Nelson Mandela: Death of a Legend

Nelson Mandela will be eulogized as a great man and a hero. He led the resistance to apartheid and White South African rule, and he was jailed for many years. Upon his release he became president and sought reconciliation rather than vengeance. He served only one term as president before stepping aside. All this is laudable.

NM_DVHe bathed in the adulation of his people and also internationally, and he received many awards and statues erected in his honor. ((“List of awards and honours bestowed upon Nelson Mandela,” Wikipedia.))

Mandela spoke out for justice elsewhere.

He spoke on the Palestinian struggle:

The temptation in our situation is to speak in muffled tones about an issue such as the right of the people of Palestine to a state of their own. We can easily be enticed to read reconciliation and fairness as meaning parity between justice and injustice. Having achieved our own freedom, we can fall into the trap of washing our hands of difficulties that others faces.

Yet we would be less than human if we did so.

It behooves all South Africans, themselves erstwhile beneficiaries of generous international support, to stand up and be counted among those contributing actively to the cause of freedom and justice.

Even during the days of negotiations, our own experience taught us that the pursuit of human fraternity and equality — irrespective of race or religion – should stand at the centre of our peaceful endeavours. The choice is not between freedom and justice, on the one hand, and their opposite, on the other. Peace and prosperity; tranquility and security are only possible if these are enjoyed by all without discrimination.

It is in this spirit that I have come to join you today to add our own voice to the universal call for Palestinian self-determination and statehood. ((Address by President Nelson Mandela at the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, Pretoria, ANC, 4 December 1997.))

Not muffled tones.

He was not muffled on George W. Bush and Tony Blair’s part in the aggression of Iraq.

“One power with a president who has no foresight and cannot think properly is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust,” Mr Mandela said in a speech to the International Women’s Forum. ((Toby Reynolds, “Nelson Mandela Blasts Bush on Iraq, Warns of ‘Holocaust’,” Indymedia, 30 January 2003.))

“Why is the US behaving so arrogantly?” he asked. “All that [Bush] wants is Iraqi oil.”

Condemning Mr Blair, he said: “He is the foreign minister of the United States. He is no longer prime minister of Britain.” ((AP, “Mandela attacks Blair and Bush,” Guardian, 31 January 2003.))

Yet, Mandela is criticize-able on some accounts, even for the acceptance of honors.

White South Africans studied colonialism in Canada as a model for apartheid in South Africa. Some of Turtle Island’s Indigenous people were displeased with Mandela’s lack of solidarity with their struggle against White colonialism.

It is ironic that Nelson Mandela would come to this country [Canada] to thank the Canadian government for opposing apartheid policies. I had the greatest respect for this man’s defiance of the Botha Regime’s segregationist governments of South Africa. Still I believe Brother Mandela should have made due on his promise to visit the Original Peoples of North America. He should have come and took a first hand look at the hideous policies and conditions in our territories, that his people, the African National Congress, so vigilantly fought against and defeated. … If Mandela accepts [honorary Canadian citizenship] then he will have turned a blind eye to our colonial repression. ((Dacajeweiah [Splitting the Sky] (John Boncore Hill) with She Keeps the Door (Sandra Bruderer), From Attica to Gustafsen Lake: Unmasking the Secrets of the Psycho-sexual Energy and the Struggle for Original People’s Title (Chase, BC: John Pasquale Boncore, 2001): 64-65.))

Mandela accepted honorary Canadian citizenship.

Perhaps the most damning part of the legacy is the economic apartheid that still exists in South Africa today. ((Nicoli Nattrass and Jeremy Seekings, “‘Two Nations’? Race and Economic Inequality in South Africa Today,” Daedalus, 130(1), Why South Africa Matters (Winter, 2001): 45-70.))

South Africa fares poorly in comparison to the rest of the world when measuring income distribution.


Mandela sacrificed a lot. He lost much, and he was rewarded much. The Blacks in South Africa are today freer than under apartheid, but the masses are still bound by the chains of capitalism.

Kim Petersen is an independent writer. He can be emailed at: kimohp at Read other articles by Kim.