about how pressure from the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 helped end apartheid in South Africa.

Be clear, however, that then-Congressman Dellums and the Congressional Black Caucus had to (re-)introduce legislation for 15 years before this legislation was finally able to be pushed through the U.S. Congress.

These movements don't happen by sheer moral persuasion.  It has to be coupled with active and persistent courage and determination to win the long fight for justice.  Politics matters, but the use of politics to achieve meaningful policy victories depends on the determination of elected officials, in partnership with a committed interest group, to persistently fight the good fight.




Mandela [Listen to What the Drums Say] – Jasiri X

Here's a really powerful tribute to Nelson Mandela's legacy by Jasiri X, Listen to What the Drums Say.

Courage is the triumph over fear...
With hard work comes progress...
Have faith in justice...
Show compassion to everyone...



Randall Robinson on Nelson Mandela: U.S. Backing of Apartheid Regime & Success of Sanctions Movement



Nelson Mandela: Remembering and Honoring an African Hero


Nelson Mandela

As the world remembers our genuine African hero, my initial observation of the public reflections and commentary prompts me to reference an earlier piece about our beloved Nelson Mandela.

One of the tragedies of the Disneyfication of Nelson Mandela as a global icon is that so many people appear to be missing the historical analysis and conviction that undergirded Mandela’s contribution to the anti-apartheid freedom struggle. Mandela offered a part of this analysis during his statement during the historic 1964 Rivonia Trial.

Nelson Mandela will be remembered for many different reasons.  Some aspect of his life, indeed some clip from his many speeches and writings, will be used as justification for one or another point of view someone is trying to advance.  I get it.  That's what people do.  And thus, this and previous posts of my own.  Ideas are powerful, especially when they find their way into the values, sensibilities and behaviors of people and institutions.

For those who are so inclined, however, I encourage you to do your own study and learn from Mandela's full example. Most of all, please don't seek easy comfort in the lazy postracialist remaking of a man who didn't exist.  Let your study be your tribute to the man so many of us respect and honor.

Nelson Mandela was and remains an African revolutionary who fought for a fundamentally transformed social, political and economic order in the country he loved so much.  Moreover, he advocated for the same throughout the world.  As one person, he couldn't singularly achieve all of this.  But his life is an example of the possibilities, and the inevitable challenges, that come with such a life mission.  His example should ultimately be viewed and appreciated within the longer arc of African history, indeed the history of this world.

Nelson Mandela fought with the time, talent and resources at his disposal.  He adjusted his strategies as he learned, analyzed and reflected.  And most importantly, at all points along the way, he worked and fought alongside others of like mind.

Our struggle is one of a marathon and a relay... we have to appreciate our role within a larger collective and along a journey far longer than our lifetime.  It seems this is one of the lessons we can take from his life.

We celebrate Nelson Mandela, today and everyday, as his example will always be with us.  Indeed his spirit, and the spirits of all of our revolutionary ancestors, will forever guide us.



Nelson Mandela’s 1964 Statement during the Rivonia Trial


As the world prays for the health of our elder Nelson Mandela, and the continued struggle toward complete liberation and well-being for our brothers and sisters in South Africa, I encourage all to revisit the words and the spirit of Nelson Mandela's historic statement during his 1964 Rivonia Trial.

One of the tragedies of the Disneyfication of Nelson Mandela as a global icon is that so many people appear to be missing the historical analysis and conviction that undergirded Mandela's contribution to the anti-apartheid freedom struggle. Mandela offered a part of this analysis during his statement during the historic 1964 Rivonia Trial. A portion of that statement follows.

I encourage all to visit the ANC's speech archive and read the statement in it's entirety. I also encourage us all to reflect on the current and continued struggle for the healing, development and liberation of African people throughout the world. Our struggle is one struggle. For that matter, these ideas and principles are equally important for most of the world's social justice movements.

The Government often answers its critics by saying that Africans in South Africa are economically better off than the inhabitants of the other countries in Africa. I do not know whether this statement is true and doubt whether any comparison can be made without having regard to the cost-of-living index in such countries. But even if it is true, as far as the African people are concerned it is irrelevant. Our complaint is not that we are poor by comparison with people in other countries, but that we are poor by comparison with the white people in our own country, and that we are prevented by legislation from altering this imbalance.

The lack of human dignity experienced by Africans is the direct result of the policy of white supremacy. White supremacy implies black inferiority. Legislation designed to preserve white supremacy entrenches this notion. Menial tasks in South Africa are invariably performed by Africans. When anything has to be carried or cleaned the white man will look around for an African to do it for him, whether the African is employed by him or not. Because of this sort of attitude, whites tend to regard Africans as a separate breed. They do not look upon them as people with families of their own; they do not realize that they have emotions - that they fall in love like white people do; that they want to be with their wives and children like white people want to be with theirs; that they want to earn enough money to support their families properly, to feed and clothe them and send them to school. And what `house-boy` or `garden-boy` or labourer can ever hope to do this?

Pass laws, which to the Africans are among the most hated bits of legislation in South Africa, render any African liable to police surveillance at any time. I doubt whether there is a single African male in South Africa who has not at some stage had a brush with the police over his pass. Hundreds and thousands of Africans are thrown into jail each year under pass laws. Even worse than this is the fact that pass laws keep husband and wife apart and lead to the breakdown of family life.

Poverty and the breakdown of family life have secondary effects. Children wander about the streets of the townships because they have no schools to go to, or no money to enable them to go to school, or no parents at home to see that they go to school, because both parents (if there be two) have to work to keep the family alive. This leads to a breakdown in moral standards, to an alarming rise in illegitimacy, and to growing violence which erupts not only politically, but everywhere. Life in the townships is dangerous. There is not a day that goes by without somebody being stabbed or assaulted. And violence is carried out of the townships in the white living areas. People are afraid to walk alone in the streets after dark. Housebreakings and robberies are increasing, despite the fact that the death sentence can now be imposed for such offences. Death sentences cannot cure the festering sore.

Africans want to be paid a living wage. Africans want to perform work which they are capable of doing, and not work which the Government declares them to be capable o Africans want to be allowed to live where they obtain work, and not be endorsed out of an area because they were not born there. Africans want to be allowed to own land in places where they work, and not to be obliged to live in rented houses which they can never call their own. Africans want to be part of the general population, and not confined to living in their own ghettoes. African men want to have their wives and children to live with them where they work, and not be forced into an unnatural existence in men`s hostels. African women want to be with their menfolk and not be left permanently widowed in the Reserves. Africans want to be allowed out after eleven o`clock at night and not to be confined to their rooms like little children. Africans want to be allowed

to travel in their own country and to seek work where they want to and not where the Labour Bureau tells them to. Africans want a just share in the whole of South Africa; they want security and a stake in society.

Above all, we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country, because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy.

But this fear cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the only solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for all. It is not true that the enfranchisement of all will result in racial domination. Political division, based on colour, is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one colour group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs it will not change that policy.

This then is what the ANC is fighting. Their struggle is a truly national one. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and their own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live.

During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.