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LEON: 'Madiba' a Principled Warrior and Revolutionary

Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III | 12/11/2013, 3 p.m.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela has passed. The world has lost another point on its compass of morality.
Nelson Mandela

Former South African President Nelson Mandela has passed. The world has lost another point on its compass of morality.

The dominant narrative is of a docile and passive man. A man, who, according to President Obama’s remarks, “we draw strength from the example of renewal and reconciliation and resilience that you (Mandela) made real.” What is missing from this narrative is the reality of the warrior, the revolutionary.

The African National Congress (ANC) took up arms against the South African Government in 1961. According to the HYPERLINK "http://www.anc.org.za/show.php?id=206" ANC, “The massacre of peaceful protestors and the subsequent banning of the ANC made it clear that peaceful protest alone would not force the regime to change. The ANC went underground and continued to organize secretly. Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) was formed to “hit back by all means within our power in defence of our people, our future and our freedom. In 18 months MK carried out 200 acts of sabotage.” Nelson Mandela was involved in the armed struggle to free his people, his country from the grip of white supremacist rule. That is why he faced the death by hanging and was sentenced to life in prison.

It’s imperative that as we honor Madiba we don’t lose sight of the fact that his struggle, the ANC’s struggle, the struggle for liberty and human rights in South Africa and for people of color all over the world has and continues to take place within the larger context of the global system of white supremacy. That’s why for example when you read President Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he said, that he was mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago - "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones…I know there is nothing weak -nothing passive - nothing naïve - in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King. But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone.” He was speaking as the President of the most powerful military imperial hegemon in the world. The not so subtle undertone of that passage is that even as the first African American president he was swearing to use all of the military force he commands in order to defend and protect “US interests” any place he deems necessary.

Notice also, that during that speech, Mr. Mandela’s name was only mentioned once, almost in passing. “Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize - Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela - my accomplishments are slight.” Why? Because Nelson Mandela was a true revolutionary, a freedom fighter and president Obama could never align himself with that part of Mr. Mandela’s reality.

It’s a great thing that Nelson Mandela became the first Black African democratically elected president of South Africa. This must also be put into context. He was not a perfect president. Many will argue that he cut a bad deal. That is not for me to judge.