by Playthell Benjamin
A Statesman for the World to Emulate. What Manner of Man?
There are some black men who make me proud to be a black man just by virtue of their example. Muhammad Ali was such a man, so was Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X too. Nelson Mandela was an inspiration to all of them…and millions more. It makes me wonder if all the suffering that has accompanied being black in the modern world is perhaps what it takes to produce the grandeur of their vision, the hunger for justice, the will to struggle against near insurmountable odds, and even to die for a great cause. Such men embody in their persona the aspirations of the people and that is why the people follow them by the multitudes, even unto the shadow of death.
Now the great Madiba has danced his last Toi Toi and joined the pantheon of noble ancestors who spent their lives in dedicated service to the people, giving their all to uplift the race. It is hard to imagine a more formidable task than that which they chose, for they were confronting an enemy who was the best armed ruling elite in the history of the world.
This ruling elite built a global civilization upon an ideology of white supremacy that justified some of the worst crimes ever committed on this planet. These racist crimes were committed against all the colored, i.e. non-European peoples on earth; but African peoples were the victims of the most horrendous crimes for the longest period of time. To understand a man like Nelson Mandela, one must first understand the nature of the European conquest of Africa in the modern world.
In his history of capitalist development Karl Marx noted “the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black skins signaled the rosy dawn of capitalism.” As Dr. Eric Williams, a great historian and the first President of Trinidad, demonstrated in his master work “Slavery and Capitalism,” the modernization of Europe, beginning with the industrial revolution in England, was largely financed by the Triangular Trade which was built upon the Trans-Atlantic trade in African slaves.
Due to their geographical position, and the military might of the Zulu nation, South African never became a part of the Atlantic Slave Trade. And it took until the west was into the modern age before the whites had the weapons to conquer South Africa. But once they acquired this military capacity they enslaved the African people in their own home land.
To administer these conquered peoples Europeans designed two basic systems of colonial rule: Direct and Indirect. Under the system of Indirect rule, which was perfected by the British in West Africa and India under the leadership of Lord Frederick Lugard, the colonizing power governs through a native elite composed of traditional leaders and British trained civil servants. This style of leadership was well suited for India because of its size, enormous population and well developed traditional leadership structure.
And it was mandated by the West African environment where the climate and diseases were so devastating to Europeans the area became known as “the white man’s graveyard.” However in those areas of Africa located in temperate zones suitable for European habitation, such as the Kenyan highlands, European settler communities developed. And it was in these settler societies that the oppression of Africans was most severe.
The system established by the European invaders in South African belongs to this class of phenomenon labeled settler colonialism, which has similar features wherever it arises in the world. It begins with a military conquest of the indigenous peoples. This is followed by massive land theft, which is accompanied by laying claim to all wealth produced by the land, agricultural and mineral. To produce this wealth the native peoples are subjected to forced labor. And they are denied civil rights.
If the indigenous population resists they are brutally repressed and in some instances exterminated, which was the pattern throughout the Americas. And when the decimation of these populations was not achieved solely by military conflicts and forced labor regimes, the introduction of foreign diseases, for which the indigenes had neither immunity nor cures, finished the job. Hence long before the rise of the German Nazis in the twentieth century the “enlightened Christian” nations of Europe had practiced both “ethnic cleansing” and germ warfare against Third World peoples.
These inhumane practices were justified by an ideology based on the claim of natural superiority of the colonists. In Africa this ideology was white supremacy and Africans were indoctrinated in this belief in school and church during the period of colonial rule. However this is also what happened in the USA, Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Kenya, South Africa, Brazil, etc. With the rise of the social science of Anthropology, Europeans began to systematically study the belief systems that defined the universe of Africans and the cultural mores which determined social relations and upon which traditional authority was based. We get an inside view of how this knowledge was employed by colonial authorities to undermine the Africans’ confidence in their traditional beliefs in Chinua Achebe’s classic novel “Things Fall Apart.”
Achebe brilliantly demonstrates this in a single scene. During an annual ceremony to venerate the ancestors, when masked dancers perform a ritual in in which they are supposed to embody the spirit of the ancestors, it was believed by the people of the village that anyone who unmasked one of these dancing ancestral spirits would be struck dead. And the sacred grove from which they emerged and returned was forbidden territory to the villagers, to enter it meant certain death. Once the British colonial governor understood what was happening he walked up to the dancers and snatched off their masks, revealing them to be just members of the village who belonged to a secret society. When nothing happend to the white man who unmasked the dancer the villagers were thrown into confusion. And when he had the sacred grove burned down and built a Christian church on the spot their universe fell apart!
The point of this discussion is to demonstrate how the traditional universe of Third World peoples was transformed by their encounter with post Renaissance Europe beginning in the 16th century; the people who emerged from this process were a new people. Ironically this was not all negative, because it was through this clash of cultures that the traditional societies of the Third World – Africa, Asia and Latin America – entered the modern world. However the colonists provided a modern education to their colonial subjects based upon their needs; it was designed to prepare them to serve the interests of the Metropole i. e. “mother country.” But the irrepressible desire for freedom and dignity on the part of all peoples resulted in an unintended consequence: Nationalism.
The growth of nationalist sentiment among colonized peoples resulted in National Liberation movements, which intensified as colonial subjects were conscripted to fight in two world wars. It is no wonder that many of the leaders of the liberation movements in Africa and Asia had served in colonial armies, this was also true of many of the black men who became leaders of the Civil Rights movement in the American South. This is why Malcolm X – who had no military training of any sort – sounded so silly to these men with his tough talk.
The emergence of Nationalist movements among the colonized was an unexpected consequence of the actions of the colonists by virtue of introducing the forces of modernity into these traditional societies. One of the tasks of the new post-colonial man – the French referred to them as the “Evolue” and the Portuguese called them “Assimilados” – who emerged as the leaders of these anti-colonial liberation movements was to forge a modern identity for the new nations they were bringing into being. All of the leaders of modern Africa fall into this category, including Nelson Mandela.
During the movement phase, this effort centered on clarifying a cultural identity which was often expressed in a form of cultural revivalism that Dr. Franz Fanon called “the return to a golden age,” which was typically based more on myth than historical fact. This phenomenon is typical of Black Nationalist ideology in the USA also. A black colonial subject from Martinique, the Caribbean island nation located in the French Antilles, Dr. Fanon wound up as a top leader of the great revolution in the French colony of Algeria in Arab North Africa.
As a member of the central committee of the National Liberation Front, an organization that contained factions with very different visions of the post-colonial society they wished to create, Fanon participated in all the ideological discussions. After listening to the Islamist faction he concluded that establishing an Islamic caliphate in Algeria would be “a return to primitive medievalism.”
Since the modern nation state is a European invention, it is no wonder that the nations that Third World leaders built upon independence trended toward the western model of multi-party participatory democracy with universal suffrage – one person one vote – or the one-party state favored by the Eastern communist nations which selected their leaders by a process called “Democratic Centralism.” The western model is generally accompanied by “free market” capitalist economics that sanctify private property, and economic “progress” is measured by Gross National Product rather than equity in income distribution.
The “Eastern” or communist model favors a socialized economy which is directed by the government based on an ideology that preaches “from each according to his deeds, to each according to his needs.” The capitalist model promotes a Darwinian struggle for profits that leads to vast inequities in the distribution of society’s wealth, such as we are presently suffering under in American today. The communist model disdains private profit and argues that economic production should be based on human need.
Confronted with these two models, African leaders in the 20th century struggled to choose the best path to build their new nations. The most thoughtful African leaders struggled to find a middle way, and their most popular innovation was an ill-defined concept called “African Socialism,” a mixed economy that favors central planning directed by the government with room for a limited private sector. Some favored single-party politics and some multi-party.
However in his masterwork on Third World revolutions, “The Wretched of the Earth,” the ever insightful Dr. Fanon noted another disturbing development in the anti-colonial liberation struggle in a chapter titled On the Pitfalls of National Consciousness. “Before independence,” he writes, “the leader generally embodies the aspirations of the people for independence, political liberty, and national dignity, but as soon as independence is declared, far from embodying in concrete form the needs of the people in what touches bread, land, and the restoration of the country to the sacred hands of the people, the leader will reveal his inner purpose: to become the general president of that company of profiteers impatient for their returns which constitutes the national bourgeoisie.”
One of the major ways in which this attitude is revealed is the refusal of post-independence African leaders to peacefully relinquish power to a successor. Indeed, this was a major argument employed by leaders of the white minority settler communities in southern African in order to justify their racist anti-democratic monopoly of power. They coined a slogan that expressed their criticism of the politics of post-independence African countries where black majorities seized political power. To the cry “one man one vote,” the whites in southern Africa replied cynically that under black rule the reality was “one man one vote once!” And, unfortunately, the evidence for their claim in post-colonial Africa is abundant.
Among the many things that distinguish Nelson Mandela as an African statesman is his attitude toward personal political power. Here he stands out like a rose among thorns. When we consider the price he paid to gain political power, and the ease with which he gave it up, one could argue that he is unique among professional politicians everywhere in the world, which is, of course, my position.
When one thinks of the long struggle Mandela waged, risking his life as a militant with the African National Congress in the fascist police state that was apartheid South Africa; then spending nearly three decades behind bars in the hellish prisons of the Afrikaner government; passing up several opportunities for release from captivity because he refused the demand to denounce armed struggle by an embattled government under fire around the world from people demanding his release, a demand that arose from parliaments to pubs, it is something on the order of miraculous that he was willing to give up the presidency after serving only one term.
Born to privilege as a prince among his people – the Themba branch of the Xosa – and educated as a lawyer, Nelson Mandela could have had a life of relative ease in his native country and a life of affluence and prominence in England or Amsterdam. Tall, ruggedly handsome and of regal bearing, elegant of style and manner, possessed of an oratorical style that combines eloquence and erudition in equal measure, Nelson Mandela was a born star. So impressive was his persona, so unimpeachable was his character, that even his jailers came to admire and respect him.
Many observers of this remarkable man have openly wondered at his unassailable sense of personal dignity. They marvel at the fact that a black man born and raised in a society whose official ideology preached his inferiority and reinforced this claim it in the policies of their government, could hold such a high opinion of himself. ”The first thing to remember about Mandela is that he came from a royal family,” a former comrade and cell mate Ahmed Kathrada told the New York Times, “that always gave him strength.”
Other close comrades told the Times that Mr. Mandela’s uncanny ability rise above hatred for his oppressors was possible ”because he always regarded himself as superior to his persecutors.” These observations confirm what I have come to believe about the nature of true self-esteem: The most important ingredient is how one feels about one’s family and the extent to which one is made to feel valued within that family. Beyond that it is what one manages to achieve as a result of one’s own efforts. This seems to be clearly the source of Nelson Mandela’s intestinal fortitude and supreme self confidence.
When he was finally released from prison Mr. Mandela shocked the world with his message of racial reconciliation and preference for pragmatism over ideology in his approach to governing. Recognizing that a race war would have been an unmitigated disaster for everybody, especially black people, Mandela kept his eyes on the prize of black majority control of the government and refused to be intimidated by critics on the white right or the black left.
Following his own star the great helmsman steered the ship of state through very troubled waters into the safe harbor of political stability. We are provided a glimpse of the the crucible in which his leadership style was formed in his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. Recalling eavesdropping on tribal councils conducted by his uncle, a paramount chief, when he was a boy, he tells us the chief was ”like a shepherd…he stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along that they are being directed from behind.” Thus we see the source of Mr. Mandela’s gift for consensus politics enabled South Africa to avoid disaster…although given the persistent inequities inherent in the deal that led to majority political rule, race war remains an ever present possibility.
Among President Mandela’s most impressive political achievements was to never deny those who supported the struggle of the South African people, even as he wooed the support of their enemies. For instance President Mandela honored El Presidente Fidel Castro of Cuba, despite the fact that the US government had long maintained hostile relations with Cuba, and the mainstream American media had so demonized Dr. Castro in a half century of disinformation that he is beyond rehabilitation in the mind of the US public.
Even after witnessing the depravity of white anti-Castro Cubans like Texas Senator Ted Cruz and his whacko daddy – whom the Cuban people justly call “guisanos” or maggots – most Americans still don’t recognize that President Castro has been a benefaction to that nation. That’s because most Yankees are mucho loco when it comes to Cuba!
Nothing demonstrates the hollowness of American criticism of Dr. Castro more than the fact that the US government supported the anti-democratic fascist South African government while the Cubans supported the oppressed black people of that country in a wide variety of ways, even sending crack Cuban troops who volunteered to fight the white South Africans in Angola.
The defeat of South African forces at the historic 1987 battle of Cuito Cuanavale, led by Cuban forces, marks the beginning of the end of white “invincibility” in the region. That’s why Fidel was warmly embraced by a beaming Mandela, and received a rousing ovation second only to that given to Mandela himself by the black masses when the Cuban revolutionary leader visited South Africa.
These same people praise Ronald Reagan, a shallow opportunist and transparent racist, who not only based his presidential campaign strategy on attracting disaffected white racists enraged by the Democratic Party’s support for Afro-American Civil Rights – the so called “Reagan Democrats” – but he also branded Nelson Mandela and the ANC “terrorist,” while breaking the law by supporting real terrorists in the Nicaraguan Contra-movement.
In one of the most blatant acts of presidential contempt for the law, Ronald Reagan allowed a group of rogue military officers to run a secret operation from the basement of the White House designed to support terrorists in Central America in violation of the Boland Act expressly forbidding it. Yet we are expected to believe that Reagan was innocent of the whole affair. Everybody knows if this had happened on Barack Obama’s watch he would have been impeached by the same Republican house members that now praise Reagan to high heavens.
When nations around the world were calling for an economic embargo against the fascist South African government, this scurrilous puerile hypocrite, in league with that cold blooded British hag Maggie Thatcher, opposed it. He even vetoed bi-partisan legislation establishing economic sanctions against South Africa, while muttering some incoherent fiddle faddle about preserving “freedom.”
This doddering, venal old fool – whom Clark Clifford, the distinguished Washington lawyer and former member of President Carter’s administration called “an amiable dunce” – will appear as a spark to a raging fire when historians take their measure in times to come. By then it will be clear that the Soviet Union collapsed from its own inner-contradictions and Ronnie the Rhinestone Cowboy had nothing to do with it. His greatest legacy will be as the reverse Robin Hood who made the rich richer and supported right-wing tyrants around the world!
After the historians have sifted through the historical record they will see that Nelson Mandela was a great statesman and moral clarion for the ages, and Ronald Reagan was a well-managed pretender whose moral commitments were about as deep as a dry creek bed during a drought!
History will also verify the fact that the same people that Ronnie Reagan – the Tinsel Town Cowboy – supported in Cuba are the same crowd that he supported in South Africa: The racist white blood suckers who fleeced the poor, employed police state tactics against popular opposition and cared not a whit about democracy! By contrast Fidel Castro and Nelson Mandela will emerge in the light of history as champions of the poor and the oppressed.
Viva La Revolution! Mandela Refused to Allow the Imperialist Hypocrites to pick his Friends!
Mandela and Arafat: The Dreaded Connection! Brothers in Struggle against the Settler Colonists
The relationship between Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Nelson Mandela was another embarrassment for the USA. Because Mandela was the towering moral icon of our time, beloved, respected, and even idolized by millions around the world, the US government dare not criticize his choice of friends – especially in light of the shameful history of US collaboration with the apartheid regime and its long legacy of racism against its own black population. The question of the US connection to Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians was another matter the American government preferred to keep off center stage.
What most troubled US policy makers was the connection some intellectuals and activists were making between the US, Israel and South Africa. For instance, the fact that all three were settler colonialist societies that began with an invasion which led to dispossession and genocide against the native populations. All three had justified this mass robbery and murder, by arguing that their actions were divinely ordained. With the US it was “Manifest Destiny,” with the Israelis it was the covenant God made with Moses that Israel should belong to the Jews, his “chosen people,” and the Afrikaners envisioned themselves as having a mandate from heaven that entitled them to take the land from the African heathens.
The last thing the US government wanted was for people to learn of the long relationship between Israel and the apartheid government of South Africa. Thus when Dr. Richard Stevens exposed this relationship in to path-breaking scholarly works – Weisman and Smuts: A Study in Zionist/ Afrikaner Collaboration and Israel and South Africa – he was practically drummed out of the American academic community. The last I heard of him he was teaching at the University of Khartoum in the Sudan! Since Dr. Stevens’ research is solid and cannot be dismissed, powerful pro-Zionist forces in the US moved to silence him.
Chiam Wiezman Arch Zionist
Jan Christian Smuts: Architect of Apartheid
It is conventional wisdom that no such censorship exists in America, but if one’s work is critical of Israel the normal rules about free inquiry don’t apply. One need only look at the fate of scholars, both Jew and Gentile, who have written critically about Israel: the learned Jewish theologian Mark Ellis, the courageous investigative journalist Robert I. Freedman, the independent Jewish scholar Lenni Brenner, and especially the non-Jewish scholars John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, authors of the penetrating study The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy.
The authors, who hold professorships and Harvard and the University of Chicago, two of the world’s most distinguished universities, and said that they expected to be attacked by intellectual hit men sponsored by the Lobby, proved to be prescient. Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, and lead attack dog for the Israel Lobby, predictably tried to confuse the issue by accusing the authors of anti-Semitism.
But due to the fact that they are tenured professors, and people who read the study, like this writer, know that Foxman is merely a propagandists for Israeli interests and cannot be taken seriously, they have been fairly insulated from the slings and arrows of Abraham’s outrageous attacks. And their work remains readily available online. And anyone who seeks to understand why US policy in the Middle-East is so one-sided, even when it is clearly against our national interests, should read Professors Meirsheimer and Walt’s study of the machinations of the Israel Lobby.
Despite their outrage, the operatives of the Lobby were somewhat subdued when President Mandela embraced Yasser Arafat and called him Comrade. For had they attacked him they would have put a spot light on their activities…something they don’t want. Dr. Richard Stevens had to be silenced because his work exposes some very unflattering longtime connections between Israel and South Africa.
For instance, he researched the letters exchanged between Chiam Weitzman, the first President of Israel, and Jan Christian Smuts, the architect of the apartheid state: The Union of South Africa. In one exchange the two leaders and close comrades are discussing their mutual predicaments. Smuts says the problem for the Afrikaner in South African is “civilization vs. the jungle.” To wit Weizman retorts that the situation of the Jew in Palestine is “civilization vs. the desert.” Spoken like two soul mates.
However this conception of a unity of interests goes far beyond mere simpatico for each other’s cultural plight; these countries also collaborated on how to best control their indigenous populations. This would eventually extend to cooperation between their intelligence agencies of anti-insurgency methods. In fact the relationships became so close that the Israeli MOSSAD, South Africa’s BOSS and the American CIA were like branches of the same organization. Hence it comes as no surprise that the CIA and MOSSAD fingered Nelson Mandela for the South African Bureau of State Security when he was a fugitive living underground.
The South African Fascists couldn’t find him; it had become a colossal embarrassment as Mandela was evolving into a legendary figure that people were calling “The Black Pimpernel!” This was a reference to the “Scarlet Pimpernel,” a fictional character from a famous play and novel about the French Revolution written in 1903 by an English writer. The Scarlet Pimpernel was the secret identity of a British nobleman who rescued people destined for the guillotine during the French Revolution. He was a master of disguise and a brilliant escape artist who constantly eluded his captors despite leaving clues.
In his autobiography President Mandela explains that he managed to elude the authorities during his life underground because of the radical white comrades who shielded him. This is why he never lapsed into a blind hatred for all whites and was clear in his understanding that the enemy was a specific ideology and the system it supported.
The fact that most South African whites supported this system of white privilege based on an ideology of white superiority, enforced by police state tactics, did not blind him to the fact that there were also whites who openly opposed that system, like the courageous parliamentarian Helen Suzman, and the fearless communist activist Joe Slovo, who became a member of the highest leadership circles of the African National Congress.
Both Slovo and Suzman are Jews, this is why despite Israel’s long collaboration with the fascist apartheid regime Nelson Mandela and the ANC leadership never descended into the simple condemnation of “the Jews” that so many Black Nationalists in the US fall for. They understood that all whites who opposed the fascist apartheid government willingly risked their lives and property by supporting the work of the ANC. If he had not had the vision to recognize this, Mandela would not have been successful in ending apartheid in South Africa.
Helen Suzman: An Unflinching Foe of Apartheid!
Winnie, Nelson and Slovo Comrades in Struggle
If he had given in to his emotions and acted out of a desire to make all whites in South Africa suffer in order to seek revenge, it might have been cathartic for him, but it would have been disastrous for his people. Interestingly enough, Mandela’s ability to remain calm and focused during his fight against the evil Apartheid regime was due to the discipline he learned as a boxer.
A talented heavy-weight who was greatly inspired by the Afro-American world champions Joe Louis and especially Muhammad Ali , Mandela understood what all good fighters must understand: the best way to get beat is to become angry and lose your head during a fight! Hence Mandela “kept his head” in the fight for Freedom and won by a knockout, as he went from a prison cell to the Presidency in one of the greatest stories in the history of world politics…written by one of our brightest stars! May you rest in peace Madiba, generations yet unborn will be inspired to greatness by your example.
Race Warriors ! A Mutual Admiration Society!
The Struggle is one!
Benjamin is a veteran political journalist out of Harlem NY. His essays can be read on his blog site Commentaries on the Times.