Nelson Mandela, Before And After Apartheid

This may not be received so well after the death of Nelson Mandela who deserves our utmost respect and admiration for making a huge sacrifice for his people and who was ultimately instrumental in leading his oppressed people to freedom from the apartheid. But, having said that, we must also understand and recognize two things:

1. What brings about a societal transformation is not an individual, no matter how determined he or she may be and how big his or her sacrifice, but a movement of the people in the millions. Furthermore, Leaders don’t create such movements; movements create the leaders. This is not to reduce or understate the importance of a leader – a charismatic, dedicated leader prepared to put his freedom and even his life on the line is crucial for the success of the movement – but, to also give credit to what is also essential, especially in a culture which puts all the emphasis on a leader and discounts the role of the masses.

2. Though Mandela, to his credit, did struggle to end apartheid, after being released from prison and elected president, he stopped being a fighter for social justice and became a docile statesman careful not to ruffle any imperialist feathers. Unlike Martin Luther King, Jr., who saw oppression and social injustice not just in discrimination and the denial of equal rights to a group of people, but also in economic and class injustice for all oppressed and disenfranchised people, Mandela stopped fighting against injustice, as if his job was done. What he did was not just stop the struggle, he stopped being a leader. He became a harmless figurehead good to take photos with for heads of imperialist states and war criminals, a perfect example of what a black leader should be like after winning equal legal rights for his people. It was as if he had no more cause or goal to pursue on behalf his people who had sacrificed so much. This was not missed on the right wing reactionary and racist radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh, who praised Mandela for winning equal rights and being done with it, unlike the Civil Rights leaders who much to his chagrin and anger, would not stop. Nor was it lost on US ruling class that Dr. King correctly understood imperialism as the source of wars, hyper-exploitation, abject poverty and misery for millions of people, black or white. That’s why, they tried to get rid of him and eventually found a way to do just that, instead of taking happy photos with him. He, unlike Mandela, understood that his job was not done with acquiring equal rights, as the Limbaugh’s of the nation would like to see.

To a great leader, it makes little difference whether mine workers are beaten by white cops or black cops. This is not hypothetical: striking black mine workers in South Africa used to be beaten by white police; now – the latest being last year – are beaten by black police. Millions of black South Africans used to live in squalid conditions during apartheid. Now, they live in squalid conditions without apartheid. A small minority used to keep most of the wealth of the nation, keeping the rest poor, and that’s how it is now, too.

You may say I’m not being fair because he only wanted to end apartheid and he helped make that happen. But, what really is the point of struggle? Achieving social justice, progress, equality, fairer distribution of wealth, better living conditions for the millions, or changing the color of the oppressors?

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