Nelson Mandela: Loved Universally In Death — But Not In Life

LONDON - JUNE 27: Nelson Mandela appears onstage during the 46664 Concert In Celebration Of Nelson Mandela's Life held at Hyde Park on June 27, 2008 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Davies/Getty Images)
National Journal
Elahe Izad
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Elahe Izad
Dec. 6, 2013, 1:59 a.m.

When Nel­son Man­dela died Thursday in South Africa, the re­mem­brances poured in from across the polit­ic­al spec­trum here in the United States, eu­lo­giz­ing him for pos­sess­ing a saintly char­ac­ter and serving as an in­spir­a­tion for people world­wide.

But the thing is, Man­dela hadn’t been uni­ver­sally revered throughout his life. And in fact, some of those re­mem­brances came from the same groups and in­di­vidu­als who pre­vi­ously had harsh words for the man who had spent 27 years as a polit­ic­al pris­on­er and went on to lead post-apartheid South Africa.

Man­dela had been on the U.S. ter­ror­ist watch-list un­til 2008. In 2003, he de­nounced the U.S.-led Ir­aq war and said the U.S. had com­mit­ted “un­speak­able at­ro­cit­ies in the world.” He vis­ited Fi­del Castro in Cuba shortly after he was re­leased from pris­on, and em­braced then-Palestine Lib­er­a­tion Or­gan­iz­a­tion Chair­man Yass­er Ara­fat and Liby­an dic­tat­or Muam­mar el-Qad­dafi.

All of which meant he was not con­sidered above re­proach by all. In 2003, the Anti-De­fam­a­tion League, for in­stance, called Man­dela’s re­marks against the Ir­aq war and the U.S. “of­fens­ive, pre­ju­di­cial, and simply wrong.” The Amer­ic­an Jew­ish Com­mit­tee can­celed an event hon­or­ing Man­dela in 2000 after com­ments he made about an Ir­a­ni­an tri­al of 13 Jews.

After his death, ADL put out a state­ment, call­ing Man­dela a “true hero of free­dom who brought his­tor­ic change, and did so peace­fully.” AJC’s state­ment said, “We are in­delibly in­spired by his ex­ample and can say of him, as we can say of few oth­ers, that he truly helped re­pair the world.”

ADL did ac­know­ledge its past pos­ture to­ward Man­dela in the state­ment, say­ing that the or­gan­iz­a­tion had dis­agreed with him “from time to time. Those dif­fer­ences, however, did not di­min­ish our re­spect and es­teem for this up­stand­ing mor­al lead­er. Man­dela will be greatly missed, but his leg­acy lives on.”

Man­dela had been sub­jec­ted to scorn in the 1980s and 1990s. Pres­id­ent Re­agan had des­ig­nated the Afric­an Na­tion­al Con­gress as a ter­ror­ist or­gan­iz­a­tion — Man­dela had foun­ded the armed wing of the group. Re­agan then called pro­posed sanc­tions against South Africa “im­mor­al and ut­terly re­pug­nant.” He ve­toed the Com­pre­hens­ive Anti-Apartheid Act, but Con­gress over­rode his veto in 1986 — al­though without the votes of the likes of then-Rep. Dick Cheney. Dur­ing the Cold War, the con­cern among for­eign policy hawks was that the So­viet-backed ANC move­ment would lead to a com­mun­ist coun­try.

Man­dela’s planned vis­it to Miami in the early 1990s after he so fully em­braced Castro caused an out­cry, par­tic­u­larly by Cuban-Amer­ic­an city of­fi­cials who re­voked a pro­clam­a­tion in his hon­or. In later years, Castro and Man­dela main­tained a friend­ship.

But Man­dela’s pos­ture to­ward Cuba didn’t crop up in any state­ments from Amer­ic­an law­makers who are par­tic­u­larly vo­cal on mat­ters re­lated to Cuba. For in­stance, Sen. Marco Ru­bio, R-Fla., said Man­dela’s “ex­ample will live on for gen­er­a­tions to come. Men and wo­men striv­ing for justice and fair­ness around the world have drawn in­spir­a­tion from Nel­son Man­dela, and he showed South Afric­ans and the en­tire world what the power of for­give­ness truly means and can ac­com­plish.”

In­deed, the out­pour­ings came from nearly every level of of­fi­cials, from city may­ors to House speak­ers.

The most en­dur­ing im­age of Man­dela is of a man who helped heal the very pain­ful wounds of his na­tion, choos­ing re­con­cili­ation rather than re­tri­bu­tion. And that is what has giv­en rise to such praise­worthy re­mem­brances from all corners, even if he had geo­pol­it­ic­al ties and views that were at odds with many of those same corners.

It’s a re­flec­tion of how we choose to think of those who have left us, by not dwell­ing on how sharply op­posed we may have been. Es­pe­cially when the one who has left us seems to be lar­ger-than-life.

What We're Following See More »
House to Vote on Iran Sanctions Renewal in Lame Duck
2 minutes ago

Republican House leaders are planning on taking up a vote to renew the Iran Sanctions Act as soon as the lame-duck session begins in mid-November. The law, which expires on Dec. 31, permits a host of sanctions against Iran's industries, defense, and government. The renewal will likely pass the House, but its status is unclear once it reaches the Senate, and a spokesman from the White House refused to say whether President Obama would sign it into law.

Trump Stops Holding Fundraisers to Benefit GOP
7 minutes ago

Just two weeks from Nov. 8, Donald Trump's campaign is not scheduling anymore high-dollar fundraisers, the type which usually benefit the Republican Party as a whole. The move comes as a surprise and could be a big blow to the GOP's turnout operations. Many down-ballot candidates are relying on the party apparatus to turn out voters in their districts and/or states, something that could be compromised. The last formal fundraiser occurred on Wednesday, Oct. 19.

Republican Polling Shows Close Race
Roundup: National Polling Remains Inconsistent
16 hours ago

The national polls, once again, tell very different stories: Clinton leads by just one point in the IBD, Rasmussen, and LA Times tracking polls, while she shows a commanding 12 point lead in the ABC news poll and a smaller but sizable five point lead in the CNN poll. The Republican Remington Research Group released a slew of polls showing Trump up in Ohio, Nevada, and North Carolina, a tie in Florida, and Clinton leads in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Virginia. However, an independent Siena poll shows Clinton up 7 in North Carolina, while a Monmouth poll shows Trump up one in Arizona

Colin Powell to Vote for Clinton
18 hours ago
Clinton Reaching Out to GOP Senators
23 hours ago

If you need a marker for how confident Hillary Clinton is at this point of the race, here's one: CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports "she's been talking to Republican senators, old allies and new, saying that she is willing to work with them and govern."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.