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What the passing of an icon can teach us about our own country

Mandela was the “moral center” of South Africa, and now that he is gone we can only hope that the country will hold it together. Given the youth of the nation’s population, I am guessing that the country of South Africa will be fine, and it will continue on its current path. But it won’t be easy. There is still a lot of apartheid hangover lingering there.

A friend of mine moved there a few years back to start a business, and he was amazed at the lack of incentive to work by the black South Africans who came up through Apartheid. “You had to drill it into them that they had a stake in the business. They were so used to working without any hope of advancement that it became ingrained in their way of thinking and it reflected in their work. It was very frustrating.

The similarities with our own country and South Africa are undeniable. We had our own state sanctioned ways of keeping us unequal as well, and it took a movement to bring about change. Many black Americans still do not believe that they have a real stake in this country or that they have an equal chance of succeeding.

Fight the right-washing of Nelson Mandela’s legacy

It began on Mandela’s 95th birthday in July, when House Speaker John Boehner had the audacity to declare in a tribute “At times it can almost feel like we are talking about an old friend.”

It got much worse when Sen. Ted Cruz announced Thursday night: “Nelson Mandela will live in history as an inspiration for defenders of liberty around the globe.”

But Cruz’s political heroes opposed Mandela as a terrorist and a communist, and there’s little doubt the red-baiting Texas senator would have done the same had he been in Congress back then. (The Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart and Foreign Policy’s Sam Kleiner (from July) have the two best pieces about “apartheid amnesia” I’ve read.)

Madiba, Peace at Last–Mandela: A Long Walk To Freedom

I flash back to remembered scenes, Free Mandela rallies, an episode of A Different World when the students at fictional HBCU Hillman debate how to best protest against companies investing in South Africa. And then last night, the final note of the Mandela panel – that when he passes, as we all knew of his frail health – that the world take the time to pause, take notice and ponder his legacy. Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom is poised to lead that pause. It is not a perfectly balanced film, but it is an emotionally impactful film and with perfect timing and an extraordinary subject, ultimately memorable.

Mandela, based on Mandela’s autobiography, takes it place within the impressive South African filmogaphy of producer Anant Singh (Place of Weeping, Sarafina, Cry the Beloved Country). A South African himself, Singh worked some nineteen years on Mandela with Nelson Mandela’s blessing. The end result of this mighty and long effort is a film that does not merely chronicle the life of a singular iconic figure but which undertakes the herculean work of representing a nation and a people’s long and bloody struggle to end racial apartheid and create a new South Africa. Mandela, directed by Justin Chadwick and starring Idris Elba in an Oscar buzz worthy turn as Mandela and a stunning Naomi Harris as Winnie Mandela, accomplishes several key feats, not the least of which is somewhat demystifying the iconic moment people might recall in February 1990 when Mandela ‘walked’ out of prison after twenty-seven years by first not ending the film with that moment and secondly offering insight into the political maneuvering and long process preceding Mandela’s release, including his secret parlays with government officials representing President de Klerk.

An ideal for which I am prepared to die

Africans want to be paid a living wage. Africans want to perform work which they are capable of doing, and not work which the government declares them to be capable of. Africans want to be allowed to live where they obtain work, and not be endorsed out of an area because they were not born there. Africans want to be allowed to own land in places where they work, and not to be obliged to live in rented houses which they can never call their own. Africans want to be part of the general population, and not confined to living in their own ghettoes.

African men want to have their wives and children to live with them where they work, and not be forced into an unnatural existence in men’s hostels. African women want to be with their menfolk and not be left permanently widowed in the reserves. Africans want to be allowed out after 11 o’clock at night and not to be confined to their rooms like little children. Africans want to be allowed to travel in their own country and to seek work where they want to and not where the labour bureau tells them to. Africans want a just share in the whole of South Africa; they want security and a stake in society.

Above all, we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country, because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy. But this fear cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the only solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for all. It is not true that the enfranchisement of all will result in racial domination. Political division, based on colour, is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one colour group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs it will not change that policy.

This then is what the ANC is fighting. Their struggle is a truly national one. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and their own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live. During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

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