Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela: black or white?

That's not such a stupid question. It's worth considering now that he is finally at rest, after such a long time with death hovering at his elbow (this photo of a life-size beaded statue of him was taken at Johannesburg airport way back in September, while he was at home elsewhere in the city after nearly dying in hospital). Not everybody in South Africa is a total fan, I was surprised to learn while I was there.

Although I wasn't living in New Zealand in 1981 when the Springbok rugby tour was on, it was well reported in England and I watched the news in astonishment, seeing my peaceful country torn in two with protests, riots and bloodshed. If I had been there, I would have been one of the protesters, marching against the Rugby Union's self-centred, tunnel-visioned, denialist and stubborn refusal to admit that inviting the Springboks to tour was to support apartheid. I would have been cheering when the Hamilton game was cancelled. And I would have been amongst those chanting "Mandela! Mandela!"

When he was released from prison after that incredible 27 years - twenty-seven years! - I was delighted, and in 1994 when he was elected I was thrilled. It was all black or white to me. But when I went to South Africa this year I met lovely, educated, enlightened, generous people who, while they acknowledged what Mandela had done for their country and his countrymen, have not forgotten that the ANC that he led was a terrorist organisation, responsible for the deaths of innocent people, and that he had co-operated with dictators. They regret that their current government is self-serving and corrupt, and that their children - white, expensively educated because public education standards are worse today for all children (as I saw for myself) than back in apartheid days - are now a near-unemployable underclass.

Mandela himself never claimed to be a saint. He did great things, and made a huge difference, and South Africa is the better for his actions - but he's neither black nor white, and the country still has a long way to go. If I hadn't travelled there, I wouldn't know that. Consider my mind broadened. Is yours?

1 comment:

Brett Atkinson said...

That was certainly our experience talking to people in SA too - much more nuanced piece from The Economist in this morning's Herald - how was Megan's course?

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