Nelson Mandela spent so long, 27 years, breaking huge chunks of limestone in the glaring South African sun that his eyesight suffered permanent damage but in 1990 the victory was his. He was finally released from the hellhole of Robben Island to take his rightful place in the gallery of fighters, heroes and inspirational revolutionaries to which humanity owes so much.
Following his death on Thursday evening, millions mourned his passing and world leaders and statesmen queued up to pay tribute to the man, his life and his deeds. It wasn’t always that way, though. In the 80s he was condemned by the Conservative Party and their fellow-travellers, internationally, as a ‘terrorist’ for opposing the brutal South African racist state. Throughout Thatcher’s tenure in Downing Street, sanctions imposed on the South African state were vigorously and consistently opposed by both her and her acolytes, both at home and abroad. Nothing must be allowed to interfere with the rights of the high priests of capital to make profit from the blood of some of the most subjugated and oppressed people on the planet. Indeed, in the USA the ANC was only finally removed from the FBI’s terrorist watch list in 2008.
In 1981, it wasn’t trendy to support the anti-apartheid movement and declare oneself an opponent of the South African regime. Glasgow City Council, in a brave and principled forward-thinking move, awarded the still-incarcerated Mandela the freedom of its City. The opprobrium and vilification was quick to rain down on the men and women responsible for the tribute.
Young Conservatives proudly sported t-shirts calling for the execution of the ‘terrorist’ Mandela and the ANC. A robust constitution, then, was required to stomach David Cameron’s hypocritical eulogising on Mandella’s passing: "A great light has gone out in the world. Nelson Mandela was a hero of our time – a true global hero. Across the country he loved they will be mourning a man who was the embodiment of grace. Meeting him was one of the great honours of my life. My heart goes out to his family - and to all in South Africa and around the world whose lives were changed through his courage." This, of course, would be the same David Cameron who happily enjoyed sanctions-busting jollies in South Africa, courtesy of shadowy lobbyists intent on breaking sanctions and upholding the oppression of South African blacks.
Liar, war-monger and imperialist totem, Tony Blair, who said, "He was an example to every world leader” must be dismissed with all the disdain and contempt one can muster for such a man; a man who stood in direct contravention of everything for which the revolutionary ‘Madiba’ fought.
Universally admired, and rightly so, Mandela’s legacy must not be allowed to be sanitised, rewritten and appropriated by those who aided his jailers and oppressors. He was no cuddly, non-violent pacifist. No limp liberal who shrank from the consequences of violence. He was a brave, principled and unrepentant revolutionary who was prepared to die, rather than reject the struggle to which his entire life was dedicated.
A former founder and leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) – Spear of the Nation – the ANC’s armed wing, formed in conjunction with the South African Communist Party, on whose Central Committee he also served, the younger Mandela realised that armed struggle was now the only way. Peaceful resistance, non-violent civil disobedience was outlawed and left few options. As he said, “There are thousands of people who feel that it is useless and futile for us to continue talking peace and non-violence — against a government whose only reply is savage attacks on an unarmed and defenceless people. And I think the time has come for us to consider, in the light of our experiences on this day at home, whether the methods which we have applied so far are adequate.” And later, “All lawful modes of expressing opposition to this principle had been closed by legislation, and we were placed in a position in which we had either to accept a permanent state of inferiority, or to defy the Government. We chose to defy the law. We first broke the law in a way which avoided any recourse to violence; when this form was legislated against, and then the Government resorted to a show of force to crush opposition to its policies, only then did we decide to answer violence with violence. I do not deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness, nor because I have any love of violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation, and oppression of my people by the Whites.”
Steel yourselves for the vomit-inducing outpourings of hypocritical sanctimony that will engulf us over the next few days. They'll all be queuing up now, to pay tribute; the former racists, former tyrants and former war-mongers who did so much to undermine the man and his struggle when he was alive; a man who was the friend and ally of revolutionaries, progressives and freedom-loving peoples everywhere. He was and always will be ours; never theirs.
Hopefully he won't spend an eternity spinning in his grave at the utter travesty the ANC and SACP have become and, instead, will reflect, with satisfaction, on his own, immense contribution to the international revolutionary struggle.
Flawed it was, at times – and the both the ANC and SACP have been weakened by corruption and opportunism - but who among us is fit to judge when never having suffered as he did? We, who never faced what he faced? We, who lived lives of pampered Western comfort compared to his agonies and privations?
Nelson Mandela; a hero, a fighter and an inspiration for centuries to come.
Sleep well, comrade.