Opinion: Fifty shades (and lights) of Nelson Mandela

by Dolapo Aina


Nelson Mandela had a quote about him, not being a saint. He had reason not to see himself as such. So you would have to understand that, there are those who remember the tactics and atrocities of the ANC in the apartheid era.

Apart from life, a strong constitution, and an abiding connection to the Thembu royal house, the only thing my father bestowed upon me at birth was a name, Rolihlahla. In Xhosa, Rolihlahla literally means “pulling the branch of a tree,” but its colloquial meaning more accurately would be trouble maker. I do not believe that names are destiny or that my father somehow divined my future. But in later years, friends and relatives would ascribe to my birth name the many storms I have both caused and weathered-Opening page of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom”.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was laid to rest on Sunday, the 15th of December 2013. More than a plethora of articles and tributes have been written about the colossus from South Africa and I have read several articles by Nigerians, Africans, Americans and Europeans and especially the article by the erstwhile Presidente de Cuba; Fidel Castro. A lot of the articles were laced with a sizeable dose of Mandela quotes. This article would touch base with some of the articles. You would have to concur that Nelson Mandela delivered many perorations/speeches about leadership during the course of his illustrious life filled with struggles and successes.

Did you know that South Africans were banned from quoting him or any of his speeches during the apartheid era? And what about this bombshell from Fidel Castro? In his own words in his article published probably on the 29th of December, 2013, “The main problem was that the racist South Africans had, according to our estimates, 10 to 12 nuclear weapons. They had even tested them in the frozen areas or seas to the South. President Ronald Reagan had authorized such tests and the device for blasting the nuclear charge was among the equipment delivered by Israel.” A detailed look into his perorations, quotes and wise sayings would reveal a man who was extremely thoughtful and had many sides to his persona.

Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.” (Chief Albert Luthuli Centenary Celebrations, Kwadukuza, Kwazulu-Natal, April 25, 1998, South Africa)

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” (90th birthday celebration of Walter Sisulu, Walter Sisulu Hall, Randburg, Johannesburg, South Africa, May 18, 2002)


“It is never my custom to use words lightly. If twenty-seven years in prison have done anything to us, it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die.” (Closing address, 13th International AIDS Conference, Durban, South Africa, July 14, 2000. Do read some quotes by Nelson Mandela By Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations”:

The speeches and eulogies poured out on Mandela by world presidents and Head of States and Corporate leaders were flooding in like a gaming machines dispelling jackpot coins, that one had to take many a break to read through the cornucopia of brilliantly written articles and speeches. Describing Nelson Mandela seemed and would still continue to be a tricky dilemma for leaders who are not selfless. And it was evident when Jacob Zuma mounted the podium and he was booed and jeered. Leaders who are not as selfless and Mandela-like in their way of reasoning and in the delegation of their duties and responsibilities to their citizens and nations would have found it pretty difficult to profess “we should emulate Nelson Mandela.”

One different speech which tried to play on the intelligence of Nigerians was given by Dr Doyin Okupe (Senior Special Adviser to President Jonathan), he said thus, “Nelson Mandela was a great man; he lived his life for the people of South Africa. I check through the history on Nigeria, among our past and present leaders, the only one we call our Mandela is President Jonathan. There is no President that has sacrificed 13 hours to discuss with ASUU (Academic Staff Union of Universities) Como barato (Spanish meaning how cheap) can a government apparatchik get? President Jonathan is intelligent to see “yesmanism” when he sees one. George W. Bush at the Access Conference held on the 12th of December 2013, in Lagos, said that “a leader must not have people around who tell him how wonderful he is; rather than reality”. Need I say more?

An article titled Mandela is dead: so why hide the truth about apartheid? by Cuba’s former President which was circulated to international newspapers on the 29th of December 2013. Fidel Castro of Cuba wrote in his widely-read article; fittingly opined that “there is no present or past event I remember or have heard of that has impacted world public opinion so much as the death of Nelson Mandela, and not because of his wealth, but for his human quality and the loftiness of his ideas and feelings.”

To understand Nelson Mandela’s mindset, you would have to read his autobiography titled “Long Walk to Freedom” published in 1994. You would also have to read through the tonnes of political decisions, political comments made by a lot of the Western countries and their leaders, who after his demise were praising his sterling qualities. Would you believe that Nelson Mandela and a lot of his comrades who were imprisoned at Robben Island were designated terrorists? Let’s accept this was the case till the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990. But you would have to ask the Western nations especially the American White House and British White Hall administrations why Mandela and his comrades were still designated terrorists during the George W. Bush administration? If am right, Condoleezza Rice was the one that saved America the huge embarrassment. History keeps records. Some years ago, it so happened that some of the Robben Island inmates were stopped at one of the airports in America for being on one of America’s terrorist watch list!

Since records tell history, the world can see that the same nations, whose leaders were “the apple of all eyes” during the memorial service, were once staunch anti-ANC and covertly pro-apartheid government, due to the Cold War shenanigans that were on going during that period. Before you pass judgement, you would also have to realise that the ANC (African National Congress), aligned with Communist Russia. You would have to realise that some of the ANC officials had no qualms about jungle justice in the form of “neck-lacing” (placing tyres on apartheid collaborators’ necks and setting them ablaze. A recurring and gory decimal still prevalent in Nigeria.) Still wondering why they were termed terrorists and why some termed them freedom fighters?

To understand the several political volte-face by all the parties concerned, an article published in Foreign Policy, titled “Apartheid Amnesia” by Sam Kleiner, a Marshall Scholar, who holds a D.Phil in International Relations from Oxford University and as at July 2012, was a student of Yale Law School, would have to be read and assimilated. So, also, the numerous comments by readers of the article.

Sam Kleiner posited thus “On Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday, the world is celebrating the former South African president and cheering for his recovery. The U.S. Congress even managed a rare display of bipartisanship for the occasion, with members of both parties taking turns to laud Mandela as they stood in front of the Statue of Freedom in Emancipation Hall. “At times it can almost feel like we are talking about an old friend,” said Rep. John Boehner (Republican-OH.) “He never lost faith in the strength of the human spirit,” added Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Democrat-CA).Today, Nelson Mandela is a celebrated elder statesman that both Democrats and Republicans heap praise on.


Sam Kleiner went further to state that “this wasn’t always the case. When Mandela was imprisoned and struggling to end apartheid, the Republican Party — through the policies of the Reagan administration and the work of party activists — opposed U.S. sanctions against the white supremacist regime. Though they didn’t support apartheid by any means, they turned a blind eye towards the cruelty of the system and failed to support Mandela in his time of greatest need. Today, Republicans will cheer on Mandela, but the Republican Party’s historical relationship with South Africa, and Mandela in particular, exposes a sad chapter in the history of the American right.”


Sam Kleiner continued “in 1985, Mandela’s 22nd year in prison, then South African President P.W. Botha gave a speech affirming apartheid’s rejection of “one-man-one-vote” and defending Mandela’s imprisonment. The infamous “Rubicon Speech” fuelled ongoing rioting in South Africa and prompted the African National Congress (ANC), Mandela’s party, to call for the United States to impose sanctions. President Ronald Reagan and the American right were not sympathetic to that request. “Our relationship with South Africa … has always over the years been a friendly one,” Reagan said in a 1985 radio interview, rejecting any change in policy. Televangelist Jerry Falwell went one step further and visited South Africa the week after Botha’s speech to insist that sanctions were opposed in every segment of every [South African] community.”


He posited that “right-wing ambivalence toward apartheid in the 1980s was a product of South African support for the United States during the Cold War. In 1969 and early 1970, President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, then national security advisor, formulated a policy of increased communication with and relaxed criticism of the white regime. The apartheid system was unlikely to change anytime soon, the Nixon administration thought, so there was little point in pressuring a valuable ally who was working with the United States to contain Soviet influence in Africa.”


Sam Kleiner reminded readers that “when Reagan came to office in 1981, he launched a policy of “constructive engagement” with South Africa designed by Chester Crocker, his assistant secretary of state for African affairs. In line with Nixon’s policy, constructive engagement was intended to deepen ties between the United States and the apartheid government in South Africa by prioritizing trade. Crocker was a true believer in the power of trade to open up the country to reform: It would eventually become too expensive to discriminate against blacks in the workplace, he thought.”

Nelson Mandela had a quote about him, not being a saint. He had reason not to see himself as such. So you would have to understand that, there are those who remember the tactics and atrocities of the ANC in the apartheid era. Several comments posted in response to Sam Kleiner’s article and other articles I have read reveal another angle of the ANC struggle, which aptly fits into the quote-one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.

In response to the article by Sam Kleiner, one comment probably from an elderly person went thus You’re kidding, right?  Apartheid was internationally stable.  Mandela supported the Soviets at a time when our nuclear capabilities needed to be massive. Mandela was a terrorist and a criminal. The Afrikaaners were peaceful people and the world needed to mind its own sets of business.  Many tens of thousands of white Afrikaners are dead due to the rule of Mandela. He and Mugabe to the north were responsible for the wholesale slaughter of whites in South Africa and Rhodesia.  How quickly we forget.  How quick we are to propagandize and fill our youth with revised history.”

A comment posted by a contributor with the name justhefacts101 went thus “speaking of a bad memory, Mr. Kleiner displays the typical left-wing amnesia which is seen so often when socialists write about Mandela: not only was the ANC an undeniable pawn of the Soviet Union, both Nelson and Winnie Mandela were responsible for atrocities that would make Al Qaeda squeamish.  Beheading would have been considered humanitarian compared the horrendous practice of “necklacing” their opponents: murdering them by setting ablaze an old tire strapped to their neck.  I suppose that Mr. Kleiner also forgot the kidnapping, torture and murder of the 14 year old child, Stompie Moeketsi.  Whatever the Republicans may or may not have done in regards to Apartheid is dwarfed by the atrocities committed by the communist/terrorist ANC. Of course, this intentional amnesia is typical by the left wing contributors to Foreign Policy because they’re perfectly willing to ignore the gruesome behaviour of murdering terrorists when those murdering terrorists embrace the same political views.


Another comment analysed the culpability of the American Administration and went thus “but its behind-the-scenes work revealed a startling degree of comfort with the South African regime — or at least ignorance of how apartheid worked. For a July 1986 speech to the World Affairs Council in Washington D.C., Reagan rejected a moderate State Department draft and instead instructed his speechwriter, Pat Buchanan, to draft a version arguing that Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) employed “terrorist tactics” and “proclaims a goal of creating a communist state.” (Buchanan later dismissed Mandela as a “train-bomber” and defended the hardline position.) Reagan himself never seemed to really understand the moral repugnance of apartheid.”


Another commentator posited that Ronald Reagan knew what Apartheid was and went further to state that “what label would you have applied to the ANC who engaged in necklacing and blew up grannies inside cafes? And yes they did have a goal in creating a communist state. I take it you never read How To Be A Good Communist by Nelson Mandela?


But this unheard of book by Nelson Mandela was dealt with by comment posted by another participant who posited that “Mandela: The Authorized Biography” says that Mandela later explained that when he wrote location-switched paraphrases like “Under a Communist Party government South Africa will become a land of milk and honey…There will be no unemployment, starvation and disease”, this was just “part of an argument to show how turgid Marxist writing could be” (and indeed, it seems hard to believe that he would have sincerely bought into ridiculous overblown statements like that Communism would turn South Africa into a “land of milk and honey” where all disease was eliminated). The biography also notes that “Rusty Bernstein later confirmed that he had lent Mandela the pamphlet, together with many others. And Mandela’s copious notes from Rivonia showed him as a tireless copier of documents from all kinds of sources.”


An article by www.globalresearch.ca titled “It was the CIA that helped jail Nelson Mandela” is another insightful piece. Do read some excerpts.

Nelson Mandela’s arrest in 1962, which led to 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment on Robbins Island, was based on the work of the CIA. The CIA and National Security Agency worked as partners with the racist, apartheid regime’s vicious military and intelligence services.

Mandela was a leader of the African National Congress (ANC) that organized civil resistance and an armed struggle against South Africa’s white racist apartheid regime. The United States and the other western capitalist governments supported the racist, fascist apartheid regime.

Mandela was labelled a terrorist by the United States. So was the entire ANC. Even as late as 2008 the U.S. State Department had to pass special waivers so that Mandela or any ANC leader could visit the United States because he and the ANC were still on the “terrorist watch list.”

The ANC’s struggle for Black majority rule and the liquidation of apartheid received critical support from Cuba, the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. The ANC had an active alliance with South African Communist Party in the struggle for Black majority rule.

Even after the fall of the apartheid government ANC members applying for visas to the USA were flagged for questioning and forced to ask for waivers to enter the country. Former ANC chairman Tokyo Sexwale was denied a visa in 2002 In 2007, Barbara Masekela, South Africa’s ambassador to the United States until the year prior was denied a visa to visit a dying cousin living in the United States.

The ANC was labeled and treated as a terrorist organization and pro-communist by the CIA and successive U.S. administrations, Democratic and Republican alike. Congress, too, was an enthusiastic cheerleader for this vile partnership with the planet’s most disgustingly racist regime.

The House of Representatives only voted to call for Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1986 when it was clear that the fascist apartheid regime’s days were numbered, leading the United States and Britain to abruptly shift course and broker a negotiated end to the white supremacist system. A mass worldwide anti-apartheid movement had completely isolated South Africa. Dick Cheney voted against the House resolution in 1986, pointing out that the U.S. government was still retaining the ANC on the official U.S. “terrorist list.”

The U.S. and Britain knew the end had finally come for the usefulness of the apartheid government when its seemingly invincible military was decisively defeated by the Angolan army and thousands of Cuban volunteers in the historic battle of Cuito Canavale. As Mandela said, “When Africa called, Cuba answered.”

In an act of shameless duplicity, once Mandela was released from prison, each successive U.S. administration has pretended that the United States was always opposed to Mandela’s imprisonment and stood with him against apartheid.

After getting out of prison, Mandela came to the United States to meet President George H.W. Bush on June 25, 1990. He was being touted as a hero and a champion in the fight against racism. The U.S. government, working through propagandists in the corporate-owned media, tried to instill a society-wide case of amnesia about the fact that they were the defenders of apartheid and directly responsible for Mandela’s imprisonment.

But one reporter had the gall to ask an unscripted question.

Bush’s press secretary, Marlin Fitzwater, was asked in the days before the June 25 meeting with Bush whether the president would apologize to Mandela for the U.S. role in his arrest.


Fitzwater was angry and caught off guard. He said, “I just don’t like it when people question our motives on blacks or on Mandela because of an incident that happened 20 years ago in another administration.”


To understand the political rigmarole of the Cold War era amongst African and western nations, you would have to brace yourself for comments made by men who were under immense pressure to take actions (which might have been deemed appropriate then). The cold war shenanigans was so cute that Nigeria’s former Foreign Affairs minister in the 1980s; Prof Bolaji Akinyemi was termed, called and viewed as a communist by America, United Kingdom and other apartheid supporting nations.


As the world look for quotes of Mandela, others also look for quotes by him which are not popular. Some include, “You will come to the conclusion that the attitude of the United States of America is a threat to world peace…. It (war against Iraq) is clearly a decision that is motivated by George W. Bush’s desire to please the arms and oil industries in the United States of America…When there were white (UN) secretary generals you didn’t find this question of the United States and Britain going out of the United Nations. But now that you’ve had black secretary generals like Boutros Boutros Ghali, like Kofi Annan, they do not respect the United Nations. They have contempt for it… It is the men around him (Cheney and Rumsfeld) who are dinosaurs, who do not want him (President Bush) to belong to the modern age… The only man, the only person who wants to help Bush move to the modern era is Gen. Colin Powell.”


“If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America…Iraq produces 64 percent of the oil in the world. What Bush wants is to get hold of that oil.”


In his book “The Struggle is My Life”, a collection of his writings, a piece on page 76; dated 1958, reads thus, “the people of Asia and Africa have seen through the slanderous campaign conducted by the U.S.A. against the Socialist countries. They know that their independence is threatened not by any of the countries in the Socialist camp but by the U.S.A., who has surrounded their continent with military bases. The Communist bogey is an American stunt to distract the attention of the people of Africa from the real issue facing them, namely, American imperialism”.


One of the contributors posted another comment, “Reagan was aware that as bad as apartheid was the alternatives were a lot worse.” Except that they weren’t.  Only the lowest sort of moral leper would think the continuation of apartheid would have been preferable to what has happened since Mandela’s victory.  And by “lowest sort of moral leper” I mean Ronald Reagan, Dick Cheney, Jesse Helms, and all of the other rancid little racists who wanted Mandela to die in prison.”


Reading several articles on what transpired during the Apartheid era in South Africa and the political and global linings of several nations, one would see the main reason Reagan, Thatcher and Co backed the apartheid regime in South Africa.  Also, one would see reason why the ANC was considered an “ally” of the Soviet Union. And one would see reason why Cold War geopolitical concerns trumped any concern for human rights.


Be that as it may, the Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole’s article titled The Island which was picked as one of the top five articles on Mandela, revealed another dimension of Nelson Mandela, Twenty-seven years later, the prisoner looks at the photograph. “I remember that day. The authorities brought these people to prove that we were still alive.” Ambushed by memory, the prisoner becomes angry again. He begins to denounce one of the visitors from that day. A handler intervenes, “Khulu (Great One), you know you can’t talk like that.” He won’t be corrected. “No, we must be honest about these things.” The god of his youth is in his voice.

Teju Cole went further to state that “white supremacy has its uses. Because of its great care and its thoughtful strategy, because of the tireless way it hoards its hatred, it is good at making heroes. Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Desmond Tutu: what would our lives have meant without theirs? No wheel moves without friction. Without the obscenity of white supremacy to resist, they might have been mere happy family men. Nevertheless: Whoever was tortured stays tortured. Torture is ineradicably burned into him, even when no clinically objective traces can be detected.”

The hypocrisy of leaders who eulogise his life now can be deduced from critiques cum articles of Oxford educated Political Scientist; Dr Anthony Akinola. According to him, “the 3 day mourning isn’t enough. What can President Jonathan of Nigeria learn from this global icon as he ponders his own political future amidst fierce disagreements and possible chaos? When one’s political right conflicts with the national interest, which one should prevail over the other?” thought provoking comments you have to concur with.

A writer by the name of Burke penned an article whereby he posited that “to those now falling over themselves to memorialize Mandela’s life. “When you say, ‘He was a great statesman,’ credit what that means,” Burke wrote “It means that he looked ahead, kept his eyes on the prize, and tried to do what needed doing, whether that meant taking up arms, or playing chess, or making a friendly connection with a potentially friendly jailer. If you’re going to say it, then credit first that there might be great leaders (and great movements) where you right now see only terrorism or revolution or disorder.

Burke’s message: “Mourn the statesman and the revolutionary and the terrorist and the neoliberal and the ethicist and the pragmatist and the saint and don’t you dare try to discard or remove any part of that whole. Celebrate him? Sure, but then make sure you’re willing to consider emulating him.

To have a crystal-clear, unblemished cut into the wisdom and thinking of Nelson Mandela, one piece you have to read for its comprehensive look at Mandela’s life is Bill Keller’s 6500-word obit in the New York Times. Keller, the paper’s former executive editor and its Johannesburg bureau chief in the early 1990s, told CNN that he wrote the first draft eight years ago in 2005 (his wife tweeted that it took him 20 years to write). It includes comments from a 2007 interview with Mandela for the obituary in which he was “openly scornful” about his successor–comments Mandela required the Times not to publish until after his death–and answered the question of how he could keep hatred in check after everything he had endured. His answer, writes Keller, was almost dismissive: “hating clouds the mind. It gets in the way of strategy. Leaders cannot afford to hate.

From the plethora of articles aforementioned, it is quite apparent that Nelson Mandela was a great man who knew he was an intelligent human being who was prone to errors and who knew he had shortcomings like anyone else. And he was ready to admit his mistakes, unlike other global leaders.

Some years ago, between 2008-2010, my ears weren’t playing tricks on me and on my senses and it wasn’t a mistake when I listened to a BBC documentary on Robben Island inmates and one of Mandela’s comrades revealed and I would paraphrase him “Mandela and I were in his study room, when he got a call. He responded saying, hello Elisabeth. Throughout, the conversation, Mandela called the caller, Elisabeth. When the conversation ended, Madiba told me, that was the Queen.” There is only one Queen Elisabeth. I was stupefied and awed that my friend could call the Queen by her name (without the title). Who can do that? That is how great and influential Mandela is”.


If you are still doubtful as to how great, colossal and influential Nelson Mandela was, is and would still be, he was exempted (perhaps the only one ever to be given such exemption) from putting on a black tie to see the Queen of England. I doubt if blue bloods are accorded such exemption. With over 140 streets named after Mandela, he was and still is truly loved by all races. Christiane Amanpour posted on her Facebook page-“Mandela becomes the first politician to be missed”. On the 6th of December, 2013, the Nigerian host of the dancehall reality show by the name Kemi Adetiba, aptly tweeted “I want to live a life worth celebrating in death”, and to be able to attain this (celebrations by the world and most importantly by the Heavenlies), one of Mandela’s quotes aptly admonishes everyone from leaders, Presidents, doctors, students, artisans to the layman, “there is no passion to be found playing small; in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living”.

As tall as he was; at above 6foot 2inches and synonymous with the colourful Indonesian buttoned shirts, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela’s legacy is ubiquitous, that it is self-sustaining. Sincerely, I hope his family members don’t tarnish the credibility in his name via needless bickering. And I hope that the traditional members of the Mandela clan still stuck in their ways (deliberately), don’t steer up and whip up sentiments by clamouring for Nelson Mandela’s wife Michelle’s departure from Nelson Mandela’s home. They should leave the lady alone or they would incur the wrath of the citizens of the world who love Nelson Mandela.

Nonetheless, I can’t but ask you, where you were, when Mandela was released on that memorable Sunday in 1990 and where were you when you heard of his demise at 8.50pm, on Thursday, the 4th of December 2013? I can’t but ask you; have you read or do you have the intention of reading his autobiography titled “Long Walk to Freedom”? I count young people like Kathleen Ndongmo to be of the privileged young and few Africans to have interacted with Nelson Mandela. From a childhood list of three global personalities to meet and interact with, I am now left with meeting and interviewing the Queen. Herculean as it appears, nothing is impossible.



Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

Leave a reply

Your e-mail address will not be published.

cool good eh love2 cute confused notgood numb disgusting fail