Touching The Untouchables #8: Mandela

Ok, I know what you're thinking: "This guy isn't really going to rant about Mandela, at least not THE Nelson Mandela. The same Nelson Mandela who spent 27 years in prison and inspired his country and the world in the fight against apartheid. There's just no way he has the nerve or the audacity to attack one of the greatest men of the past century. One of the greatest, most dignified, most inspiring people in world history". Well, maybe I do, maybe I don't.

But first let me acknowledge Mandela's greatness and, in particular, my personal feelings towards the man. I mean, I still remember crying tears of joy sitting there in a youth hostel lobby in London back in February 1990 watching his famous long walk to freedom live on TV, that famous day when he was finally freed from prison. It was one of the most moving and memorable moments of my life.

So, yes, before you go flipping out and getting all crazy-angry at me, let me make it clear that Nelson Mandela is indeed one of my personal heroes, has been since I was young and remains so today. And without a doubt, he is one of the greatest men of modern history.

Which is why his silence on his old buddy Robert Mugabe's complete destruction of Zimbabwe is morally indefensible and extremely upsetting. The man is the Conscience of Africa, but as Mugabe completely wrecks his once prosperous country and puts his nation through a reign of terror, Mandela speaks not a word of condemnation. He remains completely silent and seemingly indifferent. Where is his moral authority when it is most needed?

It's not just Mandela, of course, South African leaders as a whole have shown little or no concern for the suffering in neighboring Zimbabwe. Likewise, the whole leadership of southern Africa has been silent and indifferent. More concerned about good relations with Mugabe than with the suffering of the Zimbabwean people. I think someone needs to tell these guys that suffering and cruel injustice is not only something to be condemned when it's being perpetrated by one race against another, as in Darfur now or in South Africa under apartheid. They must speak up! And Mandela, in particular, has got to speak out against Mugabe and what he's done to his country!!!

It's simply not ok when one of the most morally inspirational people alive today shows so little concern for the mass suffering in a country right next door. His silence is simply deafening.

You might hope he's putting private pressure on that megalomaniac Mugabe, a man who once in power slowly became everything Mandela is not, but, if that's the case, it's obviously having absolutely no effect. This has been going on for years now. People are starving. People have been murdered by the government. Whole areas of the country that support the opposition have been intentionally denied food. The economy has collapsed. A quarter of the people have fled the country looking for work elsewhere, mainly in South Africa.

How bad is it in Zimbabwe now? Well, unemployment is at 80% and inflation has now climbed above 7000%, leaving the vast majority of people destitute and desperate. Four million Zimbabweans (out of a population of 13 million) cannot survive without food aid and, most shocking of all, life expectancy is now just 37 for men and 34 for women.

It's a catastrophe and still Mandela says nothing.

Ok, I admit it, this rant isn't really about Nelson Mandela, but actually about Zimbabwe. And the person I really want to rant about is that self-serving, self-absorbed, egomaniacal Robert Mugabe, but everyone already understands his vicious cruel repulsiveness. And mentioning Mandela was the best way to get your attention. But the truth remains, the world has forgotten Zimbabwe and if anyone could get the world to focus its attention there it's Mandela. And if anyone could actually force some change there, it's Mandela. So, as the old song by The Specials goes, I think we once again need to "Freeeeeee Nelson Mandela/I'm begging you/freeeee Nelson Mandela..." But not from prison this time, only from his mistaken and tragic sense of loyalty to his old buddy Mugabe. A man of Mandela's greatness simply must speak up!

Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Thursday, September 13th, 2007


I think Mandela is great too but lets look at south africa today. The african national congress had its goals spelled out as early as 1955 in their famous freedom charter. The charter was basically a list compiled by the poor and the oppressed (also the majority) of what they felt needed to happen for blacks to acheive economic empowerment and true independence. It included things like land reform, free and compulsory education, and natonalization of industry. Keep in mind at the time there were many in south africa that viewed the charter as not going far enough to help blacks acheive these goals. Before he got out Mandela wrote a famous note comfirming these were still his goals. So now that Mandela is out, what has happened? Sure south africans have the right to vote and basic civil liberties but what about the charter? Mandela and Thabo Mbeki have been pressured into letting supposedly impartial bodies like the IMF and world bank make the important economic decisions, decisions that very much affect the lives of south africans, for a while Mandela coudnt give a speech without worrying about the total economic collapse that a mere mention of the freedom charter would bring. That has led to even worse inequality in that country. Naomi Kleins "the shock doctrine" contains a wealth of information on this subject to anyone interested. cheers, Derek