Chris McGreal writes: Nelson Mandela Square sits at the entrance to the glitziest shopping mall in what is reputed to be the wealthiest square kilometre in Africa. Towering over the cafes around the northern Johannesburg piazza, as if guarding the diamond jewellers and designer clothes shops within, is a six metre tall, 2.5 ton statue of the great man dancing.
The mall’s owners say the statue is intended to honour Mandela and his country’s hard-won democracy and most of the shoppers milling around it would probably see it that way. But the great totem always seemed to me to be mocking the new South Africa.
Many of the same prosperous whites who gaze on the giant Mandela from plush cafes and pour out their love and admiration for his sacrifice in saving South Africans from themselves can also regularly be heard bemoaning the state of the country he bequeathed. They worship the man but despair of the legacy of his handiwork in the levels of crime, corruption, authoritarianism and “falling standards” under democratic government.
Not all whites, but a good number of them. And they feel free to do this because when they look at Mandela they see absolution. Their praise of his willingness to forgive comes with the understanding that they too are forgiven and absolved of the past. Freed of responsibility for how South Africa came to be what it is, they head back to the pool and congratulate themselves on their luck in embracing the world’s greatest modern statesman. Bring up past responsibilities and you face being accused of failing to understand Mandela’s message. [Continue reading...]
Among those eulogising Mandela are people who once damned him as a terrorist and supported apartheid
Peter Hain writes: “Ah, Peter, return of the prodigal son!” Nelson Mandela beamed, welcoming me to his Johannesburg home in February 2000.
Although on an official government visit, in a sense I was also being welcomed to my “home” – to South Africa, the panoramic, sunshine country of my childhood, as the first-ever British minister for Africa to be born on that continent.
Almost to the day, 10 years before, many of us had watched, tears welling up, as he had walked to freedom after 27 years in prison. And a long time before that – in March 1966 – I was a teenager aboard an ocean liner steaming out of Cape Town, past Robben Island where Mandela and his fellow leaders of the African National Congress were jailed. My anti-apartheid activist parents had been forced to leave their beloved country and the “island from hell” disappeared in the stormy mist as we headed for exile in Britain.
People forget how tough it was then, how hard the struggle was to be for decades afterwards. The resistance had been closed down, leaders such as Mandela imprisoned, tortured, banned or forced underground.
Within a few years, Mandela had almost been forgotten. British diplomats dismissed the ANC and Mandela as a busted flush. The white racist police state seemed omnipotent.
But in Britain, the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) had kept the flame of freedom flickering. Soon it was lit by our militant protests, which stopped white South African rugby and cricket tours in 1969-70. The country had been forced into global sporting isolation.
On Robben Island, brutal white warders, all fanatical rugby fans, vented their fury on Mandela and his comrades at the ostracism of the mighty Springboks, unwittingly communicating a morale-boosting message through the news blackout. [Continue reading...]
Peter Beinart writes: Now that he’s dead, and can cause no more trouble, Nelson Mandela is being mourned across the ideological spectrum as a saint. But not long ago, in Washington’s highest circles, he was considered an enemy of the United States. Unless we remember why, we won’t truly honor his legacy.
In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan placed Mandela’s African National Congress on America’s official list of “terrorist” groups. In 1985, then-Congressman Dick Cheney voted against a resolution urging that he be released from jail. In 2004, after Mandela criticized the Iraq War, an article in National Review said his “vicious anti-Americanism and support for Saddam Hussein should come as no surprise, given his longstanding dedication to communism and praise for terrorists.” As late as 2008, the ANC remained on America’s terrorism watch list, thus requiring the 89-year-old Mandela to receive a special waiver from the secretary of State to visit the U.S.
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. [Continue reading...]
Gary Younge writes: A fitting way to commemorate Nelson Mandela is to describe his arrival in the townships during the first democratic elections in 1994. The crowds travelled up to 100 miles in cattle trucks or minibuses to get to places that apartheid had deliberately made remote and barren. Then they waited for hours, in a ramshackle stadium with little shade. Despite being punctual in his personal life, Mandela on the campaign trail was always late: a victim of overambitious scheduling and inefficient minders.
Finally, the crowds saw his cavalcade throw up dust in the distance, and they began to sing the campaign song Sekunjalo Ke Nako (Now is the Time). Everyone started to dance, ululations and cheers growing in intensity. Many of those present had not seen Mandela even on TV, and knew his face only from posters and newspaper pictures. Flags and placards hoisted above heads created a ripple at first, then a wave of excitement on a sea of black, gold and green.
The rush of energy did not subside until Mandela had taken the stage half an hour later. By then the crowd had got what it came for – proximity, a sighting, to be present in history. For hours after the rally, people walking home from the stadium punched the air and shouted “amandla” (“power”) at passing cars.
The problem with personifying a national, political aspiration, as Mandela did, is that it becomes difficult to see where the man starts and the movement ends. [Continue reading...]
Desmond Tutu writes: For 27 years, I knew Nelson Mandela by reputation only. I had seen him once, in the early 1950s, when he came to my teacher-training college to judge a debating contest. The next time I saw him was in 1990.
When he came out of prison, many people feared he would turn out to have feet of clay. The idea that he might live up to his reputation seemed too good to be true. A whisper went around that some in the ANC said he was a lot more useful in jail than outside.
When he did come out, the most extraordinary thing happened. Even though many in the white community in South Africa were still dismissing him as a terrorist, he tried to understand their position. His gestures communicated more eloquently than words. For example, he invited his white jailer as a VIP guest to his inauguration as president, and he invited the prosecutor in the Rivonia trial to lunch.
What incredible acts of magnanimity these were. His prosecutor had been quite zealous in pushing for the death penalty. Mandela also invited the widows of the Afrikaner political leaders to come to the president’s residence. Betsie Verwoerd, whose husband, HF Verwoerd, was assassinated in 1966, was unable to come because she was unwell. She lived in Oranje, where Afrikaners congregated to live, exclusively. And Mandela dropped everything and went to have tea with her, there, in that place.
He had an incredible empathy. During the negotiations that led up to the first free elections, the concessions he was willing to make were amazing. Chief Buthelezi wanted this, that and the other, and at every single point Madiba would say: yes, that’s OK. He was upset that many in the ANC said Inkatha was not a genuine liberation movement. He even said that he was ready to promise Buthelezi a senior cabinet position, which was not something he had discussed with his colleagues. He did this to ensure that the country did not descend into a bloodbath. [Continue reading...]
In an editorial, The Guardian says: When Helen Suzman went to see Nelson Mandela on Robben Island in 1967, the first prisoner she encountered was a man called Eddie Daniels, who told her: “Yes, we know who you are. Don’t waste time talking to us. Go and talk to Mandela at the end of the row. He’s our leader.” Daniels’s absolute certainty struck Suzman very forcibly. Although Daniels did not spell it out, she learned later that the prison administration had tried to arrange her tour so that she would not reach Mandela’s cell before her limited time on Robben ran out.
She took the advice, made her way to Mandela’s cell, and found there a quietly eloquent and direct man of imposing physique and great natural authority. Eddie Daniels was of course right: Mandela was indeed the leader, not only of the detainees in the island prison, but of the South African liberation movement as a whole. He had mentors and partners, some in detention with him, some in exile, and some enduring a harassed and persecuted life in South Africa itself, and he had rivals inside and outside the African National Congress.
But he was indubitably the man who came, above all others, to symbolise the struggle of the ANC, from the time when it seemed to have collapsed under the assaults of the apartheid state, to the time of its final successes, when that same state found itself pleading with the ANC to enter a new era in which the structures of oppression would be liquidated.
Yet this leadership, even if we define it as moral rather than practical, remains ultimately something of a mystery. Mandela was not able, during 27 years in prison, to exercise sustained operational control or to take a regular part in ANC decision-making, except toward the very end, when he negotiated with FW de Klerk.
Before he went to jail, his record was of brave failure rather than of significant victory. His attempts, during his early years, to wage, along with others, a legal and non-violent campaign for black rights were stymied by a government which was not only unresponsive but positively preferred to push the ANC into clandestine activity so that it could fragment and criminalise the movement. His reluctant conversion to the military path ended abruptly when he was arrested within days of returning to South Africa to pursue the armed struggle. As a civil rights leader, he was ineffective. As a short-lived guerrilla leader, he was an amateur. And when, released from prison, he became the first president of the new South Africa, he was often inattentive, he discarded his once radical views on the economy, and, arguably, he endorsed the wrong man as his successor. To set against that, he insisted on respect for the judgments of the South African Constitutional Court even when they upset the ANC’s plans, and he refused to support the death penalty.
Mandela was far from alone among 20th-century liberation leaders in achieving stature in prison. [Continue reading...]
Justice Malala writes: Nelson Mandela, global hero, died on Thursday night. We had steeled ourselves for it in the months of his hospitalisation over the past year and half. Yet, we are in shock.
We mourn him. We mourn him because in his 95 years, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela has taught us how to live.
He taught us to strive for what is good and right, even as we ourselves stumble; to strain for perfection, even as we are caught up in our own flawed lives; to put the poor and downtrodden at the centre of our endeavours, even as we reach for the good life.
As he lay in hospital for months this year, Mandela taught us yet another lesson: just as we have been blessed with the gift of his presence, so too must we accept his inevitable departure. It is the most terrible of Biblical injunctions to perceive, but today it is stark: there is a time to live, and a time to die. Today we face the heartbreaking reality of the latter.
Over the past six months the news coming out of Pretoria had been the gravest it had ever been: the presidency had used the word “critical”; the family was sombre and mournful even as it was divided. The man whose walk to freedom was so long, so painful, so inspirational, was well on in his last journey.
Outside the hospital, passersby stopped and stared at the massed international and local media. “He is old. He must go,” said one to me as, like so many other journalists, we waited outside the hospital for word. It is a refrain that was heard often, at the hospital and elsewhere, even as far away as his home in Qunu. We could not bear to think of Mandela, a man who endured so much in pursuit of all our freedom, being in pain.
The heartbreaking reality, as one of our great poets, Chris van Wyk, once put it, is that it was time to go home, now. It is time to go home. [Continue reading...]
In June, Gary Younge wrote: Shortly before Nelson Mandela stepped down as president of South Africa in 1999, racial anxiety was a lucrative business. At the public library in the affluent area of Sandton, I attended a session at which an emigration consultant, John Gambarana, warned a hundred-strong, mostly white audience of the chaos and mayhem to come. Holding up a book by broadcaster Lester Venter called When Mandela Goes, he told them, “People, this book is a wake-up call. The bad news is [when Mandela leaves] the pawpaw’s really going to hit the fan. The good news is the fan probably won’t be working.”
And so it was that, even in the eyes of those who made a living peddling fear, less than a decade after his release from prison, Mandela had been transformed from terrorist boogeyman to national savior.
White South Africa has come to embrace him in much the same way that most white Americans came to accept Martin Luther King Jr.: grudgingly and gratefully, retrospectively, selectively, without grace but with considerable guile. By the time they realized that their dislike of him was spent and futile, he had created a world in which admiring him was in their own self-interest. Because, in short, they had no choice.
As the last apartheid leader, F.W. de Klerk—who had lost the election to Mandela—told me that same year, “The same mistakes that we made were still being made in the United States and the ex-colonies. Then we carried them on for around twenty years longer.” There are myriad differences between apartheid South Africa and America under segregation. But on that point, if little else, de Klerk was absolutely right. Neither the benefits of integration nor the urgency with which it was demanded were obvious to most Americans during King’s time. A month before the March on Washington in 1963, 54 percent of whites thought the Kennedy administration was “pushing racial integration too fast.” [Continue reading...]
After briefly reviewing the history of scientific racism, Murtaza Hussain writes: In the present atmosphere, characterised by conflict with Muslim-majority nations, a new class of individuals have stepped in to give a veneer of scientific respectability to today’s politically-useful bigotry.
At the forefront of this modern scientific racism have been those prominently known as the “new atheist” scientists and philosophers. While they attempt to couch their language in the terms of pure critique of religious thought, in practice they exhibit many of the same tendencies toward generalisation and ethno-racial condescension as did their predecessors – particularly in their descriptions of Muslims.
To be utterly clear, Islam itself does not denote a race, and Muslims themselves come from every racial and ethnic grouping in the world. However, in their ostensibly impartial critiques of “religion” – and through the impartation of ethno-cultural attributes onto members of a religious group – the most prominent new atheists slide with ease into the most virulent racism imaginable.
That this usefully dovetails with government policies promoting the military subjugation of Muslim-majority countries is telling with regard to what purpose these contemporary scientist-philosophers serve.
While one could cite Richard Dawkins’ descriptions of “Islamic barbarians” and Christopher Hitchens’ outright bloodlust towards Muslims – including lamentations of the ostensibly too-low death toll in the Battle of Fallujah and his satisfied account of cluster bombs tearing through the flesh of Iraqis – these have been widely discussed and are in any case not the most representative of this modern phenomena.
Indeed, the most illustrative demonstration of the new brand of scientific racism must be said to come from the popular author and neuroscientist Sam Harris. Among the most publicly visible of the new atheists, in the case of Muslims Harris has publicly stated his support for torture, pre-emptive nuclear weapons strikes, and the security profiling of not just Muslims themselves, but in his own words “anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim”. [Continue reading...]
John Liu writes: The numbers don’t lie: New York City police have conducted 5m “stop-and-frisk” searches since 2002. More than 86% of individuals targeted were black or Hispanic, and 88% were innocent of any crime. The stop-and-frisk tactic is clearly discriminatory, often humiliating, and totally ineffective. It must be abolished.
Just as astonishing as the raw numbers were the stories from my series of stop-and-frisk” town hall meetings last month in Queens, the Bronx, and Brooklyn. Young men and less-young men, black and brown, came to church halls and community rooms to tell of how, time and time again, they had been verbally abused by police, pushed up against walls, made to stand spreadeagled, and forced to empty their pockets – all for doing nothing wrong and while passers-by watched.
Rather than making the city safer, stop-and-frisk instils fear and undermines trust. If anything, this tactic is serving to deepen the chasm between communities and police – a relationship that is vital to maintaining a safe and secure city for all New Yorkers.
The policy is also a potential financial issue for the City and its taxpayers. As it is, claim settlements and judgments – including those involving civil rights actions – brought against the New York Police Department have risen from $74.1m in fiscal year 2002 to $185.6m in fiscal year 2011, according to numbers compiled by my office (pdf). Amidst this environment, stop-and-frisk has so angered communities that it is now at the heart of three federal lawsuits, one of them the class action case Floyd v the City of New York. [Continue reading...]
Khaled A Beydoun writes: The colour of violence often dictates what and who qualifies as a threat to national security. In the United States, the list of dangers to national security and the American way of life is topped by an Islamic menace, but excludes the proliferation of white supremacist groups. This movement not only openly espouses racist and xenophobic goals, but has also effectively executed the most savage attacks on innocent Americans during this past year.
In the American imagination there is a one-dimensional portrait of terrorism – one that adorns turbans, beards, and brown skin. However, white terrorism, driven by racial supremacy and xenophobia, should rank as the greatest threat to national security in America today.
The recent attack in Oak Creek, and the mosque burnings across the country are evidence that white supremacy is far more than merely a veiled threat, but a realised one.
There is little that is more American than viewing a blockbuster release on its opening night. Scores of teenagers waited anxiously for their seats in Aurora, Colorado’s Century 16 Movie-Plex on Friday, July 20, and filed into the full theatre. Among the crowd of moviegoers was James Holmes, a 24-year old graduate student armed with a semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun, and a pistol. Holmes, who the FBI stated had “no ties to any terrorist groups”, was prepared and poised to kill innocents. And he did so, only miles away from the Columbine tragedy of 1999, executing twelve and injuring 58.
The national news sweep that followed the Aurora massacre was saturated with headlines calling it an “American tragedy”, yet silent on branding it precisely what it was – an act of terrorism. Americans of colour, particularly Muslim, Middle Eastern, South Asian and African-Americans, collectively questioned what the tenor of the news coverage would sound like if Holmes was Muslim or Black, and also, if the media storm would have reached national proportions if the majority of the victims were not white.
The questions of these viewers were answered, in large part, nearly two weeks later after a white supremacist killed eight Americans inside a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin.
Weeks later, Wade Michael Page entered the Gurdwara Temple in Oak Creek on August 5 with a premeditated agenda to kill Americans. The congregation of worshippers, like the moviegoers in Aurora, could never imagine or anticipate that their lives would be in jeopardy as they were steeped in prayer. Page, a forty-year old tattoo-clad Army veteran who played with white supremacist heavy metal bands with the names “Definite Hate” and “End Empathy”, trespassed into the Temple with a gun and a heart full of hate.
Wade saw turban and beard-clad Americans. They fit neatly, but fallaciously, into the constructed caricature of the Muslim threat. His victims were Sikh. For Page and the white supremacist and xenophobic ideals he represented, the religion or ethnicity of the victims was negligible compared to the markers of difference they believe justifies violence. They were not white, and according to his worldview, not American, regardless of the taxes they paid, the votes they cast, and the contributions to the country they made. The ultimate aim was of course to terrorise, to spread fear, in furtherance of a political vision of a white America. [Continue reading...]
Rachel Shabi writes: Last month, demonstrations against African refugees in Tel Aviv turned violent. Protesters looted shops, broke windows and firebombed buildings, including a nursery. Days ago, arsonists torched the home of 10 African migrants in Jerusalem, injuring four, and leaving the unequivocal graffiti: “Get out of the neighbourhood.”
On Monday, Israeli TV reported that Haifa’s council had warned local businesses that they risked losing their licences if they employed African refugees, and that shopkeepers in the southern town of Sderot were refusing to serve migrants. Israeli statistics show some 60,000 African migrants have entered the country in the past seven years through the Egyptian Sinai desert – many of them asylum seekers fleeing repression or war in Sudan, South Sudan and Eritrea. Israel, much like Europe, seems consumed with worry about being “swamped” by developing-world refugees – although, perhaps in part because of its location, the fears in Israel sound more visceral. So far, Israel’s approach has been to build a steel fence on the Egyptian border and a giant detention centre in the south, and to pass a law that allows the detention of migrants for up to three years. Since its creation, fewer than 150 people have been recognised as refugees in Israel.
The crude response from politicians has been as disturbing as the scenes on the streets. Last week, the interior minister, Eli Yishai, said: “Most of those people arriving here are Muslims who think the country doesn’t belong to us, the white man.” He has also described the refugees as rapists and criminals. Weeks ago, Miri Regev, a Likud member of the Knesset, referred to Sudanese people in Israel as a cancer. Former TV presenter and emerging politician Yair Lapid last month lambasted some Knesset members as “inciters” leading a pogrom, and wrote: “I wonder how they have the nerve to call themselves Jews.” [Continue reading...]
Robert Fisk writes: How many tracts, books, documentaries, speeches and doctoral theses have been written and produced about Islamophobia? How many denunciations have been made against the Sarkozys and the Le Pens and the Wilders for their anti-immigration (for which, read largely anti-Muslim) policies or – let us go down far darker paths – against the plague of Breivik-style racism?
The problem with all this is that Muslim societies – or shall we whittle this down to Middle Eastern societies? – are allowed to appear squeaky-clean in the face of such trash, and innocent of any racism themselves.
A health warning, therefore, to all Arab readers of this column: you may not like this week’s rant from yours truly. Because I fear very much that the video of Alem Dechasa’s recent torment in Beirut is all too typical of the treatment meted out to foreign domestic workers across the Arab world (there are 200,000 in Lebanon alone).
Many hundreds of thousands have now seen the footage of 33-year-old Ms Dechasa being abused and humiliated and pushed into a taxi by Ali Mahfouz, the Lebanese agent who brought her to Lebanon as a domestic worker. Ms Dechasa was transported to hospital where she was placed in the psychiatric wing and where, on 14 March, she hanged herself. She was a mother of two and could not stand the thought of being deported back to her native Ethiopia. That may not have been the only reason for her mental agony.
Lebanese women protested in the centre of Beirut, the UN protested, everyone protested. Ali Mahfouz has been formally accused of contributing to her death. But that’s it. [Continue reading...]