Nelson Mandela gave us the greatest gift of all: Hope

6 December 2013

12:02 AM

6 December 2013

12:02 AM

Sometimes when a significant public figure dies, even, perhaps especially, when that death comes as no surprise and may, indeed, be considered some form of release there is a natural tendency to wonder if the blanket media coverage that invariably follows is altogether appropriate or even seemly. Is it not all too much? A man is merely a man; a woman merely a woman.

Sometimes too, it is natural to react to the endless parade of tributes and wonder how genuine they really are. Is there not something vainglorious about them? Is there not something a little ridiculous about all these attempts to cling to the coat-tails of greatness?

Perhaps sometimes there is. But not tonight.

For more than two hours now I have been watching the coverage of the news of Nelson Mandela’s death. For more than two hours I have watched my Twitter and Facebook feeds devoted to a single subject as never before. And none of it feels too much at all. I want to be reminded of Mandela’s greatest or most generous or most poignant remarks. I want to see how tomorrow’s newspapers will treat his passing. A lot is talked about social media and most of it is rot but this is a moment, a rare moment, in which it makes the world seem a smaller, warmer, place. A better place as well.

So the cumulative effect has been heartening, even moving. What might in other circumstances seem me-too vaingloriousness is, tonight, better understood as a demonstration of how one man – yes, a mere man but not just that either – can touch and inspire millions of people. And there is something touching about this. Something wondrous about how Mandela’s death, no great shock though it was, has prompted such an outpouring of feeling.

We lapse into cynicism all too easily and sometimes cynicism is an appropriate response to the daily degradations of ordinary politics. But there are other times – and this is one – in which cynicism is best put aside. If we can – and we do – recognise greatness in other fields of human endeavour we should be prepared to countenance the idea it can exist in politics too. Few may be admitted to the pantheon but the pantheon exists.

Nelson Mandela was a great man.


The greatest man of my lifetime. No-one else these past forty years has had such an impact. There were many heroes who helped tear down the Berlin Wall but none of them as individuals played as decisive or transformational role as Mandela did in South Africa.

Many great pieces will be written today and in the days to come by people who knew much more about Mandela and South Africa or who have much greater standing to write about Mandela than me. They will help deepen our awareness of Mandela’s greatness.

It is a greatness to savour because, in the end, it is a greatness that rested on something for which people the world over yearn: hope. Hope that mankind can forge a better future freed from the horrors of its past. Hope that the world can become a better place. Hope that the better angels of our nature may yet prevail.

So it seemed entirely appropriate that in his own tribute to Mandela President Barack Obama echoed the words of Edwin Stanton, US Secretary of War, on the death of the greatest of all American presidents. Like Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela now belongs to the ages. 

The comparison with Lincoln is neither far-fetched nor misplaced. That was the level of Mandela’s greatness. There is no need to measure these champions against one another; it merely suffices to say that neither man is insulted by the comparison.

Rightly, much of the emphasis tonight has been on Mandela’s extraordinary powers of empathy and forgiveness. But he could never have been in a position to demonstrate that rich humanity had he not been a fighter first.

The fighting was important for without the fighting, both before he went to prison and during the long years of his captivity, there could have been no peace. In this too comparisons with Lincoln are far from fatuous.

Their situations and the challenges they faced were, of course, very different. But they had this in common: like Abraham Lincoln Nelson Mandela saved his country. Like Lincoln, it is impossible to imagine anyone else matching his achievements. He could not cure his country any more than Lincoln could cure his but he did something more important: he gave it a chance to cure itself. And to do so in freedom. But in neither instance was this opportunity preordained or guaranteed.

He was not a saint (as he often said himself) and, like any man, he made any number of mistakes. But there is something pointless about measuring a life such as this as though it were a matter of mere accountancy, replete with entries in columns marked “profit” and “loss”.

Mandela’s life was marked by courage and stoicism and grace. He made us feel better about ourselves not because we could emulate his example – we could not for we would surely be found wanting – but because he gave us an idea of what humanity could aspire to be.

And so it seems to me that of the many appropriate responses to Mandela’s death not the least fitting is the conclusion to Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

A tough challenge to meet, both personally and collectively, but one worth aspiring towards. It is in our hands now.



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Show comments
  • Brutus_1

    “The greatest man of my lifetime. No-one else these past forty years has had such an impact. ”

    Seriously? How about Mother Theresa? Ghandi? Neither of those two bombed anyone or put burning tires around people’s necks did they? Marxism and all the other “isms” it spawned is solely responsible for over 260 million deaths in the 20th century. Mandela lauded it, loved it, and propogated it even after leaving prison. So if that is the impact, he is the greatest man of your lifetime just as Stalin, Pol Pot, Hitler, Nero, and Mao all had their fans too……sad. You need a history class.

  • Otto

    This is a classic example of historical whitewashing to cover up Western criminality.

    Nelson Mandela was a Communist by sympathy and perhaps for a time even
    Party membership for very good and praiseworthy reasons: because the
    South African Communist Party was for a long time the only seriously
    cross-racial party in South Africa and the Soviet Union was the staunchest international defender of the anti-racist cause in South Africa.

    Peter Beinart in The Daily Beast has this excellent comment on Mandela’s Communist sympathies:

    “From their perspective, Mandela’s critics were right to distrust him.
    They called him a “terrorist” because he had waged armed resistance to
    apartheid. They called him a “communist” because the Soviet Union was
    the ANC’s chief external benefactor and the South African Communist
    Party was among its closest domestic allies. More fundamentally, what
    Mandela’s American detractors understood is that he considered himself
    an opponent, not an ally, of American power. And that’s exactly what
    Mandela’s American admirers must remember now.

    Mandela’s message to America’s leaders, born from firsthand experience, was clear: Don’t pretend you are pure.

    We must remember it because in Washington today, politicians and pundits
    breezily describe the Cold War as a struggle between the forces of
    freedom, backed by the U.S., and the forces of tyranny, backed by the
    USSR. In some places—Germany, Eastern Europe, eventually Korea—that was
    largely true. But in South Africa, the Cold War was something utterly
    different. In South Africa, for decades, American presidents backed
    apartheid in the name of anti-communism. Indeed, the language of the
    Cold War proved so morally corrupting that in 1981, Reagan, without
    irony, called South Africa’s monstrous regime “essential to the free

    In South Africa, it was the Soviet bloc—the same communist governments
    that were brutally repressing their own people—that helped the ANC fight
    apartheid. In the 1980s, they were joined by an American and European
    anti-apartheid movement willing to overlook the ANC’s communist ties
    because they refused to see South Africa’s freedom struggle through a
    Cold War lens. At a time when men like Reagan and Cheney were insisting
    that the most important thing about Mandela was where he stood in the
    standoff between Washington and Moscow, millions of citizens across the
    West insisted that the ANC could be Soviet-backed, communist-influenced,
    and still lead a movement for freedom.

    They were right. When it came to other countries, Mandela’s leftist ties
    did sometimes blind him to communism’s crimes. In 1991, for instance,
    he called Fidel Castro “a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving
    people.” But at home, where it mattered most, the ANC was a genuine,
    multiracial movement for democracy. And so the Americans who best
    championed South African freedom were the ones who didn’t view freedom
    as synonymous with the geopolitical interests of the United States.

    Therein lies Mandela’s real lesson for Americans today. The Cold War is
    over, but mini-Cold Wars have followed. And once again, American elites,
    especially on the right, have a bad habit of using “freedom” as a
    euphemism for whatever serves American power. Thus, American politicians
    frequently suggest that by impoverishing the people of Iran with
    ever-harsher economic sanctions, and threatening to bomb them, we are
    promoting their freedom, even though the people risking their life for
    democracy in Iran—people like dissident journalist Akbar Ganji and Nobel
    Prize winner Shirin Ebadi—passionately disagree.

    Mandela challenged that. Like Martin Luther King, who publicly
    repudiated Lyndon Johnson’s claim that Vietnam was a war for democracy,
    Mandela rejected George W. Bush’s idealistic rationalizations of the
    Iraq War. In 2003, when Bush was promising to liberate Iraq’s people,
    Mandela said, “All that he wants is Iraqi oil.” When Bush declared
    Iraq’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons a threat to the planet,
    Mandela had the bad manners to remind Bush that the only country to have
    actually used nukes was the United States.
    Mandela’s message to
    America’s leaders, born from firsthand experience, was clear: Don’t
    pretend you are pure.

    As with King, it is this subversive aspect of Mandela’s legacy that is
    most in danger of being erased as he enters America’s pantheon of
    sanitized moral icons. But it is precisely the aspect that Americans
    most badly need. American power and human freedom are two very different
    things. Sometimes they intersect; sometimes they do not. Walking in
    Nelson Mandela’s footsteps requires being able to tell the difference.”

  • greggf

    Mandela was a South African statesman who showed magnanimity.
    Statesmen don’t become statesmen unless they can be magnanimous, which sort of defines Churchill, Ian Paisley senior and one or two others but not Stalin nor Gerry Adams.

  • yannix

    Hope is like fresh air; no one can live on it ALONE!!

  • mrsjosephinehydehartley

    But having watched a BBC interview with the man himself – Mr Mandela explained carefully how in his view he was just one of a number of people who worked as a team.

  • rogermurrayclark

    As a multi-racial society was complere anathema to Lincoln, whose fervent wish it was to ship American negroes back to W Africa, Massie makes an extraordinarily cack handed comparison here amidst his slush

    Pretty much par for the course

  • Otto

    Americans generally view Nelson Mandela as a hero and Fidel Castro as a villain. Mandela saw things differently.

    The South African leader’s nationalist and anti-imperialist stances
    collided head on with the world’s superpower and gave him a lot in
    common with its Cuban archenemy. Mandela embraced the former Cuban
    dictator because he opposed apartheid and represented the aspirations of
    Third World nationalists that the United States undermined across the
    globe during the Cold War.

    As it did for many leftists in the Global South, the Cuban
    Revolution’s triumph in 1959 inspired Mandela. Charged with the task of
    starting a guerrilla army in 1961, he looked to the writings of Cuban
    Communists for guidance.

    “Any and every source was of interest to me,” Mandela wrote in his 2008 autobiography.
    “I read the report of Blas Roca, the general secretary of the Community
    Party of Cuba, about their years as an illegal organization during the
    Batista regime. In Commando, by Deneys Reitz, I read of the
    unconventional guerrilla tactics of the Boer generals during the
    Anglo-Boer War. I read works by and about Che Guevara, Mao Tse-tung,
    Fidel Castro.”

    Mandela’s admiration for the Cuban Revolution only grew with time.
    Cuba under Castro opposed apartheid and supported the African National
    Congress — Mandela’s political organization and the current ruling
    party. Mandela credited Cuba’s military support to Angola in the 1970s and 1980s with helping to debilitate South Africa’s government enough to result in the legalization of the ANC in 1990.

    The U.S. government, on the other hand, reportedly played a role in Mandela’s 1962 arrest and subsequently branded him a terrorist — a designation they only rescinded in 2008. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan vetoed the Anti-Apartheid Act.

    Given this history, it shouldn’t be surprising that Mandela remained
    sharply critical of the United States into his later life. When the George W. Bush administration announced plans to invade Iraq in 2003, Mandela said:
    “If there’s a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the
    world, it is the United States of America. They don’t care.”

    Shortly following his release after 27 years as a political prisoner
    in 1990, Mandela visited Cuba to express his gratitude, calling
    Castro’s Revolution “a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving

    “We admire the sacrifices of the Cuban people in maintaining their
    independence and sovereignty in the face of a vicious,
    imperialist-orchestrated campaign,” Mandela said during the visit, according to the Los Angeles Times. “We, too, want to control our own destiny.”

    During a public event in Havana, Mandela asked Castro to visit South Africa.

    “Who trained our people, who gave us resources, who helped so many of our soldiers, our doctors?” Mandela said. “You have not come to our country — when are you coming?”

    None of this went down well with the Cuban exile community in the
    United States, most of whom fled the dictatorship in the early 1960s.
    Even before Mandela’s visit to Cuba, Castro’s opponents in South Florida
    fumed over the praise Mandela heaped on the island’s Communist
    dictator. When Mandela came to speak against apartheid in Miami in 1990,
    five Cuban-American mayors signed a letter criticizing him for his
    pro-Castro comments.

    The pressure prompted the local government to snub Mandela, canceling an official welcome of the recently released leader.

    In response, black leaders boycotted the Miami tourist industry until 1993, according to the Miami Herald.

    Despite protest from Cuban Americans and criticism from those who
    pointed to human rights abuses in Cuba, Castro and Mandela continued
    their warm relationship, with Mandela saying he wouldn’t turn his back on those who had opposed apartheid.
    Castro took Mandela up on his offer to visit in 1994, when he traveled
    to attend Mandela’s inauguration as South Africa’s first black

    Mandela passed away on Thursday at the age of 95.

  • Otto

    Right up to the late 1980s when
    it became clear Apartheid could not be sustained the Spectator like most
    of the Western establishment with the honorable exception of Sweden
    supported the racist regime in South Africa tooth and nail – including
    killing hundreds of thousands in Angola alongside Apartheid forces, in
    the case of the US – and sneered at or ignored Mandela.

    Just so people don’t forget who you are and your hypocrisy.

    What broke the will of the Apartheid forces was military defeat at
    Cuban-Soviet hands in Angola. Mandela acknowledged that. He had his
    hero: Fidel Castro.

  • Augustus

    I’ve always been surprised by the adulation and glorification heaped on Nelson Mandela. He was the leader of the African National Congress (ANC), a leftist organization that promoted violence and intimidation. The ANC was a lackey of the USSR which desperately wanted to ensnare South Africa into the Communist Soviet Empire and end South Africa’s ties with America. Then there were Mandela’s dubious political friends (Libya, Iran and Cuba). The ANC never represented the majority of blacks in South Africa, they intimidated blacks into following them. There were loads of moderate leaders like Buthelezi and Mangope who were fighting for the rights of black people without resorting to violence, but the ANC chose the violent route, killing thousands in the most brutal killings. And while others, true believers in freedom and equality, languished in Chinese and Cuban jails, the Western press preferred to canonize Mandela, because what had once been considered bad was now to be forgiven and considered saintly.

  • Noa

    Hope? As in the hopey, changey thing?

  • Swanky

    ‘gave us… Hope’: no, that was Obama, who also gave us Change. Chief among the Changes is that we moved from a medical system that worked despite its faults to a system that doesn’t work, which is why we now need the Hope. I don’t think that’s what the electorate really had in mind at the time. But it’s not my fault: I voted for Romney.

  • NewImprovedPretendName

    “The greatest man of my lifetime” Not sure, but broadly, Massie is right.

  • C. Gee

    “…and some have greatness thrust upon them.”
    Included in that category along with Mandela is Jesus Christ. Your encomium – like all the others hypostasizing the man (an icon of Hope, Peace, Caritas) – is mildly depressing. It is – as you rightly say – clinging to the the “coattails of greatness,” hoping to hitch a ride to heaven. This religious reflex is on full display: the ostentatious idolatry of a man as the embodiment of empty slogans to share in the halo. Collusion in a shared lie is the essence of religion and (communist) religious politics. The ANC, like the church, is institutionalized hypocrisy. It too is selling Hope. (As is Obama). I’m waiting to hear what F.W. de Klerk has to say about his co-Nobel peace prize-winner’s death and beatification. I fully expect him to acknowledge Mandela’s greatness in the Hope distributorship.

  • scotcanadien

    When you read Cameron’s and other Tories’ hypocritical meanderings about Mandela just remember that in 1985 Cameron was a senior member of the Federation of Conservative Students which called Mandela a terrorist and produced posters and marched with placards saying “Hang Mandela”. Also, in 1989 Cameron went on on an Anti-Apartheid mission from Tory Central Office to S Africa sponsored by a Lobby Firm in the pocket of P W Botha. The Tory Party policy then was that Mandela was a terrorist.

    • Stephen Wigmore

      Cameron wasn’t even in the FCS in 1985. Look up his biography and stop spouting rubbish.

  • Sheumais

    “He was not a saint”

    That he said so himself should make those who would sanctify him
    anyway pause to consider if they really knew Mandela at all. He was
    not just the man who was released from prison, he was also the man
    who thoroughly deserved to be in prison in the first place. If, as
    you say, he was the man who saved his country, you’d better be damn
    sure you know the current state of that country. I am far from
    convinced you have the remotest idea of the reality of today’s South

    Mandela was many more things than we will hear over the next few
    days and what is reflected in social media is shallow, self-satisfied
    ignorance. Try telling the families of those being hacked to death in
    rural south Africa that all is sweetness and light. How about the
    family of the child who was boiled to death in a bath for identifying
    his family’s murderers. He was 12. Yes, it’s all just tickety boo,
    isn’t it?

    • Stephen Wigmore

      Remind me how Nelson Mandela was responsible for that murder? The article specifically says he didn’t cure all his country’s problems. No man could do that.

      • Sheumais

        He wasn’t and I didn’t say he was. It was a further reference to today’s South Africa, to which I specifically referred in the first paragraph. The tense used should have been a clue for you.

        Mandela apologised for the things he didn’t do as President, but the wall-to-wall adulation allows little for that. That is failing to appreciate the man for what he was, something he seemed much more capable of than our media.

  • Bonkim

    Absolutely – showed that wars can be won by forgiveness and reconciliation.

  • Gavin Williamson

    Thank you Alex. In the next few days there will be many words spoken and written about Mandela, I think few will capture the tone as well as yours.

  • Two Bob

    How does that put food on the table? Hope only works in certain circumstances, it cannot apply to everything, as inspirational as he was, it has to be taken into context.

  • CraigStrachan

    Pelters for Gerry Adams, flethers for Nelson Mandela, all done with good style and fine sensibility, and all in a night’s work for Mr Massie, the best blogger in the Coffee House!

    • pandcoac

      The difference is Nelson Mandela was an invaluable component to securing peace in his country and a tireless advocate for his people while Gerry…

      • CraigStrachan

        …was not. He did however compare himself, implicitly, to Mandela when he said what he needed was a “Unionist De Klerk” to partner with him for peace.


        • pandcoac

          Gerry wasn’t invaluable to securing peace? The IRA just fell into decommissioning all by themselves? Hume brought Gerry to the table, Gerry brought the IRA and the Republican community. Personal vitriol for Gerry’s character should not let that fact be forgotten

          • CraigStrachan

            Alternatively, Hume brought the IRA to the table when he brought Gerry, and Gerry spent much of the next decade in a kabuki dance with his own shadow about decommissioning.

            But, okay, yes, Adams played his part both in inciting and ending the violence. It is, I suppose, to his credit that he ultimately came to see the futility of the IRA’s campaign. (He may well also have noticed the growing effectiveness of the Loyalist campaign of the late 80s/early 90s).

            But you are on to something when you suggest his character – the preening self-regard and dishonesty – makes it hard to give him what credit he is due. Personally, I don’t have anything like the same kind of problem with Martin McGuinness, who just seems more honest.

            • pandcoac

              I don’t believe relativism plays a significant role in Gerry’s own dedicated motivations in nudging the movement and the organisation towards negotiation and disarmament. For without him, we have no idea what today’s north may look like.

              >It is, I suppose, to his credit that he ultimately came to see the futility of the IRA’s campaign. (He may well also have noticed the growing effectiveness of the Loyalist campaign of the late 80s/early 90s).
              If that makes you a little happier to imagine humiliation of Gerry and Republicans go ahead, though Loyalist violence had very little effect on Republican moral, it often reinforced their beliefs, since they primarily targeted innocent catholics. What really drove peace efforts on both sides was the futility that neither the British state, not the IRA could remove each other from the equation no matter how hard they wished.

              • CraigStrachan

                I don’t see that Gerry has been humiliated at this point, his brother’s troubles aside, although humiliation may yet come, and from unlikely quarters, such as Boston College.

                No, as of now, Gerry’s got himself out of Northern Ireland and into a comfy berth in the Dail. From his perspective, circa 1989, after surviving one assassination attempt and watching as Loyalists began outkilling Republicans year-on-year, their targeting much improved, and British intelligence all over the IRA, shutting down two out of three operations before they even got off the ground, his present secure situation must seem like a distant dream come true.

                • pandcoac

                  Gerry is winding down and I imagine there is a part of him that wants to leave the stage but he cannot himself to capitulate to all the media mongrels that hounded him throughout the decades, regardless of how the mass media portrays him, he is a respected figure within his community and they don’t care how others see him. Gerry will probably retire quietly in a few years, regardless of more revelations.

                  But I think you are giving too much credit to the loyalist campaign here. The IRA never saw it as their primary enemies, they were disorganised, ill-disicplined, primarily concerned with criminal activity and killing innocents unconnected to the IRA. Republicans viewed them as a volatile threat but not in the same sense of the British state and it’s “legal” forces in it’s spooks/RUC/army, that’s why they rarely targeted loyalists, rarely worth it. British intelligence infiltration was surely a major factor, but that had nothing to do with Loyalism, though they may have acted as their proxies on some occasions. Though that shouldn’t be overstated neither, even though intelligence killed major players of East Tyrones Brigade at Loughgall, one of the British major victories it didn’t affect the East Tyrone Brigade’s rate of killing in the ensuring years, in fact it slightly rose. Ultimately Republicans were moved into the peace agreement guided by Gerry because the conflict felt frozen and after 30 years many were willing to talk.

                • CraigStrachan

                  I was thinking less of Loughall, more of “Stakeknife” and the effective and utter compromise of the IRA’s internal security by British agents.

                • Kennybhoy

                  Mostly correct. However

                  “…that’s why they rarely targeted loyalists, rarely worth it.”

                  No. They rarely targetted violent Ascendantists because same were PIRA’s best recruiting agents. The hard and the bad on both sides existed in a kind of obligate symbiosis.

                • pandcoac

                  I think they were comfortable with their mantra because it bolstered the fear in catholic and protestant communities and ensured segregation but at times when they did get ultra violent like during the Triangle murders it did force the IRA to take direct action since . Outside these pitches in sectarian killing, the IRA had little reason to care about them, they were overwhelmingly incompetent when it came to battling their armed enemies, Brits using them as their proxies was their golden age.

            • Kennybhoy

              “Personally, I don’t have anything like the same kind of problem with Martin McGuinness, who just seems more honest.”

              Speaking as an ex soldier I have to say that I agree with you here. Speaking historically, I would say the same about Collins and De Valera.

      • tastemylogos

        I don’t know if the families of hundreds of victims subjected to MK violent activities, signed off by Mandela, will agree that he is the greatest man in our life time.

        The extent to which people will rewrite the biogrophies of pet favourites never ceases to amaze.

        Speak to most people and they wouldn’t even know that this was a man who admitted and apologised for attempting to blow up a school, pleaded guilty to 156 acts of public violence, mobilised bombing campaigns, including the Johannesburg railway station, Durban Pick ‘n Pay shopping complex, etc.

        Was he justified in undertaking and/or signing these actions off? A debate for another day but let’s not pretend he was a guiltless or a modern day Gandhi, please. No doubt, such requests will be ignored,

        • Bonkim

          Nothing compared with the institutional violence prevailing in S Africa at the time.

          • tastemylogos

            you say this as do many others but ou dont cite why. I;ve given plenty of examples of how it was as bad for a black american living in Atlanta in 1964 as it was a black zulu living in soweto at the same time.

            Apartheid didn’t end in america until the civil rights act.

            • Bonkim

              Yes – both countries had legalized apartheid but the US managed to come to a voluntary and constitutional settlement. Also the African Americans were also forced immigrants in the new continent, dispersed, and dependent on the White community, and lacked the tribal cohesion existing in Africa to challenge the imported apartheid of the colonialists. The changes in the US were a trigger to the rise of civil rights movement in Africa – You are talking about historic changes and the US and Africa are different cultures, different environment and eventually evil came to an end in both countries – slightly different means.

              • tastemylogos

                Without the civil rights movement led by King Jr, Jackson etc that ‘voluntary’ settlement would not have come to pass. It was civil disobedience that forced the issue. Not violence.

                You say they didn’t challenge the white predominant culture, but thats just it… they clearly did. again, in a non violent way.

                the black american were far more coherent a community than the disparate competing tribes of south africa.

                Peaceful disobedience wins every day of the week. Mandela chose non violence, King Jr did not.

                • Bonkim

                  It took Lyndon Johnson and the vast majority of Americans the reality and passed the necessary legislation within the US constitutional boundaries. It took the US nearly a century to recognize that all men are created equal. No point splitting hair – it takes many factors and time to alter human mindsets and history. Yes civil disobedience – Martin Luther King followed Gandhi to some extent, and Mandela also had similar leanings – better to start a new page rather than crack the plot and destroy everything in an almighty civil war as has been the case in much of post-colonial Africa. The economic blockade played its part too and some aspects of the British culture of defusing conflict – S Africa with its potent mix of tribes, ethnic and religious minorities is naturally unstable politically – in some way Apartheid kept the land stable all through the 1950s and 60s when the rest of Africa was exploding. People and events come together in History to stabilise deep-seated divisions.


                • tastemylogos

                  You make very good points re south africa and i cant argue with any of them! I would add that mandela’s violence contributed nothing to progress. absolutely nothing. Indeed it added to an institutional paranoia that was grounded in a fearful white population.

                  In america it absolutely needed the will of the american people (at least the middle classes) but it only came about when it did due to the civil rights marches, the eloquene and dignity of jesse jackson, luther king jr, parks and mcuh of the Black Power movement. 1964 would not have happened if it were not for the generation that demanded it in the proper way that they did.

                  King took 1 root, Mandela took another. It goes without saying that Mandela’s ilence achieved nothing whilst King’s virtue stunned much of the bourgeoisie.

                • Bonkim

                  you have to reckon with the nature of US and African inter-ractal relationships – in the US both races were new Americans in a shared land but different social status. African Americans have all but forgotten their tribal/cultural origins and become Christianised and were influenced by each others’ cultures and values to a greater extent than in Africa.

                  European descendants in Africa are in the main colonialists sharing the same land but in different mindset. There was also little mixing say between Europeans from different parts of Europe, the British lot had their own circle from the colonial era.

                  African populations are the significant majority but also fragmented between various trival factions and had autonomy within defined territories, Chiefs, etc. There are also significant minorities of Indian, and other Asian groups. Inter-racial social contacts were limited – so it was a much more varied mix of ethnic, religious and cultural mix.

                  Many minority groups preferred the colonial and subsequent apartheid system that gave them security.

                  Mandela’s task was therefore much harder than that faced by American civil rights groups and Martin Luther King who had at least a constitutional framework to press their demands albeit supported by civil disobedience and occasional riots.

              • Grrr8

                There is as well the simple matter that blacks in America are a small minority while blacksS. Africa are a large majority. I suspect the White/Black population %s are roughly the inverse of each other.

                • Bonkim

                  Yes – 16% European – Eastern S Africa is predominantly African, Western SA mostly Coloured – mixed race, and Europeans mainly in the urban pockets with Indians in Natal.

      • yannix

        Yes ‘tireless advocate for his people’; now just remind me, how many townships he closed down?

    • Kennybhoy

      “Pelters for Gerry Adams, flethers for Nelson Mandela…”

      Fair comment.