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Mandela --- Terrorist or Saint?
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The “Black Jesus.” That’s what the late Nelson Mandela was called by many South Africans, who greeted his death last week with intense national mourning.

Mandela was a great man, and great leader. But he was no Jesus. I rather call him “mahatma,” meaning great spirit, the Hindu title conferred upon Gandhi.

Like Gandhi, Mandela, at least in his later years, was a combination of saintly, non-violent national leader and wily politician.

Having covered South Africa, and the bush wars in Southwest Africa (today’s Namibia), and Angola during the 1980’s, let me add my thoughts about Nelson Mandela.

I came very close to securing an interview with him while he was still in prison, but it was cancelled on the last minute. White-ruled South Africa was in a state of intense, nervous transition at the time – what the French call fin du regime – as the old apartheid order crumbled.

Contrary to popular belief, Mandela did not overthrow the apartheid system. A combination of fierce pressure and much violence from the African National Congress and Communist Party, foreign economic and military sanctions, and the fear of invasion by Cuban and East Bloc troops from Angola finally did in the white regime.

South Africa’s Boers, whose ancestors came to the Cape from Flanders in the 1600’s, wanted to fight on. But the nation’s English-speaking Anglos did not; many fled. Ironically, South Africa’s Boers had been there longer than the other two major tribes, the Xhosa and Zulu, both of whose ancestors had emigrated from the north. The Zulu had wiped out other local tribes in the notorious Mfakane massacres.

During the 1980’s, Mandela was both number two at the African National Congress and a senior leader of its ally, the Communist Party. Mandela also headed up the Umkhonto we Sizwe or Spear of the Nation, the violent fighting arm of the ANC. He was a hereditary prince of the Xhosa people.

In those days, the US and Britain branded Mandela and the ANC as “terrorists.” White civilians were killed, restaurants and bars bombed. I joined a special South African unit up on the Limpopo River trying to protect isolated, elderly white farmers from being murdered by gangs of ANC gunmen.

In fact, most of the ANC’s white victims were civilians. Hundreds of blacks accused of collaboration with the government were “necklaced” (burned to death by having gasoline-filled tires put around their necks). It was your typically brutal, dirty revolutionary war, the kind I’d covered in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Amazingly, Mandela remained on the notorious US terrorist black list until 2008. Today, America’s hard right and neoconservatives still call Mandela a terrorist for having called Israel a “colonialist apartheid state” and human rights violator. Mandela hailed Libya’s Muammar Khadaffi and Palestine’s Yasser Arafat as liberators.


As a result, Israel’s current rightwing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, boycotted Mandela’s funeral and unleashed his North American attack dogs on the memory of the great South African. Israel and apartheid South Africa were very close allies. Israel supplied Pretoria arms, US political support, and nuclear technology.

Remember others who brought peace to South Africa: the last white leader, F.W. deKlerk, a man of wisdom who read the writing on the wall. Zulu Chief Mangusutu Buthelezi who, with Mandela, prevented a Zulu-Xhosa conflict, and Foreign Minister Pik Botha. Their combined efforts resulted in a smooth transition to majority rule and allowed the whites to retreat with honor.

Most revolutions rarely produce happy outcomes. The ANC became all-powerful, a one-party government riddled with corruption and malfeasance. Crime has run rampant in post apartheid South Africa.

Many white farmers have been terrorized off their land by black gangs; white emigration continues to be high. Under white rule, South Africa accounted for almost half of Africa’s economic output; today, its economy is sagging, driven by the fall in gold and mineral prices.

The current ANC leader, President Jacob Zuma, was roundly booed at Mandela’s funeral. Which proves my dictum that every people has the basic right to be misruled by their own kind.

Compared to today’s world leaders, Mandela does looks like a saint. He was wise enough to serve only one term before failing health and grubby politics tarnished his renown. His memory will shine on.

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Nelson Mandela, South Africa 
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  1. Quite succinctly written, in my opinion as a white South African who lives in hope of not being forced to leave the country of my birth. Mandela could have very easily called for anarchy upon his release from prison; peace in South Africa was dangling by threads and the manner in which that specific part of history was handled by Mandela and other politicians ensured, albeit a narrow, escape, for which most South Africans will be forever grateful. Unfortunately South Africa seems to follow in the footsteps of most African countries – Africa’s more recent history is sadly not of vast economic improvement. Regardless, us remaining white South Africans love our country, come what may.

  2. NB says: • Website

    Misleading and erroneous statements in Margolis’ piece:

    Nelson Mandela did not call Israel an apartheid state:’s-legacy-109375

    The claim that Israel supplied Pretoria with nuclear technology is controversial:

    Netanyahu did not “boycott” Mandela’s funeral any more than Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan:
    Neither Netanyahu nor Erdogan attended Mandela’s funeral; neither did so as an act of protest, which the term “boycott” implies. Lower level representatives of both governments attended Mandela’s funeral. Interesting that Netanyahu’s absence provoked an international outcry but not Erdogan’s.

  3. Judith says:

    As another white South African I want to echo Jacqueline’s comment above. It is very seldom that one reads something in the international media that even attempts to provide a snippet of the complexity of what has happened and is happening in South Africa, especially regarding the Mandela legacy.

    Just a quibble; stating that the Boers were wanting to ‘fight on’ to maintain Apartheid while the English-speaking whites did not is a gross simplification, especially since the Boers are specifically defined here as descendants of the Dutch settlers. Those descendants would be the Afrikaners, only a minority of which would refer to themselves as Boers.

    The article’s conflation of Boers with Afrikaners perpetuates the simplification that Afrikaans speaking whites brought Apartheid on South Africa and the English speaking whites fought against the system every step of the way. Not so black and white (so to speak).

    For every English speaking South African that returned to queen and country in protest against Apartheid, one heck of a lot stayed behind to enjoy the favours the system brought them.

    The first political act I was able to participate in was to vote for the abolition of Apartheid in the country’s last white referendum – me and the great majority of other Afrikaners. Not only did the general Afrikaans community accept that the writing was on the wall, but our leadership – in the persons of Pik and FW as mentioned in the article – took initiative in the negotiating the handover of power.

    Apartheid was instituted and maintained by both white communities of South Africa, and it was dismantled when both realized the system was unsustainable and immoral.

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