Today the world, and especially the news media, mourn the death of Nelson Mandela, the former African National Congress leader, President of South Africa, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. And one has to wonder why such a man is mourned at all. In a mere few decades, people the world 'round have simply forgotten who this man was and the reason he was imprisoned for 27 years. Instead, they have placed upon him a halo, calling him a hero and defender of peace and freedom. He has been compared to the likes of Ghandi and regarded as one of the greatest men of the 20th century. But all of that couldn't be further from the truth. Nelson Mandela was a suit-wearing terrorist.
This isn't a popular notion. You could even call it something that people purposely avoid talking about. Thanks to the PR campaign of the century from Mandela and his ANC government, with the help of western media and celebrities, their image has been reversed in some twenty or so years from blood-thirsty terrorists to peace loving freedom fighters. The victors write history, as they say, and our media, no longer the guardians of truth, back them up on it. Yes, even in this information age where everything I am talking about can be easily and readily accessed by the common person from legitimate sources, people still believe the lie that Mandela was a peaceful freedom fighter and beacon of hope, quietly sitting in a prison cell for 27 years in protest of an oppressive apartheid regime.
In his early days as a leader of the ANC, Mandela and his group did use peaceful tactics to protest apartheid. Their primary weapon was civil disobedience, flagrantly flaunting the segregation laws of the time. The government response was oppressive and in response Mandela formed, in conjunction with the Communist party, the militant arm of the ANC called UmKhonto we Sizwe. Had this been merely a rebel army focused on overthrowing the government through direct conflict with the state military, then this would have been viewed as a fight for freedom and a revolution against their oppressors. Such revolutions seek to get the people behind them and defeat the state that is keeping them down.
But that is not what Mandela and the UmKhonto we Sizwe did. Instead of taking up arms, they got their hands on bombs, grenades, and landmines. Indiscriminate weapons that serve one purpose; to kill and terrorize. It started out as acts of sabotage, targeting electrical power lines and the like, targets where death or injury was unlikely, but would cause chaos. To be fair, Mandela himself was not running around placing bombs on things. That was what the UmKhonto saboteurs he commanded were for. But during this time the UmKhonto were also recruiting and training guerilla fighters, who would turn against the people in the years to come, climaxing in the 1980s with bombings, landmines, and torture. The death toll during this time included both black and white, men, women, and children.
It was for the sabotage and conspiring to violently overthrow the government that Mandela was put into prison. The media will say that he was a "political prisoner", a term that is used to describe people that are imprisioned for non-violent activites against the state. Mandela's group was very much violent. The charges against him describe the acts of sabotage, as well as charges relating to violent acts, and traveling to a foreign country to receive training. These are not simply political in nature.
Mandela seems untouchable and his ANC and UmKhonto we Sizwe group characterized as "the good guys" simply because they opposed apartheid. Let's be clear; apartheid was inhumane. The forced segregation of races that was like the segregation of the American South on steroids was a unique and horrible form of oppression. To demonize the actions of Mandela and his group is not to legitimize such a government. It is the same as saying if you condemn the actions of the Syrian rebels, you must be pulling for Assad. It is a ludicrous notion.
It wasn't Mandela's stated ideals that were bad; on the contrary, those ideals seemed very much in line with any freedom-loving person that believes the individual is not defined by his or her ethnicity. From the start he said he wanted a democratic government ran by both blacks and whites and freedom for all. But his ends justify the means attitude led to the creation of what would become, rightly labled, a terrorist orgnaization. He may have not set any bombs, thrown any grenades, or planted any landmines, but he shares in the deaths of many black and white Africans brought about by his militant group. To what extent he commanded such from prison is unknown, but he did take over the ANC as soon as he was released from prison.
He is also being heralded as the savior of South Africa. This is very questionable considering two main points. The first is that apartheid ended primarily as a result of western nations condemning it and tightly sanctioning the nation, almost crippling their economy in the process. The second reason is how Mandela performed during his presedency. As president, instead of using tax dollars to uplift the poverty stricken districts for which he had claimed to fight, he instead threw billions into defense, buying new jet fighters, ships, and battle tanks. Undoubtedly, the state of the South African military was the least of its concerns, so why waste precious resources there instead of fixing the ills of apartheid?
The aftermath is clear. South Africa has one of the highest crime rates in the world, as well as one of the highest rates of AIDS, at the level of an epidemic. As the state paid to keep Mandela alive as long as possible, the level of available health care in the poor districts continues to be inadequate, as does food and services. The conditions of living for the black population is the same or worse than it was under apartheid, except that blacks of means can now mingle with whites of means and enjoy positions of power. Corruption and scandals over the years now plague the South African government, and the economy suffers as a result with a 25% unemployment rate. Riots, looting, murder, and rape over the past decade have become common place.
As bad as apartheid was, South Africa has still not been "saved". Nelson Mandela was a charasmatic character, who received lots of media and celebrity attention, but didn't really accomplish much of anything for his country, yet gets credit for everything good and nothing bad, as well as heaps of awards such as a Nobel. Does this sound familiar?
It is generally my policy to never speak ill of the dead, especially just after they have passed. And I understand the extent to which people have been duped over the years into believing that Nelson Mandela is some kind of great hero to freedom and liberty. It's easy to write about how bad Hugo Chavez was or Kim Jong-il who are universally reviled by most rational people in the western world. But when a Chavez or Jong-il somehow is draped in white robes and given a halo for years, the dark side to them becomes hidden, and talking ill of them becomes controversial. I, for one, have no problem pointing out who this man was any more than I do the aforementioned men. All of them were bad.
If there is anyone to mourn today, it should be the victims of the attacks by Mandela's group, especially in the 1980s, as well as the victims day to day in South Africa to crime and disease in a completely forgotten and disregarded population that trusted a man who did nothing good for them, yet somehow still worship him.