It has been said that one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. No statement more accurately describes Nelson Mandela.
Mandela began his career as an activist by non-violently demonstrating against South African apartheid. When the white South African government responded with exceptional brutality, Mandela and his followers reluctantly turned to terrorism. But rather than kill people, their intent was to blow up buildings in order to make a statement and disrupt the government.That led to Mandela being tried for conspiracy to overthrow the government and being sentenced to life in jail. With most of the world supporting sanctions against South Africa and, with Mandela as a symbol for freedom, the government was eventually forced to release Mandela and apartheid finally came to an end.
Yet Mandela’s political career was just beginning.
Having won freedom for himself and his people, Mandela directed his energies toward healing the wounds of apartheid. He was elected president of South Africa and, rather than seeking retribution for the crimes of the previous government, Mandela promoted national unity. Is it any wonder, then, that Nelson Mandela is now celebrated by most of the world?
That was not always the case.
Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Richard “The Dick” Cheney and other conservatives considered Mandela a terrorist and placed him on the terrorist watch list. Although Reagan publicly spoke against apartheid, he vetoed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986. His veto was over-ridden by Congress. But Reagan defiantly refused to implement many of the sanctions against the South African apartheid government, and Mandela was kept on the US terrorist list until July of 2008.
None of this should come as a surprise to anyone who follows today’s GOP.
Since implementation of the Southern Strategy beginning in the late 1960’s, the GOP has almost completely rejected its glorious past as the party of emancipation, consistently coming down on the wrong side of history. The GOP refuses to vote for comprehensive immigration reform. It has fought against gay rights and gay marriage. It has relentlessly attacked a woman’s right to make medical choices regarding her own body. Republican legislatures have pushed through unnecessary voter ID laws in order to restrict the voting rights of minorities.
Despite Mandela’s victory over discrimination, despite his Nobel Peace Prize, despite worldwide acclaim and despite the sorrow so eloquently expressed by people the world over, even now, some in the GOP refuse to acknowledge his greatness simply because Mandela believed in economic equality as well as racial equality. That made Mandela a communist and a danger to the wealthy and the powerful, a claim that defacto GOP leader, Rush Limbaugh, recently leveled against Pope Francis.
The fact is, Nelson Mandela fought the good fight. He helped to liberate tens of thousands of people. He inspired millions more. We should all strive to do even half as much. Most especially those in the GOP.
“Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity.” – Nelson Mandela