Mandela: in frailty and loyalty

June 25, 2008 at 8:00 pm | Posted in International | Leave a comment
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I doubt I’m the only one who’s been depressed by Nelson Mandela’s silence on the inhumane carnage being visited on Zimbabwe by Mugabe and his trained thugs; nor will I be the only one gladdened by his decision to finally speak out against the violence. To put this into some context, here are two posts eminently worth your time. The first is by Christopher Hitchens, imploring the ‘old lion’ to cement his commitment to freedom & democracy by calling this mad villain out for what he is:

By his silence about what is happening in Zimbabwe, Mandela is making himself complicit in the pillage and murder of an entire nation, as well as the strangulation of an important African democracy. I recently had the chance to speak to George Bizos, the heroic South African attorney who was Mandela’s lawyer in the bad old days and who more recently has also represented Morgan Tsvangirai, the much-persecuted leader of the Zimbabwean opposition. Why, I asked him, was his old comrade apparently toeing the scandalous line taken by President Thabo Mbeki and the African National Congress? Bizos gave me one answer that made me wince—that Mandela is now a very old man—and another that made me wince again: that his doctors have advised him to avoid anything stressful. One has a bit more respect for the old lion than to imagine that he doesn’t know what’s happening in next-door Zimbabwe or to believe that he doesn’t understand what a huge difference the smallest word from him would make. It will be something of a tragedy if he ends his career on a note of such squalid compromise.

The second is from Ordovicius, which details the – arguably misplaced – loyalty Mandela has shown to those who stood by him in the fight against Apartheid – Mugabe included.

But more importantly in the context of Zimbabwe’s current woes, he has demonstrated an unflinching loyalty to those who helped the struggle to end Apartheid, even when they through their own actions have gone beyond the pale.

Mandela never once condemned the military rule of Suharto in Indonesia or the more dubious activities of the Libyan leader, Colonel Ghadafi. Both countries aided the ANC in its fight against white supremist rule in South Africa.

Another of Mandela’s old allies is a certain Robert Gabriel Mugabe.

From the moment Rhodesia became Zimbabwe in 1980, Robert Mugabe – one of the most admired nationalist leaders in Africa – converted his young republic into a safe shelter for the ANC, and a training ground for its armed wing, Umkhonto we Sirwe (the Nation’s Spear).

Mandela and Mugabe belong to the same generation of anti-colonialist leaders who in their moment – and together with Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and the Congo’s Patrice Lumumba – desired to forge a grand pan-African movement to liberate the continent. It was never to be.

Regardless of the lateness of his intervention and irrespective of whatever form it might take, it’s still quite something for a 90-year-old man whose fight for freedom took so much energy and perseverance to once more dip his toes into the bearpit of international politics, even at the risk of making an enemy of an old friend. I reckon he’s earned a little leniency.


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