World-celebrated South African politician and anti-Apartheid activist (and of late, favorite PR photo subject for the Obamas, Oprah, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Louis Farrakhan, and a host of other black activists) Nelson Mandela, has died at the age of 95.
Mandela has become a near-saintly figure in the US media, almost mythical in stature. The truth is not quite so clean. Nelson Mandela was a co-founder of the “armed wing” of the leftist-Marxist African National Congress, the Umkhoto we Sizwe, or MK. Mandela was imprisoned for life after a conviction of sabotage in June of 1964. While the popular press often portrayed Mandela as having been wrongly convicted, Mandela admitted in open court to the acts with which he was charged, and defended the use of violence.
Mandela served twenty-seven years of a life sentence for his crimes, before being released in 1990. He became an immensely popular politician, and was elected as the first President of the post-Apartheid South Africa. While Mandela was given a Nobel Peace Prize, his true legacy is decidedly less peaceful. The “armed wing” he helped found, the Umkhoto we Sizwe, was responsible for the 1983 Church Street Bombing, which killed 19 people and wounded more than two hundred. There were other bombings, in Natal, and in Durban, several in Johannesburg, and the deliberate mining of roads in the Transvaal. While Mandela might have asserted that his “fighters” were not terrorists, their victims were largely civilian, and were the result of bombings and terror attacks, murder, and torture.
In addition to the violence perpetrated by the group he founded and led, Mandela’s wife, Winnie, was deeply involved in the kidnapping of four ANC youth in 1988. All were severely beaten, and one, accused of being a police informant, had his throat slit, reportedly at the order and in the presence of Mandela’s wife. It was Winnie Mandela’s personal bodyguards responsible for the kidnappings, beatings, and murder.
We are sure to have non-stop coverage and endless statements and tributes, and will hear Mandela being called a “hero” and an inspiration, and all of the platitudes due a man of the stature which we are told Mandela occupied. Nelson Mandela never publicly renounced the violence of the organization he founded. Had he done so, then-President Botha would have released him in 1985. Mandela refused then, and never did so hence. He was 95, eighty-one years older than the boy whose throat Mandela’s wife ordered cut. I doubt that fact will make it into very many photo captions or watery-eyed tributes.
And I do suppose, we will be told, pointing out these facts about Nelson Mandela is racist.