Villian/Hero/terrorist/freedomfighter… by underground

Finally! No more waivers from the Secretary of State to enter the United States for Nelsen Mandela. Now the former South African president can go to Disney World or see the Lakers play and not even have to get Condoleezza Rice’s permission to so. Nelsen Mandela is a free man! With the ANC scrapped from the US’s terror list, Nelsen Mandela is no longer a terrorist!

With all the sensational rhetorical from US leaders over the years, one must ask what the reality is. For all the grand speeches and claims of freedom, America has been time and time again to be shown on the side of oppressive regimes. This is not America bashing or “anti-Americanism”, this is the reality. America supported Suharto in Indonesia, Fulgencio Batista in Cuba and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. And they supported apartheid in South Africa.

Dictators and malevolent political systems have been given the green light by successive administrations. Governments who are friendly to US/Western political and economic interests are supported, even if they do not act in the best interests of their people. Often these governments are overthrown by popular movements, which are usually hostile to the West and have an “extreme” political or religious agenda (Iran, Cuba, Afghanistan or Algeria for example). Although these regimes are often vilified by the West as “oppressive” or “freedom-hating”, these are the countries that often lend support to human rights struggles against western backed regimes. Fidel Castro was a great supporter and friend of Mandela’s during the struggle. Mandela did not forget his supporters upon his release and criticised those who felt Mandela should distance himself from anti-West supporters.

“Those South Africans who berate me for being loyal to our friends, literally they can go and throw themselves into a pool. I am not going to betray the trust of those who helped us.”

“I do that because of a moral authority … that we should not abandon those who helped us in the darkest hour of the history of this country,” Mandela said. “They gave us the resources for us to conduct the struggle and to win.”

Arguably the ANC did commit acts of “terrorism” but that term is as good as meaningless, especially as most definitions do not consider motive or the cause. What is the difference between Western hailed “freedom fighters” and “terrorists”? Mandela and the ANC did indulge in bombing and sabotage campaigns during their struggle, but had the West not made apartheid possible, would this have been necessary. Instead of supporting the rights of Africans, the West was propping up a racist regime and their war against their people. It was the CIA who tipped of the security police in 1962, leading to Mandela’s arrest. The ANC had been linked to African communist movements and allegedly the Soviet Union, so were condemned in the Cold War hysteria. The West had considerable economic interests in the region and South Africa was a key ally in the region.The support of the West for Apartheid was noted by black revolutionary Dr Martin Luther King in 1967.

“…The tragedy of South Africa is not simply in its own policy, it is the fact that the racist government of South Africa is virtually made possible by the economic policies of the United States and Great Britain…”

In the 80’s public opposition to apartheid continued to grow, yet Western countries still managed to allow South Africa to maintain its institutionalised racism. Despite the minimal criticism aimed at the former US president after his death, Ronald Reagan was a key supporter of apartheid in the 1980’s. It was President Reagan who placed the ANC and Mandela on the US terrorist list in the first place. In 1986, Nelsen Mandela’s wife Winnie accused the Reagan Administration of supporting “the racist white regime”. Britain was not innocent, with Baroness Margaret Thatcher opposing sanctions on the country and maintaining the party to be a terrorist organisation. And meanwhile New Zealand was tearing itself apart in 1981 when the Springboks toured.

If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America. They don’t care.” Mandela 2003

Yet this history has been well concealed through hollow photo opportunities and false respect. If people really respected the man, should they not acknowledge their mistakes and apologise for their countries’ support for apartheid? Is it that they willingly neglect to remember the past, or do they have a warped view of reality? Mandela is instead placed on a pedestal, given a Presidential Medal of Freedom, a pat on the back and given a bloody good 90th birthday party. No lesson is actually learnt. And mistakes will again be made, dictators will be propped up, popular uprisings suppressed, and future Mandela’s will be imprisoned. And no doubt they will be lauded upon release, and more lovely photos can be taken.

While no amount of google search could find anything much of an apology or even an acknowledgment of US support for apartheid, 2004 Presidential Election winner Senator John Kerry came close when he said the United States has “moved closer at last to removing the great shame of dishonouring this great leader by including him on our government’s terror watch list”.

Condoleezza Rice appeared to be more concerned about looking stupid:

(Removing the ANC was a) rather embarrassing matter that I still have to waive in my own counterpart, the foreign minister of South Africa, not to mention the great leader Nelson Mandela.”

And some suffered from short time memory loss:

The label of ‘terrorist’ will no longer be affixed to associates of the ANC — among them one of the world’s great heroes, Nelson Mandela. Our country stands with those who struggled to bring the reprehensible system of apartheid to an end,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman.

Britain’s Conservative Party is at least a little more honest than their counterparts across the Atlantic:

The mistakes my party made in the past with respect to relations with the ANC and sanctions on South Africa make it all the more important to listen now. The fact that there is so much to celebrate in the new South Africa is not in spite of Mandela and the ANC, it is because of them – and we Conservatives should say so clearly today.” David Cameron 2006

It makes you think just how much influence politics and economics have in the way we view international figures. Monster can be condoned as necessary evils, and people’s heroes can be vilified as terrorists. It makes me wonder whether we always choose the right enemy and whether we have the right friends. Should we expect today’s villains from other struggles to be tomorrow’s heroes?

On a related topic I intend to write a post about Zimbabwe, looking at media coverage in the west and the possible options available to the international community to deal with the tyrant Robert Mugabe. Certainly no hero there!


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