Nelson Mandela is dead. Comments. Photos. Songs.


It feels strange to be sitting in a café in Berkeley, California on this day after Nelson Mandela's death. After having been living in South Africa for the last 4 years, I have become part of its society with my kids in its public schools, my work at their university, and I have learnt so much from its organizations in Cape Flats and Cape Town. It feels that my family and I should be there now, to share in sorrow, mourning and in the collective moment, which from here, although it is vibrating across the world, feels distant. 

I have called some friends and will continue doing so. I have also listened to Swedish Radio P1, SVT, Al Jazeera, BBC World, and South African based material from Mail & Guardian and SACSIS to somehow understand this moment on my own terms. I have collected things I have found and posted some of it here with my short comments and more might follow. Follows are some texts, clips, links and songs.

Part of a movement

As a leader that took South Africa into a democratic constitution without civil war, he was extraordinary, living as an example to his fellow citizens. Mandela's virtues and steadfast leadership, was based on a foundational belief in equality, a notion that travels across countries and peoples. We know his story as a great story, from the struggle years, as a lawyer with Oliver Tambo in Joburg, by starting ANC Youth League, the armed resistance and avoiding to get caught (The Black Pimpernel that was everywhere and nowhere, "Where is Mandela?"), and during his long prison time—"Free Mandela!; negotiation to a transition to democracy, as the first black president of South Africa; that he voluntary resigned as president after just one term; as an elderly respectful man.



In the short obituaries and speeches from several statesmen, from Obama to Cameron and Merkel, and Sweden's Prime Minister, the conservative Reinfeldt, all emphasize his personal choice of reconciliation—to leave 27 years of imprisonment and negotiate a settled transition with the ruling white elite. What is often forgotten is however the rebellious resolve to change the society of which he was part, and the social movement he was a part of, helped creating, and that created him. I here think about Göran Greider's biography of Olof Palme from two years back—Ingen kommer undan Olof Palme (Nobody walks past Olof Palme), 2011, Ordfront—captured this in Sweden [1]. Göran Greider writes that many other biographers of Olof Palme has tried to construct him as the statesman and prime minister only, disconnecting Palme from the radical and democratic socialist movement of which he was part, that shaped him, and that he helped to shape.

The Freedom Fighter, The Radical

In many speeches by international leaders, Nelson Mandela is prefigured as a leader with a personal resolve that took personal decisions—which he did—but less is said about the revolutionary movement that he belonged to, that shaped him, and that helped to shape him. So, although Barack Obama stated that neither we, the listeners, nor Madiba himself wanted to become a lifeless icon, this can still happen if in the writing of him into History, he is disconnected from the radical social movement of which he was part, that shaped him, and that he helped to shape; and a social movement that also, as many of my friends and activists I have met in Cape Town keep tell me, a social movement that was, and is larger then the African National Congress (ANC).

Other commentators have of course made the same observation, for instance Simon Hooper writing on Al Jazeera (excerpts):
As a global statesman of grace and humility, he was long courted by Western leaders drawn by his irresistible story of triumph over tyranny. Yet Mandela, who died on Dec. 5 at 95, was also a more radical and politically complex figure than has been commonly acknowledged by his admirers in the West. […]
For many who followed his life closely, that commitment to socialist values and instinctive solidarity with those he saw as fellow strugglers against oppression, colonialism and imperialism continued to burn strongly even in the years after his release from prison and the end of apartheid. 
Simon Hooper continues by quoting Peter Hain, a veteran anti-apartheid campaigner and friend of Mandela's:] 
"He was seen as a burly freedom fighter, learning how to shoot in Ethiopia and traveling to revolutionary Algeria and other countries while he was underground. We must never forget he was a freedom fighter." […] 
He also quotes Stephen Ellis, a professor of African history at Free University and the African Studies Center in the Netherlands:] 
"If you talk to many American liberals, they think Mandela was Martin Luther King," Ellis said. "If you say, 'No, Mandela started a guerrilla army, he was a communist, he did this, he did that,' they just don't get it. They don't know what you're talking about." []
At a banquet in 1998 honoring Yasser Arafat, the then-Palestinian president, Mandela said: "You come as a leader of a people who have shared with us the experience of struggle for justice. Now that we have achieved our freedom, we have not forgotten our friends and allies who helped us liberate ourselves." 
Ahmed Kathrada, a confidant of Mandela's during his years on Robben Island, says Mandela didn't become 'softer' in prison, but that forgiveness was always ANC policy, he says in this video interview by Al Jazeera.

How to write Mandela into history will be contested. What of his complex character and involvement in the long history of anti-colonial, anti-apartheid and socialist struggle will be reflected in school textbooks in five or ten years or twenty years?

From SACSIS, Mail and Guardian and other clippings

Regardless however, his passing has created a liberating space for bringing up a much broader conversation about him and the movement he was part of than what has been the case during the last ten years. The coverages by Al Jazeera above and BBC World below demonstrates this. Maybe the most well-written and well-balanced short report is by South African critique Richard Pithouse who teaches politics at Rhodes University and who writes for the always interesting SACSIS - South African Civil Society Information Service:


Richard Pithouse - In 1986, in the midst of the state of emergency, Asimbonanga, Johnny Clegg's exquisite song for Mandela, soared above the blood and teargas on the streets yearning for the day when "We cross the burning water". Mandela, the song seemed to suggest, could take us across the burning water. Mandela, Mandela the man, did come back from Robben Island. And while the sun didn't rise red on the day of his return and the dead didn't arise to make the world whole, time seemed to stand still as he returned to the embrace of a mass movement. There are critiques of how this delicate moment was handled. When history is examined at close quarters its messiness is painfully evident. But when it is examined over the longue duree, the larger picture comes into focus. With this lens, the lens that can see Makana, Nonqawuse and Mandela in one vista, it is clear that the wheel of history did turn in 1994 and that Mandela did take us across the burning water. (Read the full version here.)

Mail and Guardian, the SA weekly political magazine, has many good features and up-to-date reports. Here is one on how the crowd was the central character at the Madiba's memorial in Soweto. As many other news sources, also Mail and Guardian has created a way to follow Nelson Mandela's life history, and Mail and Guardian's page for this is good. Of particular interest is that they have digitized all their articles on Mandela since 1980. See for instance this one reporting on the rumors that Mandela will be released. Or even more interesting perhaps, this one when it was known that he would be released from jail, but the future was less certain—civil war, street-based revolution, transition? Mail and Guardian writes in 7 February 1986:
The spectre of Mandela haunts PW. That Nelson Mandela will soon be released from prison is common cause. Less certain is what effect this will have on the country. Anton Harber reports
Susan Sontag wrote in Mail and Guardian in 22 Aug 1986 (excerpt):
He has refused, more than once, a conditional release. He has said that he will not negotiate with his captors, since a prisoner, someone who is not free, cannot enter into contracts. […]
The few moral heroes -- and this man is a moral hero -- who become celebrated (as distinct from the many heroes who do not) do so under the pressure a historical need. The practice of singing out as exemplary one person -- specifically, one prisoner or victim -- illustrates the way in which all affections and attachments inevitably must become institutionalised, acquire titles, engender hierarchies, in order to have historical weight to be political. [] 
Unlike, say, Andrei Sakharov, another prisoner of great personal nobility, moral and political wisdom, purity and tenacity of principle, and world-wide renown, who (alas) does not represent the majority of his fellow citizens [] this man does represent the majority of people in his country. 
That is why he cannot be treated as a common political prisoner, hidden away, starved, beaten, humiliated, cut off from contacts with relatives and with the outside world. This man, in prison, receives (or refuses to receive) important visitors to his country, like the major political figure that he is. 
Tacit head of a political party which, although it plays no formal political role and has its headquarters in exile, already wields major power; de facto head-of-state, the president of a democratic country that does not yet exist but will exist, he is both a symbol, living in what is (given the present realities of his country) an aptly symbolic place, a prison, and a very real political force. 
Of course, it is the present undemocratic racist government which permits him this role -- as the British, even when they imprisoned Gandhi, were obliged to detain him under conditions that reflected his immense political power and moral influence, the power (that is the mounting ungovernability) of the vast community outside the prison which he continued to represent. But it was not always so for him.



The man who taught Mandela to be a soldier by Penny Dale, BBC Africa





From Al Jazeera:
From so-called 'terrorist' to icon, Nelson Mandela's complex legacy is one of struggle and triumph. Imprisoned 27 years for rebelling against South Africa's former apartheid regime, his activism inspired countless civil rights leaders and generations to come. He once said "non-violent passive resistance is effective as long as your opposition adheres to the same rules as you do." So, as the world celebrates the human rights icon, how will he be remembered? 


Al Jazeera's full coverage of Nelson Mandela is very good, as usual, and seems much better in bringing in the struggle years and the determination of ANC, PAC and others to fight apartheid.



Al Jazeera wrote on Obama's speech: "Speaking at Nelson Mandela's memorial service, President Obama reminded the world that Madiba was a real man, human and flawed, who once said, "I a€™m not a saint unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying." 

In contrast to the brief speech Barack Obama gave at the White House where he showed little punch and emotion, in the stadium in Soweto, he was with more energy:
In the arc of his life, we see a man who earned his place in history through struggle, and shrewdness, and persistence, and faith. He tells us what is possible, not just in the pages of history books but in our lives as well. Mandela showed us the power of action. Of taking risks on behalf of our ideals.

Mandela, ANC and the Left and Right Parties in Sweden

One of the first reactions from official Sweden on the death of Nelson Mandela was from the Swedish prime minister and conservative politician Fredrik Reinfeldt who gave an interview in Swedish television the day after Mandela died. Compared to the solemn but articulated speeches from other heads of state, Fredrik Reinfeldt seemed quite unprepared to comment on the death of Mandela. Quite starkingly, I felt, Reinfeldt never mentioned the long and intimate support that the Swedish state showed during decades of antiapartheid struggle. The Swedish state, then governed in large periods by the Social Democrats under in particular Olof Palme and later by Ingvar Carlsson gave in total some 2.5 billion SEK unconditionally to ANC, according to Pär Wästberg (see link to radio interview below). The former Social Democratic leader, and former prime minister of Sweden, Ingvar Carlsson, said recently in an interview: 
- Sverige ensamt gav mer pengar än Europas stora länder tillsammans. Sverige var den stora ekonomiska och moraliska bidragsgivaren i kampen mot apartheid. Det var han helt klar över, säger [Ingvar] Carlsson.
[In English] - Sweden alone gave more money than all the big countries of Europe together. Sweden was the big economic and moral contributor in the struggle against apartheid. He [Mandela] was absolutely clear about this, says [Ingvar] Carlsson.
Disregarding this historical relation that Sweden had with Mandela, ANC and the antiapartheid struggle, Reinfeldt kept returning in his TV interview to Mandela's personal choice to seek reconciliation after his long imprisonment, repeating this up to four times.

Another indication that our current Swedish prime minister Reinfeldt was never part of the antiapartheid movement, nor seems to have taken a great interest in it (he was born in the early 1970s), was that he was not sure, as he stated in the interview, whether Mandela's visit to Sweden in 1990 was Mandela's first visit to a foreign country outside Africa. Those interested in the antiapartheid struggle in Sweden would know that Mandela did indeed choose to visit Sweden as the first country outside Africa after his release from prison, partly to show his gratitude the country's long support, and to visit his old comrade Oliver Tambo who was sick and taken care of at a Swedish hospital. A short video can be viewed here as Mandela arrives at the airport of Arlanda in Stockholm greeted by antiapartheid activists (cannot be viewed outside Sweden, it seems).

Sweden transferred 2.5 billion SEK to ANC

The day after Mandela's death there was also an interesting radio show on Swedish Radio P1 with guests and interviews. On the question of why so many in Sweden were involved in the movement to end apartheid in South Africa, Pär Wästberg, author and antiapartheid activist and friend with for instance Nadine Gordimer  [here and here], meant that the many grassroots organizations, including ISAK (Isolate South Africa Committee) were created throughout Swedish society to spread the will and means to mobilize. To this he added the support by established parties, the Liberal Party, the Left Wing Communist Party (later renamed as the Left Wing Party) and the Social Democrats—all parties except one, as stated by Ingvar Carlsson in his TV interview. In particular Olof Palme's strong support was important. He mentioned that Sweden transferred in total 2.5 billion Swedish krona (SEK) to the ANC to support the struggle against apartheid. This was channeled to fund lawyers getting people out of sentences and death penalties in South Africa, for instance by Swedish secret couriers like Magnus Walan, now working for DIAKONIA. The funds seems generally to not have been conditioned, but could be used to what ANC deemed necessary. 

The radio program also discussed how the conservative party Moderaterna during the 1980s had internal debates whether to support a boycott of the South African apartheid state or not. The then party leader Ulf Adelsohn, while he himself supported a boycott, emphasized that the debate was whether a boycott was effective or not. Carl Bildt, Sweden's current foreign minister and earlier prime minister lead a proposition in parliament to stop economic boycott against South Africa. Mikael Wiehe, who as an artist during this time mobilized to create big concerts to gather economic support of the antiapartheid movement, said that the conservative party was afraid that Swedish companies would loose out business, something Ulf Adelsohn did not agree with. The program also contained a short speech by Olof Palme at the support conference of the antiapartheid movement. 

The Swedish Social Democrats had a close relation to the antiapartheid struggle and ANC. In the same TV-studio as the one in which Reinfeldt was interviewed, the then leader of the Social Democrats, Ingvar Carlsson, who took over after that Olof Palme was murdered in 1986, tells of his memories in this video clip when he met Mandela as he visited Sweden for the first time after his release. Ingvar Carlsson states in this article from TT: (and in this TV interview
- Jag minns när jag träffade honom första gången. Lång, ståtlig och med sina varma ögon sade han att i dag är det många som vill vara våra vänner och det är vi glada för. Men vi glömmer aldrig dem som var våra vänner när vi hade det svårt. Och dit hör Sverige och dit hör Olof Palme.
[In English] - I remember the first time I met him [Nelson Mandela]. Long, handsome and with his warm eyes, he said that today [1990] there are many who want to be our friends and we are happy for that. But we never forget those that were our friends when times were bad. And to them belongs Sweden, and to them belongs Olof Palme. 
Following up on how the conservative party Moderaterna handled the ANC and their liberation struggle, listen (in Swedish) to this tense dialogue in Swedish Radio between the The Left's Lars Ohly (vp) and the Conservative Gunnar Hökmark (m). In particular the latter makes the case that Mandela should be viewed as separated from ANC, trying to make the case that it was ANC that was for violence, and that it was Mandela that was for reconciliation and negoitation. The former Ohly argues instead that Mandela, to take one example, refused to leave prison on condition that ANC should lay down their weapons, and this up to the very last years of his imprisonment. Ohly says that the conservative Hökmark is trying to re-write the history of how apartheid was defeated to avoid discussing his own party's relation to the liberation struggle in South Africa. While the Social Democrats and Left Wing Party openly supported ANC with statements and resources, the conservative party in Sweden with their internal debates and statements behaved differently during the 1980s, for instance calling ANC and Mandela terrorists and that no Swedish public money should be given to ANC. There will most certainly me more debates around this in Sweden.

See also this short documentary report about the life of Mandel from "radical youth to eternal icon of freedom on Swedish Television.

Listen to Pär Wästberg telling about his memories about Nelson Mandela on Swedish Radio. He tells about how Nelson Mandela, in 1962 and after that ANC had been forbidden, appeared in disguise at the headquarters of an antiapartheid organization in London. Mandela described ANC's situation and asked if ANC could still count on the support for lawyers, schooling of children of comrades in hiding etc., in spite that they now would need to use moderated levels of violence in their struggle, not against persons but against infrastructure of the state, such as electricity lines and power transmission points. The answer was yes, although Amnesty International said no, while their sister organization Swedish Amnesty continued their support for ANC. Shortly after this meeting in London, Mandela and his comrades were caught and the Rivonia trials started where Mandela stated that he would like to live for the changes his movement is seeking—freedom for black and white—but that he was also prepared to die for this principle of equality (film clip with actor). Wästberg also narrates how Mandela refused to be released from prison on the condition that he would condemn the violence that ANC launched against the apartheid state. Wästberg concludes with summing up that when released, Mandela never sought revenge—and never uttered revenge in private or in public. That his leadership was based on transparency. That "he placed truth before power."

Other clippings

From BBC World, on Mandela as "Destroyer of Apartheid"
From BBC WorldNelson Mandela: Six things you didn’t know


Rules of The Apartheid

Al Jazeera gives an effective overview of the Rules of The Apartheid, which were well-know to the world.
- 1949 - Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act
- 1950 - Suppression of Communism Act
- 1952 - Natives (Abolition of Passes and Coordination of Documents) Act
- 1959 - Extension of University Education Act
- 1970 - Bantu Homelands Citizens Act
There are several more acts. One that should have been included perhaps was
The Group Areas Act, 1950 was promulgated on 7 July 1950 that subdivided urban areas and decided where racially classified people were allowed, and not allowed to live. 


Asimbonanga




A well-balanced report from BBC World from Afrikaaner heartland on the mourning of Nelson Mandela: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-25308823











[1] On Göran Greider's Palme-bok: Read this ambiguous review by Håkan Arvidsson on Swedish conservative SvD, who seems to be grasping for the word dialectic, but never founds it, in trying to put his finger if he likes the book or not. See also Karin Pettersson's DN review.

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