Reflection on Mandela and Palestine

By Iqbal Jassat – Johannesburg

As South Africa and the world comes to grips with the sad reality of the passing of Nelson Mandela, tributes and messages of condolences pour in at a remarkably frantic rate.

International media has broken away from regular news coverage to focus almost exclusively on what’s correctly being described as a tragic loss of a colossus.

Indeed Nelson Mandela was a giant. Whether as a militant youth, as a revolutionary leader of South Africa’s freedom struggle or as the first black president of a free democratic post-apartheid state, Mandela was larger than life.

Much has been recorded and will be restated about Mandela’s huge legacy. In fact as is the case when historians, biographers and contemporaries reflect on the life of outstanding human beings, danger of mixing fact with fiction always lurks in the background.

One can expect that the inevitable death of Mandela will open new chapters adding details to aspects of his life previously unknown or undocumented.

More importantly it also offers a chance to revisit and review those areas of his life that underlined his resolute and principled position on a range of international issues that unsettled many former world leaders.

For many in the world who have and still remain in bondage as oppressed people, Mandela represented hope in the face of despair. He symbolized the power of moral integrity and its ability to overcome inequality and injustice.

This was attested to by Edward Said, himself a giant in the literary world and a passionate advocate for Palestinian rights. In an essay published in 1996, Said severely castigated the former PLO leader Yasser Arafat for a “cringing, whimpering speech, full of apologies and half-truths offered up to Israel and the United States, who continue to oppress his people…” and contrasted him to Mandela.

“I should like to remind my readers that Nelson Mandela, whose organization had been completely defeated by the South African regime, whose colleagues were either in exile or killed, and who himself was a state security prisoner for twenty seven years, never compromised on the truth of his struggle, which was to hold out without change in the original political goal of one person one vote. ”

It spoke volumes of the human power of Mandela’s courage and principle.

In reflecting on the life of Mandela especially in relation to the Palestinian cause, one cannot but agree with Said and other activists that Mandela’s moral strength inspired a global movement that delegitimized apartheid all over the world.

Mandela’s commitment to rally South Africa in pursuit of a free Palestine is embodied in many of his speeches. And I am certain that he was as profoundly disturbed as many ordinary Palestinians would have been and still are that their ideal of justice and equality had been recklessly squandered due to the corruption and authoritarianism of the Palestinian Authority.

It is also true that unlike the leadership of Mandela’s erstwhile foes in the National Party who had the foresight to acknowledge that apartheid was a crime against humanity and best to negotiate a settlement, the Israeli leadership is set in its fascist ways.

Netanyahu is a symbol of Israel’s bigotry and falsehood. In paying tribute to Mandela, it remains a supreme irony that his praise singers ranging from Bush and Clinton and from Blair to Cameron all support Netanyahu. This means underwriting apartheid in Israel while lauding Mandela as the champion who triumphed over the evil system.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has consistently held aloft banners proclaiming his disdain for the apartheid style repression of fundamental human rights in Israel. His courageous stance led him to being unfairly vilified as an anti-Semite but like Mandela was able to make difficult choices to reinforce the strength of moral integrity in sharp contrast to so called leaders of the free world.

Mandela succeeded in overcoming major hurdles. Leading and presiding over protracted negotiations in the midst of violence and massacres such as Boipatong and the slaying of Chris Hani required special human qualities.

He displayed these profound skills alongside knowledge, wisdom, humility and selflessness while many in South Africa and beyond still despised him as a terrorist.

It’s a lesson the Netanyahus of the world may never be able to grasp even as they offer pious tributes laced in hypocrisy while remaining jailers of freedom strugglers in Guantanamo and other dungeons across Egypt, the Arab tyrannies, Israel and elsewhere.

– Iqbal Jassat is an Executive Member of the Media Review Network, Johannesburg – South Africa. He contributed this article to Visit: and follow him through Twitter: @ijassat.

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