Nelson Mandela and the Real World

10 Dec

The real world is a messy place.

One funny example of that comes, if I recall correctly, from a newspaper article comparing two bosses; one caring and sensitive to his people, the other outrageously domineering and bossy. The article closed by asking which one the reader would prefer to work for – and then noted that the former was Hitler and the latter was Churchill. It’s horrifying to realise, somehow, that Hitler was perfectly capable of petting the dog. It certainly doesn’t jibe with our conception of Hitler as ultimate evil.

I mention this because, in the days since Nelson Mandela passed away, there have been two streams of thought on the internet. One says that Mandela was a saint, to all intents and purposes, the man who liberated millions from the tyranny of apartheid. The other says that Mandela was a communist, a terrorist, a fool and worse. These streams of thought seem mutually contradictory. How can a terrorist be a saint?

But I look at them and wonder … why can’t they both be true?

I have yet to hear about an icon who didn’t have feet of clay. Take a look at history’s heroes and heroines, or the men and women elevated to sainthood by the MSM, and ask yourself – do these people have feet of clay? JFK was a womaniser, Princess Diana was a prima donna, Ghandi was a hopeless dreamer, Lincoln a micromanager, George Washington kept slaves … I honestly doubt that there is a single icon who doesn’t have feet of clay.

These people are human. They are not gods or demons. They are as flawed and vulnerable as everyone else. Their successes come in spite of their problems, not because those problems don’t exist.

Frankly, the MSM does no one any favours by elevating certain people to sainthood and slamming others, based on political judgements. Obama, for example, was lauded by the media, which chose to largely overlook most of his flaws. The net result of this failure is to create greater disappointment and disillusionment when the facade finally falls apart.

This also leads to poor understanding of real world limitations. Mandela, for better or worse, fought against a tyranny that oppressed people based on the colour of their skin. By any standards, apartheid South Africa was a thoroughly unpleasant place to live. Can black South Africans be reasonably blamed for fighting a system that left them unable to climb to the top? Does that make them terrorists because innocent people were caught up in the fighting? Or are they communists because the Communist Bloc was often the only power willing to support the blacks?

Communism – certainly Russian/Chinese Communism – does not spread to stable and prosperous countries that offer opportunities to their citizens. It spreads to countries where there is no hope for the downtrodden, save through violent revolt, and provides an ideological framework for resistance against the authorities. Communism’s spread through Africa and Latin America was greatly abetted by the simple fact that most regimes were thoroughly unpleasant. The fact that these regimes were often American allies merely added anti-Americanism to a poisonous stew. Outside support for dictatorships often resulted in the dictators being replaced by leaders who were passionately anti-American. This pattern, to some extent, repeats itself with Islamism. Drowning men will clutch at any straws. Communism and Islamism are lethal – but, to the people on the ground, they may seem better than the alternative.

Like I said, the real world is a messy place.

Nelson Mandela, like all of us, is a mixed bag. He successfully negotiated an end to the Apartheid regime, then prevented mass reprisals afterwards that would have provoked a bloody civil war and destroyed South Africa’s chances of rebuilding itself. On the other hand, he was tainted by bloodshed in the struggle and was unable to prevent the ANC’s progress towards a monolith party. South Africa’s future remains undetermined.

He was human. Not a god or a demon. We should not expect the superhuman – or be disappointed when we don’t receive it.

3 Responses to “Nelson Mandela and the Real World”

  1. Woody December 10, 2013 at 10:43 pm #

    “It’s my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of him was one kind of sommbitch or another.” – Captain Malcolm Reynolds, “Firefly”

  2. Bob Walters December 14, 2013 at 7:40 pm #

    Chris again I am impressed. I expected the knee jerk terrorist response usually seen from the right it is good to see you have a more open mind. People tend to forget that most of the American founding fathers would have been considered terrorists by the established countries of their day.

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