By Corey Gikes
December 15, 2013
Today we bid final farewell to Madiba Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela, a man whose whole life has been one of sacrifice. So much has been said, so much has written about this moral, political and physical giant of a man who struggled to bring about a society that is equal to all walks of life. His is a life that should serve as a model to those of us who wish to make similar differences in our own spaces.
But how much do we know about him really? How much real analysis has there been on our part about who he was and the world he was trying to bring about? How much do we truly know about the world and the times in which he lived? Over the last week or so I have heard many nice-sounding sentiments lionising Madiba and his struggle for racial and social equality. But like Dr Martin Luther King and even Bob Marley before him, way too much of it is overly romanticised. Too much about that is cleverly isolated and spoken of completely out of context. Too many of us do not fully understand the nature of racism and ethnocentrism, choosing only to look at one or two dimensions rather than the whole. And too many do not wish to confront it at all, fearing that in doing so they are labelled as living in the past……or being racist themselves (already I can hear it on Dr Job’s radio programme). The situation is not made any better when one factors in the rise of corrupt, self-aggrandising non-white elites more concerned with the trappings of power and getting access to the treasury so as to live a life of bling (We can see here parallels with post-colonial Africa, Asia and the Caribbean as we can see it with such figures as Jacob Zuma. It’s almost like a damned script).
Make no mistake, there is a reason some people say that the struggle to establish a society where all are equal is every bit as revolutionary as radical nationalism and separatism. We’re not doing Mandela or ourselves any good if we allow ourselves to buy into the image being created by the media. In a recent National Geographic article the point was made that the characterisation of Mandela by the Western media “as an affable saint (is)…..a massive oversimplification.” What an understatement.
It doesn’t surprise me really. Oversimplifying and de-contexualising of our leaders have been done over and over in the past by the media and mainstream history books and we’re forever buying into the spin, over and over and over. Yes, it is a testimony to the greatness of Madiba that he never gave into the bitterness and engaged in justifiable retributions upon his taking the presidency. However, it’s almost standard procedure that those who benefitted the most from illegitimate, racist rule are often the ones who speak the loudest about forgiveness….and not too many people ever see through it, it seems. Platitudes are given in his honour by people who not too long ago had Mandela down as a terrorist. Leaders like David Cameron and George W Bush have no sense of shame, but that shouldn’t that be any surprise. In his foreword to Rajshekar’s book “Dalit: the Black Untouchables of India,” YN Kly tells us that the integrationist/assimilationist movement in the US under Dr Martin Luther King along with his passive resistance was the most acceptable by the Euro-American establishment because they didn’t have to bear the same crisis of conscience as the more radical forms of self-determination being undertaken. More importantly, they didn’t have to worry about being the recipients of the same direct measures they were quite liberally meting out in the most violent ways within the US and all across the world (witness the change in pace to enact legislation with the rise of radical groups like the Black Panther Party)
This is by no means a call for the embracing of violence as the first option or as an answer to everything, far from it. It is, however, a call for us to understand the complexities of Mandela and the racist, imperialist hydra he stood against: the same one that we should be standing against in its newer forms. It is a call to understand what he and even Ghandi – another glossed over, overly-romanticised individual, even by us – understood. They may have preached passive resistance, but NO option was ever removed completely off the table. In India the British knew that Ghandi’s non-violent resistance was just a tool, but with the masses of people behind him, that tool could be very easily shed for another more direct one.
If we truly want to honour the memory of Madiba and all those who fought and died with him, if we want to bring about the revolutionary idea of equality, we need to understand that the equality he stood for is first and foremost, subversive to the elitist institutions that currently exist. We need to understand that at the heart of racist and sexist world-views are deeply held convictions about the “natural” inferiority of whomever and whatever represents the “Other.” With such a conviction there can never be any real notion of equal rights and justice; there will be nice-sounding words and gestures but at the heart will always be the intent to return to the old order or to maintain ill-gotten gains. European settlers owned over 80% of the land and resources up to when Mandela was released and still do to this day. A little known historical fact is that among the deals struck at the time was that they retained all what they possessed even as the country was moving towards political democracy. We can point to similar examples when many countries in the Caribbean and Africa became independent and connect dots even further back to the ending of the enslavement period. If we keep that in mind, we’ll not just continue to work to bring about a new reality but not be seduced by elites bearing gifts.
Rest well among the ancestors, Rolihlahla.