Getting Mandela Wrong: When A Conservative Juiceboxer Attacks.
There are many ways to react to the death of Nelson Mandela.
Personally I muted “Mandela” on my Twitter feed because I think that’s about the worst possible way to react to someone’s death and most people posting on it were simply trying to insert themselves into a larger event.
Others unfortunately decide to write a post entitled “Communist Icon Nelson Mandela Dead at 95“.
This was the path David Swindle (I originally misspelled Mr. Swindle’s name. I apologize and regret the error) of PJ Media went down.
Swindle apparently thinks the most important facts to consider upon Mandela’s death are stories of Mandela’s deeds as a member of the African National Congress’ armed resistance to South Africa’s apartheid regime. This choice is a stupid one.
Yes, many of the mainstream remembrances of Mandela will gloss over the man’s earlier years but that doesn’t give anyone licence to gloss over the much more important later years.
All people’s lives are complex and this is especially true of people who play on the largest stages of all. Their stories will be complex and often contradictory. Hacks will focus on either solely the existence of contradictions or ignore them entirely.
Yes, Mandela was a Communist who used violence in an attempt to overthrow one of the most vicious and ugly political regimes in history. The nature of the regime Mandela fought does not excuse the tactics he used but it does place them in context.
And context and appreciation for complexity are what Swindle piece is sorely lacking.
It’s hard to imagine that one could write a piece attacking others for leaving out important details of Mandela’s story while omitting the word “apartheid” in one’s own story.
Swindle includes a video of Mandela singing the ANC anthem which has lyrics that speak of killing white oppressors. Inconveniently, though plan for all to see, is that there are whites with Mandela singing the same words. It’s clear that the song has a specific cultural and political meaning in that context that Swindle either doesn’t understand or simply ignores.
This leads to the most glaring omission in Swindle’s telling of the story…if Nelson Mandela really wanted whites dead he could have had them killed by the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands. If Mandela really was simply a communist thug he would have done what communist thugs have done from day one…have their enemies rounded up and killed. He would have used the anger of his followers (in this case perfectly legitimate) and divided the country to rule unchecked by fear and force.
Like countless post-colonial African despots, Mandela could have bought off his supporters by stealing the resources of those he replaced to enrich himself and his followers. He could have done what almost all men who have nearly unlimited political power have done with it…kept it and ruthlessly used it.
But he didn’t.
In the end the story of Mandela is that he wasn’t like almost all men. He wasn’t perfect and he wasn’t without sin (almost no one in South Africa was). However, he changed and grew. When he lacked the power to change his country he used violent means to attempt to get it. But once he had the power, he eschewed violence. That is not the typical tale of history. He did not crush those who had crushed him and his people. Instead he recognized that no one would benefit from that and more to the point, it was morally reprehensible to him to do so.
Mandela was a complex and imperfect man but when he faced the choice of violence on an awesome scale, a violence he could have turned lose with a single sentence, he said no. He used the moral authority that had been invested in him not simply to sweep away a racist regime but also to control his former comrades, including his own wife, who wanted to change South Africa with blood.
That is the man the world rightly mourns the passing of.
The subheading of Swindle ’s piece includes a quote from Andrew Breitbart, ”Truth isn’t mean. It’s truth.” That’s absolutely right. The problem is Swindle’s piece isn’t the truth. It’s simply contrarian nonsense that lacks any appreciation for history, complexity and in the end, the truth.
So yes, let us remember that Mandela was a violent Communist in his early years. It only makes the transformation he underwent and what he was able to accomplish in his later years all the more remarkable.