I’m reading and hearing people criticize the President of the United States attending the funeral of Nelson Mandela. The reasons for the criticism are varied but usually center around these two main points. Our President failed to attend the funeral of Margaret Thatcher or recognize in a public way her contribution to the United Kingdom and the United States. The next objection I see is the association the ANC and specifically the relationship Nelson Mandela had with Fidel Castro as well as ties to the Soviet Union. Furthermore the ANC were trained by members of the IRA.
OK I understand all that, but can those which find the policies of President Obama so disturbing, collectively pause for a moment and attempt to understand some of the whys and wherefore’s. Point one, I believe President Obama made a serious error in judgment by not attending the funeral for Margaret Thatcher. I don’t make excuses or try to rationalize what happened. The end result is a continuing erosion in his image because many see it as a snub based on a leftist ideology which clearly Margaret Thatcher represented as an absolute polar opposite. It may not have been for that reason but for the President to completely miss the opportunity to live up to the image of statesman, healer of great divides, etc. it was a significant public error and a partial humiliation for us in the world.
Let’s step away from focusing on President Obama for the moment and look at who Mandela was and why his leadership was so extraordinary. Hold on to your possible ideology of disagreement for a moment and try to face the situation Nelson Mandela lived through. Put yourself in his position if you can by thinking about the times when you were perhaps cruelly treated. Oh, maybe you never have been, so this becomes a lost exercise.
For those of you that can empathize, imagine you’ve been living in a time and place where even though you are part of the majority population you’re not participating in any leadership roles. You don’t get a vote and you’re harassed and hounded by civil and military authorities on a whim. Just by having a skin color different from those in the ruling class you can be treated as a despised animal, unworthy of affection, compassion or understanding. Furthermore, because you have the temerity of not liking your conditions, you seek an alliance with anyone that can help advance your cause and allow you to be treated as an equal. The results of your disdain for being treated badly, not just as an individual, but an entire race, you seek to oppose and destroy that which seeks to destroy you, and ultimately you’re imprisoned for almost 30 years because you’re not desirous of being treated like dirt.
Maybe this is all too much to imagine and appreciate the many problems Mandela and the native African population faced. Beaten, imprisoned and humiliated were all part of the problems inside of South Africa and the United States essentially aligned itself and supported those who oppressed you. Is it any wonder that Nelson Mandela and the ANC would find comfort in the alliance of other national leaders who willing supported their cause? Leaders from Cuba, Russia and the IRA all saw common cause with your need to get free of the conditions you lived in. This is the tragic error which some in the United States have yet to come to grips with and consider what he did with his freedom. Once he was released and the shift in power took place within South Africa, it would have been very easy to seek retribution and create a monumental civil war. When Nelson Mandela became President he appointed leaders of the opposing and avowed racist party. He didn’t advocate revenge but sought for ways to bridge a gap and heal a nation.
Was Nelson Mandela a perfect leader or human being? The answer is of course not, but he came a lot closer to the ideology many religious leaders espouse and so often fail at, that of forgiveness, kindness and healing open wounds. No matter how you look at it, President Obama didn’t have the same experience as a person, but as a representative of the United States and Nobel Peace prize winner, maybe this is what’s needed on the world stage. Somehow, despite our differences, we do need to come together and work through our problems, real or imagined and become a people who at least Mandela attempted to move toward through reconciliation and peace. And yes, I’m aware of the racial backlash against whites that have occurred but knowing full well, Nelson Mandela wasn’t an advocate for this violence even though it would have been very easy to succumb to once he was President.
Let’s pause for a moment, rise above our personal bias, ideology and pride and be thankful; although ever so rarely, people like Nelson Mandela walked the earth and cared more about others than just himself.
- Watch Obama’s powerful eulogy for Nelson Mandela (trentonian.com)
- Lincoln Mitchell: A Closer Look at Reactionary Posthumous Attacks on Nelson Mandela (huffingtonpost.com)
- When Nelson Mandela met Margaret Thatcher (telegraph.co.uk)
- Margaret Thatcher branded ANC ‘terrorist’ while urging Nelson Mandela’s release (independent.co.uk)
- Nelson Mandela funeral: President Obama’s full speech – BBC News (bbc.co.uk)