We must celebrate the life and work of Nelson Mandela

I expected to hear the news.  I did not know when it would arrive.   I did not believe that he had much longer to live.  So, when, this afternoon, i heard that Nelson Mandela, at the age of 95, had passed away, i was nevertheless surprised at my reaction.  Actually there were two reactions.

The first reaction was that of the loss of an elderly relative.  I know that sounds melodramatic but i feel that i grew up with Nelson Mandela.  From my earliest days as a young radical i heard the name “Nelson Mandela”.  I learned about the African National Congress, the Pan Africanist Congress, and later the other forces that contributed to the South African Freedom struggle.  His picture was in my home in the form of a poster.  He was present in my life.  And, at the age of 95, one could not be surprised in hearing of his passing.

The second reaction was very different, and i am almost afraid to share it.  It was one of celebration, that is celebrating the very fact that this man lived and made the immense contributions that he made.  Celebrating his commitment and integrity; celebrating the extent of his courage, a courage that few of us can every imagine.  I found myself celebrating his comrades, some alive, many dead, who, against all odds, took up a multi-decades struggle for freedom and social transformation.  I celebrated the fact that Mandela believed so passionately in organization and did not wish to be worshiped as the ‘supreme leader.’  He saw in organization, that is the organization of the people, the key to liberation.

Nelson Mandela will be mourned and celebrated.  But something else will happen.  There will soon, probably very soon, be efforts to reinterpret his life.  I do not mean leaving things out, as happened in the otherwise excellent film just released about his life.  Rather, as we have experienced here in the USA with great leaders like King and Malcolm, there will be efforts to convert Mandela into a very safe character in order to advance the ends of the global elite.  We will, for instance, not hear much about Mandela’s refusal to renounce armed struggle against apartheid, even  though such a renunciation could have resulted in his release much earlier.  We will not hear much about his expressions of gratitude to the Cuban people for their consistent support to the people of Angola, Namibia and South Africa who were fighting the South African apartheid regime.  We will not hear about Mandela’s consistent, unwavering support for the Palestinian people’s struggle for national liberation.

The battle over Mandela’s legacy will not await his burial nor will it await a period of mourning.  It happens immediately.  And for that reason how we interpret his life and work will determine which Nelson Mandela we are actually recognizing and praising.

Mandela was not a saint, a point that he himself frequently made.  He was also someone who made decisions and choices with which others in the South African movement–people of character and integrity–may not have agreed.  None of that should distract us from appreciating his significance.  After all, Mandela served to introduce the people of the world to the South African people.  He opened a door, through his presence and struggle, to the battle that was waged by millions of otherwise faceless but very human, men and women.

Mandela will be missed.  But we cannot end our thought there.  We must express our appreciation to the Creator of all things that this planet was blessed with Nelson Mandela and those who stood with him when the global elite declared the situation hopeless.


14 thoughts on “We must celebrate the life and work of Nelson Mandela

  1. Bill, Your statement was a thoughtful refection on the greatness of Mandela. In Veterans for Peace we acknowledge the passing of such prophets by saying “Presente!”

  2. I think it is also important to note that Mandela’s leadership and even his legacy in the movment is to be seen in the context of his relationship to organization. He was not a “revolutionary free agent”. So many radicals today have egos to big for an organization that they themselves can’t dictate the orientation and direction of.

    • As always, Badili, I am in agreement with you. The entire question of organization is one that is quickly forgotten, or at least is an issue that the global elite would rather that we forget!

  3. Bill, you are so right about the global elite who fought Mr. Mandela’s humanity all his life and who after death want to stylize him as benign hero. They will purposely be silent on how radical he was in their capitalist and fascist eyes by not acknowledging his refusal at renouncing Fidel Castro, and of standing with Arafat in the liberation of Palestinians from the Israeli/American yoke.
    I heard your comments today for the first time on the Thom Hartman radio show. Thank you for the work you do for economic and social justice. Just in case you may wonder, I am a retired Architect and a white Hispanic.

  4. Thanks a bunch for sharing this with all of us you actually recognize what you’re speaking about! Bookmarked. Please also consult with my web site =). We could have a hyperlink exchange contract between us

  5. Bookmarked. there are very few articles I have read since his death that acknowledge the whitewashing of his legacy, and of history, that has indeed already begun. That had begun even during his lifetime. And you are right, this fight is immediate. But is it a losing fight? Because in so many other situations like this, we the citizens who are not blinded by the whitewash and selective amnesia that is so frequently a grievous infliction among politicians, have lost against the imperialist elite. I have just entered adulthood yet I am already disillusioned by the amount of revisionism that is shaping this world. We are living a facade. And to go against the narrative is to be a ‘radical’, a dissident.

    I am glad I stumbled onto this-well, I had to search hard for it. So far, I have only found Huffington Post’s Musa Okwonga’s ‘Dear revisionists, Mandela will never be your minstrel.’

    • Do not lose heart! There are many of us raising this issue. One of the most important things that you can do is to raise it yourself in whatever venue you can. We have to make this sort of analysis the “common sense” of our time. Thanks for your note!

      • Thank you. It is when I read things like this that hope comes back! As a young journalism student, I hope I am working to doing just that; changing the official narrative and i am inspired, my determination given life when people like you speak out.

        I stumbled onto after reading Phyllis Bennis’ (another great activist) ‘before and after US foreign policy and the war on terrorism’ and in searching up the respected author’s life, works and interviews, found your article quoted on TheRealNews.

        I will be following this blog and your work consistently now.

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