Friday, December 6, 2013

Mandela: Man and Myth

People all around the word love stories. Stories inspire us, entertain us, and teach us. The Greeks called them mythoi, and it is from this word that our English word myth is derived. Our use of the word myth has been largely shaped by positivistic thinking. The positivists believed that human thought evolved from an understanding of the world that is primitive and false to an understanding of the world that is advanced and true through stages of myth, theology/metaphysics, and science. Thus, today, we usually use the word myth in one of two ways. In ordinary conversation we use it to mean a story that is or has been believed to be true but is not actually true. There is a more technical use of the word in which it means a story shared by a large number of people who collectively find some deeper significance and meaning in the story that helps them to make sense of the world, their place in it, and how they ought to live their lives. This is how the word myth is used by various sorts of social scientists and critics.

Around the world today, many people are mourning the death of a man around whom a contemporary myth, in the second technical sense of the word, has been built.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, was born into the leading clan of the Thembu people in South Africa, on July 18th, 1918. On Thursday, December 5th, 2013, he passed away from a lung infection at ninety-five years of age. Much of the life he lived between those two dates is, for better or worse, a significant part of the history of the second half of the twentieth century. Like many who study and practice law, he was attracted to politics as a young man, and in particular the politics of the African National Congress. The ANC was a party founded a few years before Mandela’s birth that was Marxist-socialist in ideology and which was organized to be the voice and champion of the black African population of South Africa. The young Mandela became an activist for the ANC and in 1961 he was one of the founders and the first leader of the Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), an affiliate of the ANC that sought to obtain the party’s ends through guerilla warfare. Arrested the following year, on a charge of inciting strikes, he was later charged on several accounts of sabotage and conspiracy, and sentenced to prison. He would remain a prisoner until 1990, the bulk of his sentence being served at Robben Island, after which he was moved to Pollsmoor Prison and then briefly to Victor Verster from which he was released. After his release, he was made leader of the ANC and in 1994 became President of South Africa when the ANC won that first post-apartheid election. His party has remained in power in South Africa ever since, although he resigned the presidency and the leadership of the party in 1999.

Having briefly summarized the life of Mandela the man in the previous paragraph, let us now turn our attention to Mandela the myth. The first part of the myth has to do with his pre-1994 days as an ANC activist and a prisoner. According to this part of the myth, Mandela was guided by strict moral principles as he fought for a noble cause, and is arrest and imprisonment at the hands of the South African regime had nothing to do with any wrongdoing of his own, but was a politically motivated act of injustice, which so outraged people around the world that it inspired them to take up the anti-apartheid cause and demand both his release and a change to South Africa’s policies.

The second part of the myth has to do with his actions during and after his rise to power in 1994. According to this part of the myth, Mandela was a gracious and forgiving man, who was determined to heal the divisions in his country and create racial unity, and so he insisted upon a policy of fairness and forgiveness towards South African whites and imposed this policy upon those members of his party that wished to seek revenge against the whites until they came around to see the wisdom of his ways, and so created a paradise on earth.

The myth of Mandela is a myth in the sense that it is a story, shared and believed by people around the world, to which a kind of sacred meaning has been attached. The meaning of the myth is that racism can be defeated, that people can overcome the boundaries that divide them, and unite in a harmonious, post-racial, world.

Is the myth of Mandela also a myth in the sense of a story that while widely believed is untrue?

Ordinarily, I would not consider appropriate to ask this question when the man behind the myth is newly deceased. Chilon of Sparta’s maxim, de mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est (1), “of the dead, speak nothing but good”, is social protocol that has the authority of prescription and tradition behind it, as well as common sense and common courtesy to those who are in their period of mourning. It should also be taken into consideration, whenever one sets out to debunk a myth, whether debunking the myth might actually do harm when the myth accomplished some good. In John Ford’s 1962 film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, after the funeral of John Wayne’s character Tom Doniphan, Jimmy Stewart’s character Ranse Stoddard, who had risen in politics to become an American Senator on the basis of the belief that he had shot down Lee Marvin’s villainous Liberty Valance, reveals out of guilt, that it was actually Doniphan that shot Valance. After telling the story, the journalist to whom he is speaking declines to report it, saying “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

In this case, the myth is a pernicious one that both cloaks and feeds a tremendous evil and so it must be debunked. The evil to which I refer is the evil of genocide – the genocide of white South Africans.

Perhaps you are unaware that such genocide is taking place at this very moment. It receives little to no media attention. The Holocaust, which ended almost seventy years ago, is constantly discussed. Occasionally the Holodomor, the Soviet-made famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in the early 1930’s, will receive mention. Sometimes the Turkish genocide of the Armenians is discussed. In the 1990’s, the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda was headline news. Only a handful of brave writers ever mention the genocide of the white South Africans however.

Yet it is happening nonetheless. In the nineteen years since it took power, the African National Congress has slowly been recreating the horrors of the former Rhodesia after Robert Mugabe turned it into Zimbabwe. White farmers in particular, have been targeted for extermination and they live in terror of the gangs of thugs going around the countryside murdering them. One of the few mainstream media commentators to report on this, the BBCs John Simpson, wrote earlier this year:

There used to be 60,000 white farmers in South Africa. In 20 years that number has halved. (2)

While some of that reduction in number is to be attributed to white farmers fleeing the country in fear, murders take place on a daily basis. There have been at least 3,000 murders and they have been conducted in a particularly brutal manner, often with rape and torture thrown in. Last year, Leon Parkin and Dr. Gregory H. Stanton of Genocide Watch reported:

The South African Government for the last 18 years has adopted a policy of deliberate government abolition and disarmament of rural Commandos run by farmers themselves for their own self-defense. The policy has resulted in a four-fold increase in the murder rate of Afrikaner commercial farmers. This policy is aimed at forced displacement through terror. It advances the goals of the South African Communist Party’s New Democratic Revolution (NPR), which aims at nationalization of all private farmland, mines, and industry in South Africa. Disarmament, coupled with Government removal of security structures to protect the White victim group, follows public dehumanization of the victims, and facilitates their forced displacement and gradual genocide. (3)

It would appear that Mandela’s “Rainbow Nation” is not such a post-racial paradise after all.

There are, of course, many who would say that this is a matter of what goes around comes around, and that the white South Africans had this coming because of the way they oppressed black South Africans in the past. Usually those who think in this bloodthirsty, vengeful, way about an entire race of people are the same people who consider themselves to be too forward thinking and enlightened to believe in such things as the retributive model of justice for individual criminals or the death penalty for murderers, dismissing such ideas as barbaric and regressive. This is what comes from excluding all but one side to a question from polite discussion for decades.

Ever since the National Party in South Africa instituted the policy of apartheid in 1948, Western liberals have treated it as a one-sided affair and have sought to exclude other points of view from the discussion as being beyond the pale. They were not wholly successful in this during the Cold War when the South African government was a valued ally against the Soviet Union, but when the Cold War began to thaw, liberal opinion prevailed, and the West pressured South Africa into releasing Mandela, abandoning apartheid, and holding the general election that led to the rise of the ANC government. Since then all other viewpoints on the question of South Africa have been effectively squelched by the liberals through accusations of racism.

The supporters of Mandela, the ANC, and the anti-apartheid movement were correct to think that they were opposing an injustice, for apartheid was, undoubtedly, an injustice in many ways to the blacks of South Africa. It does not follow from this that the anti-apartheid movement was on the side of justice. True justice, involves doing right by all parties, but the anti-apartheid movement was only concerned with doing right by one party, the black people of South Africa. Piet Cillier of Die Burger once said “What you have unfolding in South Africa is a true tragedy – an irreconciliable struggle,not between right and wrong, but between right and right. The blacks are in the right, but so are the whites.” (4) William F. Buckley Jr. once remarked “Some day, when you have nothing else to do, come up with a solution for South Africa, won’t you? But remember the rules of the game. All the marbles have to end up each in a cavity—you can’t just throw a few of them away, to make the game simpler.” Coming up with such a solution, is precisely what the anti-apartheid movement was not interested in.

Ironically, apartheid itself was an attempt to come up with such a solution. It was not a successful attempt, of course, but it was an attempt, on the part of the National Party, to do right as best they could, by all the various groups that lived in South Africa. Western liberals refused to see any good faith behind the attempt. They insisted that the only just model of society and government was that of a race-neutral, one-person, one-vote, liberal democracy. This model, however, was as much of an injustice to the Afrikaners and other white South Africans (5) as apartheid was to black South Africans. Indeed, it was a greater injustice. Apartheid in theory involved a degree of self-government for other racial groups, however, imperfect that worked out in practice, whereas one-person, one-vote, liberal democracy could only mean the domination of the Afrikaners by the blacks. That liberal democracy, at least in the circumstances of South Africa, is a greater injustice than apartheid can be clearly seen in the fact that apartheid South Africa had a problem with illegal black immigration whereas white Africans have been fleeing from post-apartheid, ANC-governed, South Africa. Ultimately, of course, the greatest evidence that liberal democracy is a worse injustice than apartheid, and one that amounts to insurmountable proof, is the genocide of the white South Africans of which we have already spoken.

The myth of Nelson Mandela makes no sense apart from the idea that apartheid is the supreme injustice. As the organizer and leader of a group that he armed and trained to fight against the South African government, whose life sentence was handed down for acts of sabotaging the property of that government, Mandela was hardly a prisoner of conscience. These are acts that one would ordinarily expect a government to arrest and imprison people over and it is unreasonable to blame a government for doing so.

There is much more that could be said but now is not the time. My purpose here is to burst the myth which had done and is doing so much damage rather than to attack the man. Raised in the church, Mandela long ago abandoned the Christian faith when he embraced the atheistic doctrines of Marxist-Leninism. Let us pray that in his last hours he repented of his sins, turned back to the faith of his childhood, and experienced the grace and forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ.


(1) Chilon said it in Greek, of course, but it is best known in the Latin rendition.
(2) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22554709
(3) Leon Parkin and Gregory H. Stanton, “Why Are Afrikaner Farmers Being Murdered in South Africa”, August 14, 2012, http://www.genocidewatch.org/southafrica.html
(4) Quoted by Sir Peregrine Worsthorne in his memoirs, Tricks of Memory (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1993), p. 195. The quotation was from a speech given at a braaivleis (barbecue) hosted by the Afrikaner head of the South African Bureau of Information for the media entourage during Harold Macmillan’s “Wind of Change” tour of Africa. Worsthorne had been assigned to the tour by the Daily Telegraph. He writes that only he and a single American reporter accepted the invitation.
(5) The Afrikaners are a specific nation, white, European in racial origin, Dutch Reformed in religion, who speak their own language, a form of Dutch.

1 comment:

  1. This is spot on.

    Watching the media fawn over Mandela over the past few days has been, frankly, sickening.

    ReplyDelete