By Luke Tripp
Nelson Mandela is an authentic historical hero of the highest order. One irony is that his oppressive racist enemies, who now hypocritically praise him at the time of his death, validate his hero status as a champion of human rights.
Leading the hypocrisy parade is the government of the United States. The U.S. officially considered Mandela a terrorist and kept his name on the U.S. terrorism watch list until 2008. Many living members of the ANC are still on the United States terrorists list.
A few weeks ago, Tokyo Sexwale, who was a leading member of the ANC and former cabinet minister in the South African government under the ANC, was detained when he arrived in the United States in an airport because his name still remains on the “terrorists list.”
Furthermore, both the State and Defense departments labeled Mandela’s political party, the African National Congress, a terrorist group. The Central Intelligence Agency of the United States worked with the Apartheid South African government to disrupt and destroy anti-Apartheid groups and capture Nelson Mandela.
According to a 1990 Johannesburg Sunday Times newspaper account, Millard Shirley, a CIA agent, fingered Mandela for the Apartheid regime’s secret police, allowing them to throw up a roadblock and capture him on Aug. 5, 1962 in Natal province while disguised as chauffeur after 17 months evading police. Like its White racist ally in Africa, the U.S. government, under its COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program), targeted anti-racist freedom fighters in America, including Martin Luther King, Jr.
Mandela’s values: truth and reconciliation
Nelson’s extraordinary greatness can be attributed to his political wisdom. Like many other freedom fighters, he was dedicated to the vision of a multiracial society and the struggle to establish a new nation based on the principles of racial equality and democratic values. Through his demonstrated total commitment to the struggle for human rights, he was able to embody the spirit, dignity, energy and moral authority of the worldwide anti-Apartheid movement. The White Apartheid government attempted many times to co-opt him.
On a number of occasions, South African President P.W. Botha had offered Nelson Mandela freedom from prison if he would only renounce terrorist violence. This Mandela refused to do. He had a strong sense of his own dignity; therefore, he would not accept bribes or special material comforts. He understood his symbolic role as a leader of a liberation movement and that unprincipled compromises would diminish his social power and stature as a trusted leader.
Universal humanitarian hero
When Mandela was democratically elected president of South Africa in 1994, he pursued a policy of truth and reconciliation. Rather than seeking revenge against White people for their cruelty and crimes against humanity, which would only perpetuate a cycle of violence, he understood and believed that the multiracial nation he wanted to build could only be constructed on the principles of truth and reconciliation.
In sum, he symbolizes the essence of a human rights fighter whose core value is respect for the human dignity of every person. Mandela deserves the unprecedented universal praise of the world.
Dr. Luke Tripp is interim chair and professor in the department of ethnic and women’s studies at St. Cloud State University.