1. Nelson Mandela was no saint.
2. The impoverished youth of South Africa blame him for selling them out to the white establishment.
3. His compromise and his appeal to common humanity made him exceptional.
4. He could be petty quick headed in his private life. He also had an eager eye for the ladies.
The man behind the saint’s mask
By: Ken Cates, Staff Writer
As South Africa prepares for Nelson Mandela’s funeral, the world prepares to mourn the loss of the most significant freedom fighter of the 20th century. Before we stock up on tissue boxes however, it’s important to look at the man behind the hero.
While most revolutions end up in political chaos and sectarian violence, the non-violent transition of 1994 was an unprecedented achievement.
Anyone who met the legendary Statesman would tell you how they were rendered speechless in the presence of Africa’s own Lincoln. One of them was the equally famous Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said how he felt an immense “generosity of spirit” from his comrade in non-violent arms.
Author John Carlin attributes his greatness to his tactic of appealing to the common humanity between both sides, as he befriended even his white prison guards. When almost every politician seeks power by fuelling antagonisms, Mandela followed the opposing path of reconciliation.
Through the tedious negotiations with P.W. Botha’s apartheid government, he avoided a seemingly inevitable blood bath. Instead of a summary execution, he dealt with the countries’ past crimes through the truth and reconciliation commission. And together with his former oppressors, he forged a profoundly liberal constitution that enshrined racial, sexual, and gender rights among others.
Adding the fact that he only volunteered for one term in office, his self-restraint was what made him exceptional. Especially compared to Robert Mugabe, the not-so-friendly neighborhood dictator. Without a doubt he changed history, but his achievements does not make him a saint.
This was certainly how his widow, Grace Machel, saw her deceased husband. Being the handsome young boxer and the stately lawyer he was in his youth, his taste for beautiful women didn’t change with his aging. One Irish journalist remembers Mandela asking her for marriage during a press conference.
Among friends he was often teased for his pettiness, where he was insistent in demanding a particular brand of sparkling water over another in a 2005 lunch. His children were known to resent him as a distant father. Machel recalls how he could be stubborn, quick tempered, and intolerant of the bad grades of his grandchildren.
Moreover, in South Africa the love for Mandela portrayed in the media is hardly universal. For many white die-hards he remains a terrorist. Their loss of power and privilege following the first free elections in 1994 is still a considerable source of anger, which they continue to vent through opinion pieces on various South African news websites.
There is another group that is perhaps angrier towards the late ex-president. South Africa’s impoverished black youth.
Many of the black youth who grew up in post-apartheid South Africa continue to struggle under the mass social inequality and joblessness. To them, the establishment is still anti-black. They are disillusioned with the ‘new’ South Africa and they blame Mandela for it. In their eyes he betrayed the revolution by selling them out to the white ruling class.
One such contrarian is 19-year-old activist Malaika Wa Azania, who has a considerable amount of followers in both social and mainstream media. “Mandela must not die yet. No no no. That would be unfair. People don’t get away with crime. Neither must he …,” read one of her Facebook posts.