Above: Jean-Paul Samputu, who lost his family, sings and talks about the genocide
The tragic events surrounding the Rwandan genocide of 1994 must never be forgotten. They are a major reason why some of us despise the isolationists of the right and the so-called “anti-imperialist” “left.” It occurs to me that a new generation of socialists has grown up largely unaware of these events, and miseducated by the isolationism -in-principle of people like the ‘Stop the War Coalition.’
The following is a modified and edited version of the account written by Janice Anderson, Anne Williams and Vivian Head in their book War Crimes and Atrocities (Futura, 2007):
In a period of 13 weeks from 6 April 1994, about half a million people perished in a mass slaughter of the minority Tutsi population of Rwanda, a tiny country in Central Africa. Thousands of the majority Hutus were also slain for opposing the killings
Rwanda’s population is divided into two ethnic groups, the Hutus and the Tutsis. The Hutus are the more numerous and are by tradition crop growers and farmers. Over the centuries, Hutus have encouraged Tutsis from northern Africa to come and work in Rwanda and, for over 600 years, the two groups shared the same language, culture and nationality.
Rwanda was first colonised by the Germans, but during World War I it was taken over by the Belgians, who caused a rift between the two groups by granting preferential status to the Tutsis. Then European missionaries added a further twist, by encouraging the Hutus to fight back, resulting in the loss of over 100,00 lives in a rebellion in 1956. Three years later the Hutus had seized power and over 200,000 Tutsis retreated to neighbouring countries where they formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), an army dedicated to taking on the Hutus.
When Rwanda became independent in 1962, the Hutus took power, but were constantly fearful of Tutsi retaliation, which eventually came in 1990, when the RPF attacked, forcing the then-president to sign a power-sharing agreement that was never properly implemented due to Hutu opposition. The situation was made even worse when a plane carrying the Burundi president (a Hutu) was shot down.
Aware that the fragile ceasefire was about to crumble, the UN sent a peacekeeping force of about 2,500 multinational soldiers, but by this time the majority of Hutus, including much of their political and religious leadership, had decided that the Tutsis had assassinated their president and that the only solution was to annihilate the entire Tutsi population.
In April 1994, amid ever-increasing threats of violence, the Rwandan president, Habyarimana and the new Burundi president, Cyprien Ntaryamira, held peace talks with the Tutsi rebels. But disaster struck on 6 April, when the small plane carrying the two presidents was shot down by ground-fired missiles as it approached Kigali airport. Their deaths plunged Rwanda into a frenzied state of political violence, leading to genocide.
Just 24 hours after the plane was shot down, road-blocks started to appear on the roads around Kigali, manned by the Interahamwe militia. The Interahamwe (meaning ‘Those Who Stand/Fight Together’) was the most effective of the Hutu militias. They identified Tutsis and hacked them to death with machetes. Tutsis who could afford to pay were given the option of dying by a bullet. Specially organised death squads, working from prepared lists, went from neighbourhood to neighbourhood in Kigali. Not only did they round up all the Tutsis, but they picked on moderate Hutus as well, including prime minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana: he was guarded by Belgian UN guards, who the attackers arrested, tortured and then killed, causing Belgium to withdraw the remainder of its UN troops.
The violence spread like wildfire from Kigali. Via the radio, the government urged Tutsis to congregate at churches, schools and stadiums, promising that they would make these safe places of refuge. Little did the Tutsis know that by gathering in large groups they in fact made themselves easy targets. Some of the victims managed to ward off attacks by using sticks and stones — until the joint forces of the Rwandan army and presidential guard were brought in to wipe them out with machine guns and grenades. In just two weeks, by 21 April, it is generally estimated that about 250,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered, making this one of the most concentrated acts of genocide ever.
What made the genocide even more atrocious is the fact that it was encouraged by government and church officials, who even bribed the killers to do their dirty work. Local officials and leaders of Anglican and Catholic churches conspired with the killers and in many cases took an active part in the slaughter. Men, women, children and babies were killed in their thousands in schools and churches where, tragically, they had gathered in the hope of finding sanctuary. The victims had to bear the knowledge that they were being killed by people they knew — neighbours, fellow workers, sometimes even relatives by marriage.
The Interahamwe weren’t driven by drink, drugs or even mindless bloodlust, but a fanatical devotion to their cause. They were cold-blooded killers who were urged on by the media and by the government. Participants were often given incentives, such as money or food, and were even told they could keep the land of the Tutsis they killed.
The radio was important in spreading the killing. Even the poorest households would possess a radio and people would listen intently to government broadcasts. When Hutus heard the voices coming through the radio calling on them to “kill, kill. kill the Tutsi minority”, they responded accordingly.
The genocide was initially aimed mainly at young male Tutsis who could have been members of the RPF guerrilla force. However, as the days went by women and children also became victims. Survivors later told stories of being aped by individuals or gangs, sometimes using sharpened sticks or gun barrels. Sometimes they were sexually mutilated or forced into “marriages” that made them a sex slaves.
The killing didn’t stop until July when the RPF finally managed to capture Kigali, causing the collapse of the government. A ceasefire was declared as soon as the Hutus realised that the RPF was victorious, and an estimated two million Hutus fled to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). It wasn’t until the killing stopped that UN troops and aid workers arrived in significant numbers – while it was going on there had been just a token and entirely impotent UN presence.
Why was it that while the genocide was happening the international community deserted Rwanda? Erratic media coverage conveyed the false notion of two ‘tribes’ of African ‘savages’ mindlessly killing each other as they had done for many years. As a result there was little public pressure in the West for governments to intervene. Controversy has raged ever since over the role (or lack of it) of foreign governments and the UN in allowing the genocide to proceed. It wasn’t until 7 April 2000, the sixth anniversary of the massacre, that Belgium’s prime minister apologised for the international community’s failure to intervene. He told an audience at the site of a memorial that, “A dramatic combination of negligence, incompetence and hesitation created the conditions for the tragedy.”
Linda Melvin, in the Guardian, points out that General Roméo Dallaire, the UN force commander in Rwanda in 1994 had wanted just 5,500 reinforcements to stand guard at places where desperate people were sheltering; this would have sent a clear signal to the machete-wielding Interahamwe that the world would not stand for their brutality.
Melvin concludes her important piece as follows:
The 20th commemoration of the genocide sees fine words spoken by all and it seems timely to reflect on why Rwanda was so quickly abandoned to its fate in 1994. There has never been a satisfactory explanation for the indifference over Rwanda. Western governments – the US, UK, Belgium, France – continue to withhold a wealth of information about events. Neither the US nor the UK, two permanent members of the UN security council, has ever answered accusations of a failure to abide by obligations under the 1948 genocide convention, nor revealed the information on which their decisions were based. The failure to critically examine the role of ministers and officials has further encouraged the sort of secretive and unaccountable decision-making that will no doubt shroud the decision-makers today and those who sit and read the cables.
With no official inquiry by either the US or the UK, blame for inaction over the genocide has simply slipped away from the officials and politicians responsible. This might be a suitable time to find out why the UK government was so determined in the security council that Dallaire’s UN peacekeepers be withdrawn from Rwanda, leaving behind a “token force” in order to “appease public opinion” – not to protect civilians but to try to negotiate a ceasefire in the civil war.
Since 1994 there has been an almost continuous series of debates, studies and resolutions on the failure over Rwanda. These have shown how little true humanitarianism there is at the heart of states that both possess abundant resources and profess a commitment to human rights. Nothing has changed.
Given the enthusiasm with which the PSC and others push the claim that Israel is an “apartheid” state, and the suggestion that Mandela endorsed that view, the following article by Jeff Weintraub is of considerable importance:
The history of Israel’s relationship with South Africa, before and after the end of the white-supremacist apartheid regime, is a story with many complex, difficult, and deeply troubling aspects. That complexity was highlighted once again by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s last-minute decision, on a pretext that looked pretty flimsy, to cancel his scheduled trip to South Africa to attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral on December 10—a decision so unwise and unfortunate, even scandalous, on the face of it that I still find it a bit inexplicable (though I’ve seen a range of speculative analyses). President Shimon Peres had a plausible-sounding medical excuse that also kept him away. Whatever one thinks of Netanyahu, he’s smart enough that he must have realized how bad it looked for both of Israel’s top political figures to be absent from Mandela’s funeral, so I can’t help wondering whether there isn’t some complicate behind-the-scenes angle here that we may eventually learn about. At all events, Israel was represented at the funeral by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and five other Israeli legislators (including one African-Israeli Knesset member, Penina Tamanu-Shata, who was born in Ethiopia).
I mention this recent unpleasantness mostly as background to a more important story about Mandela and his relationship to Israel, reported (below) by Alan Johnson, editor of Fathom. It confirms for me something about Mandela’s record of which I was only partly aware, and gives me new reasons to admire Mandela’s historic role and greatness of spirit.
Here is a statement that Mandela made as President of the African National Congress in 1993, the year before he was elected President of South Africa. (If you’re skeptical about whether the quotation is accurate, you can also find it on the ANC website.):
As a movement, we recognise the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism just as we recognise the legitimacy of Zionism as a Jewish nationalism. We insist on the right of the state of Israel to exist within secure borders but with equal vigour support the Palestinian right to national self-determination.
This formulation is clear, straightforward, and important. And as far as I can tell, it was Mandela’s consistent position through the end of his life.
Mandela and the ANC were, of course, thoroughly committed to the Palestinian cause and regarded the PLO as a fellow liberation movement. So it’s unsurprising, as well as entirely proper, that Mandela would have endorsed the legitimacy of the Palestinians’ struggle for liberation and national self-determination. What is more striking, in this context, is that Mandela explicitly and unambiguously supported Israel‘s right to exist. That is, he didn’t just indicate a willingness to accept Israel’s existence as an unavoidable (though perhaps unwelcome) fact of life, but asserted that Israel has a right to exist. And he supported Israel’s right to exist, explicitly and unambiguously, on the grounds that Jews have the same right to national self-determination as any other people. That cuts to the heart of what is as stake in the whole controversy. Everything else is details—though the details are obviously very important.
(Lest anyone think that I am overdoing the significance of Mandela’s position on these issues, it is worth noting that, to this day, almost no one in the entire Arab world has publicly accepted that Israel has a moral right to exist or that Zionism is a legitimate national movement—even people who, over time, have grudgingly come to accept the idea of making peace with Israel for reasons of prudence, realpolitik, or simple exhaustion. I can think of a few exceptions, but they can be counted on my fingers. As the New York Times journalist Ethan Bronner, who spent years covering the Middle East, wrote in 2003:
I once asked King Hussein of Jordan whether he considered Zionism legitimate. Did he accept that there was any historical basis to the Jews’ claim to a portion of Palestine as their homeland? He looked at me as if I were from Mars and ducked the question. Later, he told a Jordanian colleague that only a Jew could have posed such a strange question. Perhaps by the time of his death in 1999 he had softened his view. But his reaction still exemplifies that of the vast majority of Arabs today. Even the many who favor peace with Israel under certain conditions accept its reality but not its legitimacy. [....]
(“On the Israeli side,” Bronner added, “there are similar denials” regarding the legitimacy and moral claims of Palestinian nationalism—though nowadays significant numbers of Israelis, and certainly a major proportion of Israel’s supporters world-wide, do accept, at least in principle, that Palestinians have a right to national self-determination.) And I know people here in the US who have no desire to see Israel destroyed but who reject, or at least are uneasy about, recognizing the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish nation-state, though they have no trouble accepting the legitimacy of an Irish or Greek or Turkish or Egyptian or Palestinian nation-state—which means, whether or not they’re fully aware of it, that they don’t really accept that Jews have the same rights to political self-determination as other peoples.
In short, Mandela explicitly and unambiguously supported the principle that can be summed up with the formula “two states for two peoples“. Like it or not, that fundamental principle continues to be the only possible basis for a just, durable, and non-catastrophic resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—which, in turn, can work only in the context of a more general Arab-Israeli peace settlement that includes genuine Arab acceptance of Israel’s existence and security. That outcome is by no means inevitable, and in fact there are many good reasons for feeling pessimistic about whether it will actually happen. But all the realistically conceivable alternatives lead to catastrophe. So it’s a good idea to take Mandela seriously on this matter, as on many others.
P.S. And speaking of the details … here are a few of Mandela’s statements to reporters during his visit to Israel in 1999, after retiring as President of South Africa. On the one hand: “My view is that talk of peace remains hollow if Israel continues to occupy Arab lands.” But on the other hand: “I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing if Arab states do not recognize Israel, within secure borders.”
Mandela made these statements toward the tail-end of the Oslo era, before the dramatic collapse of the supposed “peace process” in 2000. But they still sound like a good basis for a package deal. Some tendencies in the Arab world have been inching in that direction over the years (and the broad outlines of an Arab-Israeli peace settlement along these lines were put forward, albeit with significant gaps and ambiguities, in the Saudi-inspired Arab League Peace Initiative of 2002—which, so far, has not been followed up from either the Arab or the Israel side). Other tendencies have been moving even further away from it. All the available evidence suggests that a solid majority of Israelis are willing, in principle, to agree to a peace deal on this basis—but most of them have no confidence that it’s actually a realistically available option. What will happen in the future remains to be seen … though, again, excessive optimism would be foolish.
[Update 12/16/2013: I've been reminded that there is a a quotation from Mandela floating around the internet in which he accuses Israel of pursuing "apartheid policies" like the old South Africa. This quotation is often cited by people hostile to Israel. But it happens to be a fake. To be fair, it appears that the person who originally wrote that statement didn't pretend that it was an actual quotation, but instead meant it to suggest what Mandela would say if he were really expressing his innermost thoughts. But it now gets quoted and re-quoted as something Mandela actually said—which he didn't.]
In this age of spoiled, petulant, over-paid brats on the football field, we salute a true hero of the game.
The Telegraph carries an outstanding appreciation by Ian Hawkey:
Around the statue of Eusebio at Lisbon’s Estadio da Luz on Sunday were festooned scarves, flowers and some simple, handwritten messages of gratitude.
For those wishing to pay a more intimate tribute, the body of the club’s emblematic player, who died in the early hours of the morning aged 71, was brought to the stadium ahead of his funeral.
Far beyond Portugal, whose national team he led to unprecedented heights in the 1960s, Eusebio’s passing was vividly mourned, his death serving as a powerful reminder that, among his many unique achievements, his constituency as a sporting hero stretched across continents. He may be Europe’s greatest 20th century footballer, as well as the finest to come from Africa.
In Mozambique, where he was born and lived until his late teens, the former president Joaquim Chissano spoke of “losing a friend”, and recalled their shared childhood encounters on the pitches of Maputo, then known as Lourenco Marques, capital of Portuguese East Africa. In the 1950s, he might have added, the region turned out to be one of the most fertile football nurseries on earth.
Eusebio grew up in a family of very limited means, the son of an Angolan railway worker and Mozambican mother. By his teens, he had developed the athletic talent to sprint the 100 metres in 11 seconds.
Early reports of what he could do with a ball, a plaything which as a child he would sometimes fashion from rolled-up newspaper, focused not just on his physical forte but an element of audacious improvisation. In one-to-one duels, he liked to hook the ball, direct from the ground up over an opponent’s head and snake around his rival to collect it.
Word of this prodigy spread quickly beyond the working-class suburb of Mafalala, his home, and into the privileged districts of the city, where a thriving league maintained high standards. The ‘Phenomenon of Mafalala’ would quickly elevate them further. Read the rest of this entry »
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Of all the eulogies to Nelson Mandela there have been over the past eleven days, this one was probably the most powerful, sincere and moving. I defy anyone to watch and listen with completely dry eyes:
Below is the official version of Ahmed Kathrada’s speech, but it varies somewhat from what he said on the day, suggesting that some of his remarks (eg: that extraordinary closing comment, “My life is in a void and I don’t know who to turn to”) were entirely spontaneous:
The last time I saw Madiba alive was when I visited him in hospital. I was filled with an overwhelming mixture of sadness, emotion and pride. He tightly held my hand until the end of my brief visit. It was profoundly heartbreaking. It brought me to the verge of tears when my thoughts automatically flashed back to the picture of the man I grew up under. How I wished I’d never had to confront the reality of what I saw.
I first met Madiba in 1946; that’s 67 years ago. I recalled the tall, healthy and strong man; the boxer; the prisoner who easily wielded the pick and shovel at the lime quarry on Robben Island. I visualised the prisoner that vigorously exercised every morning before we were unlocked. What I saw at his home after his spell in hospital was this giant of a man, helpless and reduced to a shadow of his former self.
And now the inevitable has happened. He has left us and is now with the “A Team” of the ANC – the ANC in which he cut his political teeth; and the ANC for whose policy of a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa he was prepared to die.
He has joined the “A Team” of his close comrades: Chief Luthuli; Walter Sisulu; Oliver Tambo; Dr Yusuf Dadoo; Jack Simons; Moses Kotane; Bram Fischer; Dr Monty Naicker; JB Marks; Helen Joseph; Ruth First; Professor ZK Matthews; Beyers Naude; Joe Slovo; Lilian Ngoyi; Ma Sisulu and Michael Harmel.
In addition to the ANC’s “A Team”, Madiba has also joined men and women outside the ANC – Helen Suzman, Steve Biko, Alan Paton, Robert Sobukwe, Cissie Gool, Bennie Kies, Neville Alexander, Zeph Mothopeng and many other leaders.
We are a country that has been blessed by many great and remarkable men and women, all of whom played a critical part in this grand struggle for freedom and dignity. We have been blessed by the contributions of many different movements and formations, both inside and outside the country, each making an indelible imprint on our history. We have been blessed by a struggle that actively involved the masses of the people in their own liberation.
We have been blessed that under the collective leadership of the ANC, we can proudly proclaim that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white”. We were mightily, and unexpectedly, blessed when the old, oppressive, undemocratic order succumbed and bowed to the inevitable. And then, finally, we were truly blessed by the far-sighted wisdom of our collective leadership – with Madiba at the helm – that took us into a democratic future. For all of this and much more, we are deeply grateful.
We are fortunate that today we live in a noisy and lively democracy. We are eternally grateful that dignity has been restored to all South Africans. We are forever grateful that the lives of many are improving, although not enough yet. We are deeply grateful for a constitution that encompasses all that is good in us and a constitutional order that protects our hard-won freedom. Finally, we are infinitely grateful that each and every one of us, whether we are African, white, coloured or Indian, can proudly call ourselves South Africans.
Mindful of our gains, we nevertheless know that a long, long road lies ahead, with many twists and turns, sometimes through difficult and trying times. Poverty, ill-health and hunger still stalk our land. Greed and avarice show their ugly faces. Xenophobia and intolerance play their mischief in our beautiful land. Parts of the world out there find themselves in unhappy situations; economies falter and stagger; extremism and fundamentalism of all kinds are rampant; the Earth reels from climate change, and the poor battle to survive. Ferocious struggles for democracy unfold daily before our very eyes and the numbers of political prisoners grow in step with rising intolerance. For instance, we think of the Palestinian Marwan Barghouti, who is languishing in an Israeli prison. All of these people and prisoners throughout the world will continue to draw inspiration from the life and legacy of Mandela.
And finally Mr President, I wish to address myself directly to Madala, as we called each other. What do we say to you in these, the last, final moments together, before you exit the public stage forever?
Madala, your abundant reserves of love, simplicity, honesty, service, humility, care, courage, foresight, patience, tolerance, equality and justice continually served as a source of enormous strength to many millions of people in South Africa and the world. You symbolise today, and always will, qualities of collective leadership, reconciliation, unity and forgiveness. You strove daily to build a united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.
In this spirit, so exemplified in your life, it is up to the present and next generations to take up the cudgels where you have left off. It is up to them, through service to deepen our democracy; entrench and defend our constitution; eradicate poverty; eliminate inequality; fight corruption, and serve always with compassion, respect, integrity and tolerance. Above all, they must build our nation and break down the barriers that still divide us.
Xenophobia, racism and sexism must be fought with tenacity, wisdom and enlightenment. Anything that defines someone else as “the other” has to go. Tolerance and understanding must flourish and grow. In all these actions we are and will be guided by your wisdom and deeds.
Today, mingled with our grief is the enormous pride that one of our own has during your life, and now in your death, united the people of South Africa and the entire world on a scale never experienced before in history. Remarkably, in these last few days, the masses of our people, from whatever walk of life, have demonstrated how very connected they feel to you; how the story of your life is their story and how their story is your story. Madala, you captured this relationship beautifully on the occasion of Walter Sisulu’s death, when you said: “We shared the joy of living, and the pain. Together we shared ideas, forged common commitments. We walked side by side through the valley of death, nursing each other’s bruises, holding each other up when our steps faltered. Together we savoured the taste of freedom!”
To Mrs Graça Machel and the Mandela family, our love, respect and support go out to you. We wish there was a way that we could ease your grief and pain. These last few months have been particularly hard, and we trust that in the ensuing weeks you will be able to find the rest and peace you need so much. We mourn with you and wish you strength in this time of need.
Madala, while we may be drowned in sorrow and grief, we salute you as a fighter for freedom to the end. Farewell my elder brother, my mentor, my leader. With all the energy and determination at our command, we pledge to join the people of South Africa and the world to perpetuate the ideals and values for which you have devoted your life.
Hamba Kahle, Madala! Hamba Kahle, my dearest friend!
(from the Guardian)
Nelson Mandela’s daughter Makaziwe has described how the family gathered around him to say goodbye. She also describes her own sometimes difficult relationship with her father and the difficulties of living in a divided family. We republish this because it’s an honest and very moving account of the private Mandela and his family.
Makaziwe Mandela, Mr Mandela’s oldest surviving child, was speaking to the BBC’s Komla Dumor.
Here are some excerpts from that interview:
It has been a very long painful period.
As you know because of the type of family we are, you can’t experience the pain and the trauma, and actually now the loss, privately. We are always constantly, people around and the glare and sometimes you feel like screaming, you know, ‘Can you give us peace, just to have that moment as a family?’ It’s been very, very hard.
He was very, very much loved. He knew that he was loved. Being conscious of all the warmth that came from the world, it’s difficult to say, we tried to explain it to him that, you know, people are outside the hospital singing, putting cards and flowers.
So for me I think Tata, until the last moment, heard us. And the children were there, grandchildren were there, you know, Graca was there, so we were always around him even at the last moment we were sitting with him on Thursday the whole day.
They told us Thursday morning that it’s likely and said to me: ‘Maki call everyone that is here that wants to see him and say bye-bye’.
It was the most wonderful day for us because the grandchildren were there, we were there, the professional doctors, and in actual fact when they saw him slipping away, those doctors dedicated their time. They were running shifts, three-hour shifts, 24 hours.
Being there, it was like they were soldiers guarding this… I don’t know whether you understand this… they were soldiers guarding the spirit of a king. Yes, my father comes from royalty.
And so even for the grandchildren I think it was a wonderful moment. Unfortunately there were some grandchildren and my sisters were out, there were some grandchildren who were participating at some event in Brazil.
But for those who were here I think it was a wonderful moment for them.
I was bitter as child because I had a father who was there but not really there.
My father is awkward with his emotions. People don’t understand that because they see the public persona. But Tata had the public persona and the private persona. He couldn’t express his emotions.
He grew up in a society where you had to be seen but not heard, the African culture, where you learnt by emulating the others before you, where as a man you did not show your emotions.
He couldn’t say the words ‘I love you’. I mean even with the grandchildren, if you talk to them, there’s very few moments where Tata has said ‘I love you’.
The way he knew how to show love was to provide for his children. He bought us all houses. That was his way of showing love.
My family has been a very divided family. My father has had three wives, but I try the best I can. I can never say that I am perfect but one of the things that my father really wanted more than anything is that his own children would get along.
I try to be the word of wisdom. I try to bring, even now everybody together, the grandchildren, it was me who will say ‘I think we should inform this one’. Even with Mandla [her nephew] who I just took to court now.
It was me who said to the doctors ‘I think we should call Mandla now to come’ because I think it was important for all of us to have closure and be united.
Surely we’ll still have differences in how we see things, but I think there is a better way of how to deal with issues. My dad has always said to us ‘Charity begins at home’.
I don’t think my father fought just for political freedom. My father also fought for spiritual freedom, to free yourself spiritually.
He talks about the fact that it takes courage to forgive. Forgiveness is a very difficult thing.
I don’t think it was easy… but I think he knew that if you didn’t forgive he would be forever in prison – himself spiritually.
So for me the lesson we can take away from his life is to have the courage to forgive other people… Because if we have the courage to forgive as human beings, there will be no wars that we see around us, there will be no crime, there will be no violence, there will be no conflict, and for me that’s the greatest gift that Tata has given to the world because he also says none of us when we’re born are born hating another.
We are taught to hate.
And if you can teach a human being to hate, you can also teach a human to love, to embrace, to forgive, and for me that’s the greatest lesson.
Above: Hugh Masekela’s musical dedication to Mandela
By Robert Fine at the Workers Liberty website
Nelson Mandela was a big man and his long life was punctuated by huge personal and political achievements. Foremost among his personal achievements was the dignity and apparent lack of bitterness with which he emerged from 27 years of imprisonment by the apartheid regime in South Africa. He had the personal grace to embody the long struggle against racism and for democracy when he re-entered the public sphere in 1990 and by nearly all accounts he set an example of leadership during his own long years in gaol. During this period Mandela was himself rather forgotten for much of the time, out of sight in the 1960s, eclipsed in the 1970s by the Black Consciousness Movement and Steve Biko, denounced in the 1980s by various world leaders (including Thatcher, Reagan and Bush Senior) as a terrorist, but increasingly in this period lionised in political and cultural circles. Who can forget Hugh Masekela’s musical dedication to Mandela!
Foremost among his political achievements was of course the role he played in steering South Africa from apartheid to democracy, from a state in which to be black was to be less than human to one man, one woman, one vote. This was no easy road. There was violence from members of the old regime, from Zulu nationalists in the Inkatha Movement, from ‘white’ ultra-nationalist in the AWB, and not least from among some black radicals (including Mandela’s wife, WInnie) within the black townships. Once in power as the first President of the new South Africa Mandela formed a government of National Unity with the Afrikaner Nationalists and Inkatha, oversaw the drafting of the new constitution including a strong Bill of Rights, and gave the go-ahead for Bishop Tutu to establish his famous Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
One of the many iconic moments of the Rainbow Nation Mandela sought to establish was presenting the Rugby World Cup trophy, held in South Africa, to the Springboks captain Francois Peinaar. Rugby was a generally ‘white’ sport and those of us who remember the anti-apartheid demonstrations we held against the visiting Springboks will understand the great symbolism of this occasion.
Mandela was a human being and despite all the efforts to sanctify him we do him no honour to subsume his politics, or indeed his patrician personal peculiarities, beneath an aura of sainthood sometimes constructed for the narrowest of political purposes. Mandela came from a Christian, aristocratic and propertied African family – very different in culture and social status from the mass of ‘blanket’ Africans. He became involved in ANC politics in the 1950s, when he was active in the non-violent Defiance Campaign and then in organising the Congress of the People in 1955. It put forward the famous and at the time controversial Freedom Charter:
“We the people of South Africa declare for all our country: That South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people”.
In a context of plural political movements vying for popular support, the notion of ‘we the people’ had obvious political advantages for the ANC, but what was more important was that it set a basically multi-racial path for the liberation movement.
There has been debate over whether Mandela ever joined the South African Communist Party, which had of course strong Soviet connections, but whether or not he did join, he worked closely with some of its members. What first thrust Mandela into international fame, his first moment of glory, was perhaps his least auspicious contribution. He was involved in the late 1950s in the turn to armed struggle, the establishment of an armed wing of the ANC, known as MK or Umkhonto We Sizwe, and the reorganisation of the party in accordance with the ‘M-Plan’, setting up a cell structure for military operations. Mandela was acquitted at the long drawn out Treason Trial of 1956-61, but he was then convicted of ‘sabotage’ at the Rivonia Trial in 1962 and sentenced to life imprisonment.
We should acknowledge that the so-called turn to armed struggle was a disaster. The bombing campaigns were ineffective and those involved in them were quickly rounded up. More importantly, the mass democratic campaigns, which rocked the apartheid regime in the latter half of the 1950s, all quickly collapsed as sabotage, secrecy and vanguardism took over. The murder by the police of 69 protesters at Sharpeville – a protest organised by the PAC, a rival organisation to the ANC – was treated by the ANC / SACP leadership as a sign that peaceful protest was no longer possible. However, it was also a sign that the mass democratic movement as a whole – which comprised community movements, trade union movements, women’s movements and even tribal peasant movements – was seriously impacting on the apartheid regime.
After the turn to armed struggle there ensued a decade of state repression and intensified racist legislation, marked by the defeat of popular struggles. I do not think this downturn can be separated from the ill advisedness of the ‘turn’ Mandela helped to implement. Mandela was inspired, as many radicals were in that period, by Castro’s 26th Movement, the example of Che Guevara, and by various armed African liberation movements. The long period of his prosecution in the Treason Trial may have cut him off from active involvement in the mass democratic movement (I am not sure of this). In any event the strategic turn taken by the ANC, which Mandela supported and personified, probably had more to do with the wider strategic turn enforced by leaders of the Soviet Union on most Communist Parties they supported, than with any local conditions. Mandela’s ringing speech at the Rivonia Trial – “I was the symbol of justice in the court of oppression” – was undoubtedly true but of course did not address the democratic and class issues involved in turning away from mass struggle.
There was always a patrician and intolerant edge to the ANC movement, but it was the turn to violence in 1961 that for many years broke its connection with grass-roots democracy. The protests that broke out in the mid-1970s, a decade and a half after Sharpeville, were conducted more in the name of Black Consciousness and Steve Biko than the ANC and Mandela. In the 1980s the ANC began to get back into the picture internationally as a largely exiled movement, but the internal movement of new non-racial trade unions (especially under the umbrella of FOSATU) and new community movements (especially under the umbrella of the United Democratic Front) showed a considerable degree of independence from the ANC–SACP alliance. In the UK I remember ANC-SACP people in the anti-apartheid movement denouncing in this period the new industrial trade unions and their solidarity supporters in the UK, including myself, as queering the pitch of the ‘official’ trade union wing of the movement, SACTU, or worse as collaborators.
Once Mandela was out of prison in 1990, his conciliatory strengths were manifold: he certainly deserved the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. There was at the time violence in the air – the murder of Chris Hani, massacres at Sebokeng and at Shell House, the AWB car bombs, the ‘necklacing’ of ‘collaborators’ committed by young activists in the townships, even the tortures and murders committed by the Winnie Mandela’s thuggish ‘United Football Club’. Directly or indirectly, Mandela helped to resolve tensions between the independent unions and the ANC and the former head of the Mineworkers Union Cyril Ramapoza led the ANC delegation into negotiations with the government. Mandela was a force for reconciliation but this did not mean that he simply gave in to stronger forces. He was strongly critical of de Klerk, the leader of the Afrikaner Nationalists, when the latter granted amnesty to the police and defended his old Defence Minister, Malan.
However, reconciliation meant not only reconciling oneself to the past but also reconciling oneself to the present – and to forces that would keep the great majority of ordinary black people in poverty and subjection. Strengths can turn into weaknesses and this is what happened to Mandela’s undoubted strengths. The ambitious social and economic plans of the ANC-SACP, articulated in the election campaign of 1994 in the Reconstruction and Development Programme, were frustrated by business friendly policies (tight budgets, fee trade, debt responsibility, etc.), the allure of unheard of riches corrupting all manner of officials, and an increasingly evident anti-pluralist streak within the ANC and SACP themselves. The trade union independence so carefully built up in the 1980s was compromised by its alliance with the ANC and SACP in the 1990s. By the time Mandela decided not to stand again as President in 1999, there were pronounced signs of growing unemployment, inequality and governmental authoritarianism – as well as the peculiarities of certain policy traits like Mbeki’s almost unbelievable refusal to recognise the existence of AIDS or the importance of anti-viral treatment.
Mandela was not uncritical of his own role, notably in relation to the whole question of AIDS, but whether or not he spoke out publicly on these issues, he remained a force for decency in the background of a state that was becoming disturbingly violent, anti-egalitarian and grasping. The police murder of 34 striking miners at Marikana mine, owned by a British company Lonmin, one of whose well paid directors is Cyril Ramapoza, the former leader of the Mineworkers Union and Deputy leader of the ANC, and its cover up and normalisation by leading figures in the ANC-SACP-COSATU alliance, is just one exemplar.
Mandela will be missed today not because he was a perfect role model, and he was certainly no saint, but because he knew what is important in life and represented something authentic in the South African revolutionary tradition. Now that he has gone, I wonder what is in store for the revolution, which his presence did much to foster and civilise but which his aura served to insulate from the normal processes of intellectual and political criticism.
From the Daily Maverick (6 Dec):
Is this, wonders RICHARD POPLAK, the moment the South African story properly begins?
So, after all these years, we finally get to ask ourselves the question.
Who are we?
They say that one truly becomes an adult when one’s father dies. For some of us this moment comes early, too early, in life—before we’ve properly come to appreciate what a father’s role can mean. Others among us have never known our fathers, while still others watch fathers fade into dotage, sick, senile, or otherwise diminished. There is never a perfect time to say goodbye, but when that absence, that erasure, becomes permanent, we are forced to acknowledge an essential aloneness. And that is where the formulation of self begins.
Modern South Africa was blessed with a father of such rectitude, of such presence, that we feel his absence as we would the contours of a crater formed by an act of ancient violence. I live a ten-minute stroll from Madiba’s Houghton residence and last night, as choppers thwacked above me, I fell asleep to the paradoxical sensation of being an infant without faculties, and more fully a man than I was before learning of his death. The infant part is easy to understand—I’m suddenly without a guide, a mentor, a true north. The other feeling is more difficult to come to terms with. What’s certain is that this country’s sense of self is no longer the responsibility of one man, and must now be defined by the likes of me, my family, my peers, my enemies—each one of us more human than the next.
The role of an adult, I think, is to serve, to leave something behind, to be fully oneself. And to know the way. We South Africans have had the uncommon luxury of outsourcing our morality to one of history’s giants, a man who was simply unable to disappoint. His intellectual dexterity was such that he could see the path long before it was bush-wacked, and he cleared it without violence, without bile. We relied on him, and we leaned on him, and he never buckled. But even giants fall. So here we are.
Is this the moment that the South African story properly begins? Our Tolkien period is over—our mythical villains and our great heroes are gone, and we have entered another, lesser, but no less important, age. The American President John Adams once said that he looked forward to the time when his country was governed by institutions and not by the whims of men. During America’s vibrant nascency, Adams was harkening after political maturity—when the robustness of a country’s laws and the institutions that upheld them allowed men and women to be great in different, smaller ways.
If South Africans are to acknowledge that this is the day that we fully become adults, are we willing to accept the terms? Do we, after being sons and daughters for so long, understand the responsibilities that now face us? That there are millions of consciousnesses other than our own? That the solutions to our problems are within us, and must be solved by us? That negotiation is not an option, but the option? That there is no end to the process of reconciliation, and that our art as citizens is to peel away at the layers of violence and shame that have defined us as a nation for centuries?
One of Madiba’s less salutary legacies is that his greatness has obscured the role that hundreds and thousands of South Africans have played in righting this country’s course after the fall of the last regime. Names like Sisulu, Tambo, Hani, Naiker, Naidoo—the dozens of helmsmen who touched the till at precisely the right moment, so that we weren’t dashed on the rocks of our own lunacy. The South Africa we live in is not one man’s project—it’s a family affair of violent, ungainly, illogical and masterful beauty. We broke it, we bought it.
Through it all, there was a guiding presence, a father who knew best—a role that Nelson Mandela played with an acuity that was superhuman. And despite that father’s last uncomfortable days, when his dignity was toyed with and his waning strength was tapped for purposes I believe he would never have approved of, he was still here. And we were still not forced to ask the only question that counts.
Who are we?
That ache you feel is the abject loneliness of adulthood, and the first stirrings of an answer. DM
From the Daily Maverick: ends with ‘prayers’ that we all can share.
“It’s still nice to dance, crack jokes and wear a loud shirt”
Slightly adapted from a piece by Marelise Van Der Merwe
Our heroes are falling one by one, our police don’t protect us, and our politicians are weak and vicious. And we’ve been hanging onto Mandela as though our lives depend on it, not his; when what we should be doing is using the great gift of introspection that he gave us to pull ourselves from the wreckage.
Newspapers have been on standby in case the news breaks – so much so, in fact, that a DStv channel aired an obituary in error earlier this year, much to the righteous rage of the ANC. The country doesn’t want to look away, in a mixture of mercenary alertness (God forbid we be the newspaper that misses it) and heart-wrenching sadness (he is our everything).
After the DStv obituary aired, ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu flew off the handle somewhat, and I can’t say I blame him. To me, the incident symbolised everything that is wrong with this compulsive Madiba-watching. “This was uncalled for and totally insensitive,” Mthembu fumed. “President Mandela is alive and receiving treatment for a recurring lung infection, as reported by the Presidency.
“We join millions of South Africans and people all over the world in wishing Madiba a speedy recovery and discharge from the hospital. We also join all those who are offering their prayers for the old statesman to get better.”
I must say, though, that Mthembu was wrong on one count. My prayers were not for Madiba’s speedy recovery. My prayers and good wishes were that he would not have a long, drawn-out death; that he would be peaceful; that he would be surrounded by loved ones and look back with satisfaction on the life he lived. He was an old, old man – one who crammed more into his active years outside of jail than most people would do in two lifetimes. He used his jail time, too, to good effect, educating himself and others, spreading messages of peace, and most importantly, working on his inner world – coming to terms with the abuse he had suffered, so that when he came out of jail, he was able to lead us all to genuine reconciliation.
What I didn’t want for him was speculation, the endless watching for whether he made it through the night, the long process of going into hospital, coming back out, labouring for air. There is a reason pneumonia is known as the old man’s friend: it is quick and usually not painful.
If there is anything Madiba taught us, it was gentleness and humanity, not to mention the stupendous power of forgiveness. In my own life, this struggle for forgiveness has been massive, for reasons unrelated to the political climate. But every time the anger comes, I look towards Madiba and remember what the human soul can overcome. He had a profound influence on my life, and I am sure I am not the only one. Part of what made him such a remarkable human being is that you would be hard-pressed to find a person who had not been influenced by him in some way. He was the person who looked through the vicious shells of Apartheid leaders, prison warders; the insensitive crusts of self-righteous whites who did not want to change. He looked through them all, saw the human beings inside, and reached out to them. He gave us all the mercy we so desperately want, and he led others to it, too.
Madiba earned his rest. He earned the right to sit quietly with the people he loved most in this world, and drift gently into the next one. He gave us his life in service – but we didn’t even want to grant him his death. Why did we keep on wanting him to get better, just so that he could go back into hospital? Selfishly, we didn’t want to let go of all he symbolised, so we wanted him to cling to a life that he had, in all honesty, lived out.
Madiba withdrew himself many years ago, as we all know. He did not want public life anymore; what he wanted was a life, a good life, with his family. He was done fighting and wanted happiness. And that, ironically, seems to be the one thing that – for all our claimed love – we didn’t want to grant him.
If you have ever read fairy tales or epics, you will know that a typical plot manoeuvre is for the main character, at the critical stage, to lose his mentor. South Africa is at that critical stage now: we are staring into the abyss, the crisis times have come, and we have lost our father figure. But what happens in these stories? The fighter gets up and carries on; he moves forward with the tools the mentor has given him already. And if it is a good story, he emerges victorious.
Madiba gave us many tools. He is done giving now, and we should accept that. What we can do if we want to honour and respect him is use those tools and remember those lessons. The way I see it, if we really want to show love for Madiba, we should be praying for ourselves.
We should pray that we can learn to forgive like Madiba.
We should pray that we learn to sacrifice, without complaint, for the common good.
We should pray we learn that even time we believe is wasted can be used to achieve so much good: in learning, in thought leadership, in becoming greater within ourselves, while we wait for circumstances beyond our control to change.
We should pray that we learn his great gift of introspection, so that we never let the bitterness grow inside us, even when it seems nothing is changing.
We should pray that we have the courage to speak up and be honest, even if there are grim punishments in store for us when we do.
We should pray to be gentle, but not meek – to fight for what we believe in.
We should pray that even when we are good, good people, we remember that nobody likes a goody-goody: that it’s still nice to dance, crack jokes and wear a loud shirt.
And most of all, we should pray to remember that all great changes begin with the person in the mirror: our own transformation leads it all.
If all South Africans strive for this, maybe, just maybe, we will be able to give Madiba the same gift back that he tried to give to us: a country that works.
He has paid his debt to South Africa, and more. He has led each one of us to strive to be a better person, in a better South Africa. It is time for us to lovingly let him go, and to move forward with the lessons he sacrificed so much to teach us.
Tisdall: a Paul Faure de jour
You don’t have to be a fan of US imperialism to wish the yanks well in hunting down al-Qaida and other such murderous fascists.
But, it would seem, Simon Tisdall, senior foreign correspondent of the Graun doesn’t share that feeling. In fact, attempts to apprehend and/or kill such people as Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai (wanted for the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed over 250 people) and Ahmed Abdi Godane (who claims responsibility for the Westgate mall attack) are to be deplored and sneered at:
“The two raids may provide Obama with temporary relief from his domestic troubles, distracting attention from the government shutdown. But secretary of state John Kerry’s claim on Sunday that the operations showed terrorists they “can run but they can’t hide” was macho bombast straight from the George W Bush school of utter thoughtlessness.
“The raids yielded one wanted man. They shed yet more blood. They played the terrorists’ game. They invited further retaliation and escalation down the road. They reminded Muslims everywhere that the US, in righteous mood, has scant regard for other countries’ borders and national rights. And they did nothing to address the roots and causes of confrontation between Islam and the west.” Read the whole thing here, but prepare to be nauseated and/or infuriated..
I leave aside, for the moment, Tisdall’s apparent acceptance (in his final sentence) of the jihadists’ (and the anti-Muslim racists’) claim that the struggle against Islamist terrorism is, in fact, a war on Islam itself. And I won’t bother asking what, exactly, does Mr Tisdall think “the causes of [the] confrontation” are. For now, I’d merely ask, what does Mr Tisdall think should be done in response to outrages like Westgate? Anything at all?
One small cause for hope: judging by the below-the-line comments, even CiF readers seem to be appalled at Tisdall’s craven appeasement.
Finally (for now) I would urge readers to check out this fascinating comparison between present-day Guardianistas and the Paul Fauristes in France during WW2. All proportions guarded, I think the comparison is apposite and entirely fair.
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