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Good Bye Nelson Mandela…

December 5, 2013
S. Africa - Agriculture and Mining

South Africa – mineral and agricultural wealth (in French)

My gosh, he’s gone, but then he lived – body and soul  – for some 23 years after he was freed from a lifetime of incarceration. What a constitution the man must have had, given all the suffering he endured. The man, Nelson Mandela.

In the same way people pass over Martin Luther King Jr.’s criticism of  the link between racism at home and U.S. Imperialism abroad, they pass over the fact that Nelson Mandela was decidedly not a pacifist (even though he had such a calm and peaceful looking face!). He was the leader of the armed wing of the African National Congress (A.N.C.)and was arrested, charged and convicted for having participated in armed struggle.

While Israel, during those apartheid days, cooperated with S. African Apartheid to produce joint nuclear explosions, many, many S. African Jews were on the `other side of the fence’ right there with Mandela, members of the A.N.C. and one of the most under-rated and effective Marxist parties of the 20th Century – the South African Communist Party.  Besides its impressive political work in its homeland, the South African Communist Party was one of the few communist movements to make an honest and critical assessment of the failures of Soviet Communism; it was so much an integral part of the effort to liberate South Africa from Apartheid, that even today it remains a legal and highly respected part of the political landscape of the country. From what I know Mandela was not a member, but he worked closely with it in the coalition that finally overthrew the racist filth that was Apartheid.

Many others will write glowing tributes to Nelson Mandela. Mine is just a fleeting moment – in March of 1990 – when I met him. Like most such meetings it was ever so formal, brief, but still. Mandela had just been released from prison. His first visit to Europe wasn’t to London, Paris, Berlin…It was to the more northerly Stockholm, Sweden. I happened to be there on my way to Germany, but that’s another story. Mandela spoke in a huge indoor stadium outside Stockholm, the place of mega sporting events and rock concerts.

Why had he chosen Sweden?

Because the Swedish movement in solidarity with the South African people and against apartheid was one of the largest – if not the largest – and most effective in Europe. Stripped of the ideological pettiness, factionalism and stupidity that makes so many solidarity movements – including  ones in the u.s. of a – it was a movement built around providing concrete solidarity – teaching skills, building factories, schools in Zambia where the ANC had its headquarters, etc. The whole country participated – left groups for sure, but also liberals, conservatives, church groups…and these movements worked well together, raised millions of dollars each year and made their contribution to peace in a very substantial way. Finland also had a dynamic and similar South African solidarity movement. The models of that work – the way it was done – have stayed with me now, 23 years later.

And Mandela came to Stockholm to pay his respects to this vibrant and militant solidarity movement. His was a canned speech. What else can one expect from such a gathering? But of course it didn’t matter – he could hardly speak at all the applause in this enormous room kept on and on. I was a part of it too. But what got me – really touched something very deep, so much so that I think of it repeatedly, if not daily than still quite often – were all these blond, blue-eyed Swedish youth, as one of my friends would put it, “those corn-fed white boys and girls” going gaga over Mandela.

There was genuineness about it all, the sentiment, the love, the respect they felt for him and how that day that he spoke in Sweden, racism everywhere suffered a blow, a blow that still resonates nearly a quarter of a century later. Both before and after he spoke a choir of Swedish youth sang S. African songs with such spirit,  joy. Anyhow, of course, the feeling didn’t last, not in Sweden. “Post Cold War Sweden” has become a much stranger, `Americanized’ (in the materialistic sense) place and racism, especially against immigrants from Africa and the Middle East has reared its head again. Henning Mankel write about it vividly in virtually all his gripping novels (to which I am addicted). But for one shining moment, one felt the ugly stuff could be licked, that it is possible. And watching all those blond-blued kids with tears in their eyes – many simply weeping with joy that Nelson Mandela was free – and that it was a global peace movement that freed him, a movement in which Swedes were in the forefront…that was a lovely, if fleeting moment.

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