I had been reading all the online tributes to Nelson Mandela, learning things about him that I didn't know (his favorite dish was tripe, which the author incorrectly identified as animal intestines -- tripe is stomach), when I made the mistake of reading the comments below one article. One commenter objected to the tributes for Mandela, calling Mandela a communist and a terrorist.
Really? And what were the Afrikaners?
I usually don't respond to stupidity because the response elevates the stupidity. But in this case, I won't let the ignorant corrupt history, anonymously online, no less. Never mind the fact that such comments violate the maxim that you should not speak ill of the dead.
We've seen this all before. When a great political figure, usually a person of color, is known for having stood up to make humankind accountable to the principles of freedom and equality, they are politically slurred in death without any reference to the context in which they acted. Think Dr. King.
True, Nelson Mandela had once been a communist. He also refused to renounce violence. But he didn't come to the world that way. If Mandela was a communist and a so-called "terrorist" (one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, and sometimes both -- ask the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan), he was made that way by the Afrikaners who came to his homeland and corrupted the idea of democracy. I guess Mandela, like many oppressed people, had the nerve to think that democracy and freedom and equality should go hand in hand. How dare he.
And therein lies the problem. Anytime a government or any majority corrupts a system of beliefs -- whether it's democracy or religion -- people who suffer under such corruption turn away from it. Why would you continue to support a system of beliefs that people hide behind in order to oppress you? If Nelson Mandela, Bayard Rustin and Paul Robeson were communists, it was because democracy had clearly failed and oppressed them and their people. They were not wrong. The terrorists wearing the mantle of democracy were. Think Bull Connor.
If Mandela was a so-called "terrorist," it was because non-violence in pursuit of freedom and equality in what was ostensibly a democratic society had failed. Non-violence by black South Africans in pursuit of freedom and equality was met with bullets, not conciliation. Nelson Mandela becoming willing to use violence in defense of his people was no different than the Black Panther Party doing the same, and for the same reasons. George Washington fights for freedom, and he's a patriot; Nelson Mandela fights for freedom, and he's a terrorist?
So to call Mandela, or any person with the courage to be willing to die for freedom, equality and democracy, a communist or a terrorist without reference to the political forces acting against them at that time is sheer ignorance.
The difference between Mandela and most people is that he wouldn't have even engaged in this debate out of the spirit of reconciliation.