As journalists and pundits begin framing Nelson Mandela’s life and deciding how he will be remembered, many, if not most, have omitted Mandela’s willingness to employ whatever tools were available to free black South Africans from apartheid. In America’s Civil Rights struggle, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. embraced nonviolence as his tool of choice against racist segregationists. Nelson Mandela was not Dr. King.
“Nonviolence is a good policy when the conditions permit,” Mandela once said. And in the aftermath of Mandela’s death, various rewritings of Mandela’s life have caused Dr. Cornel West to warn against what he calls the “Santa Claus-ification” of the South African leader.
Appearing on CNN, Dr. West called Mandela a “spiritual giant, moral titan and political revolutionary,” but then went on to say that we are all witnessing the “Santa Claus-ification” of his legacy. “We turn the revolutionary into an old man — a huggable old man with toys and a bag, smile on his face, no threat to anybody, domesticated, tame. And no longer really full of the fire,” West explained to host Jake Tapper.
West went on to describe Mandela up until the time of his death as having “militant tenderness and subversive sweetness and radical gentleness, tied to refusing to be fearful or intimidated in the face of a vicious white supremacist apartheid regime.”
“I started to make a study of the art of war and revolution and, whilst abroad, underwent a course in military training. If there was to be guerrilla warfare, I wanted to be able to stand and fight with my people and to share the hazards of war with them,” said Mandela. It is this Mandela that the rewriters of history are attempting to ignore.
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