Gwynne Dyer, Hurryet Daily News
Monday, Decembe4r 23, 2013
The Catholic Church consecrates saints with less pomp and sentimentality
than was lavished on Nelson Mandela during the week-long media orgy
that we have been through.
The problem was that everybody in the
media knew well in advance that Mandela was dying, and had time to
invest millions in preparing to “cover” the event. Hotel rooms and
telecom facilities were booked, crews and anchors were deployed, and the
expense had to be justified by round-the-clock, wall-to-wall coverage
of funeral orations, vox pop interviews, and talking heads.
of course all the world’s politicians showed up for the greatest photo
op of the decade, including many who had condemned Mandela as a
terrorist before he pulled off a peaceful transition from apartheid to
majority rule in South Africa. But now that the babble of rhetoric has
died down and just before the myth takes over completely, let us talk
honestly about who he was and what he accomplished.
understood that South Africans needed an icon, not a mere mortal man, as
the founding hero of their new democracy, but he had a strong sense of
irony. It would have got plenty of exercise as he watched the local
politicos and the foreign dignitaries strew metaphorical flowers on his
The man whom they buried at Qunu was arrested by the white minority regime in 1963, probably on a tip from the US
Central Intelligence Agency. He was the head of the African National
Congress’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), at the time, and
continued to back its campaign of sabotage, bombing and attacks on
military and police targets throughout his 27 years in prison.
the South African Communist Party is to be believed, he was a member of
its central committee at the time of his arrest. It was a different
time, when US
President Ronald Reagan could declare that the apartheid regime was
“essential to the Free World,” and the ANC’s main international
supporters were the Soviet Union and Cuba. Mandela might have ended up
as a man of violence if he had not gone to prison.
prison, he had the time to develop his ideas about reconciliation and
persuade the other ANC leaders who were also confined to Robben Island
of their value. By the time he came out of prison in 1990, he had become
the man that everybody knew they could trust – including the whites.
the next four years, when he and F.W. De Klerk, the last white
president, negotiated the transfer of power from the white minority to
the black majority, he really was the indispensable man. His commitment
to reconciliation was so visible and genuine that whites were willing to
do what had once seemed inconceivable: to hand over power before they
absolutely had to.
If you want to know what South Africa would
have looked like if the whites had clung to power down to the last
ditch, look at Syria today. But it was not only Mandela who saved the
country from that fate: they gave the Nobel
Peace Prize to both Mandela and De Klerk, because the miracle could not
have happened if De Klerk had not had the will and the skill to lead
his own Afrikaner tribe out of power.
Then, after the first free
election in 1994, Mandela became the president, and frankly he wasn’t
very good at it. He had no executive experience, nor much aptitude for
But he did his country one last big favour: he retired at the
end of his first term rather than clinging to power. He was already 81
years old at that time, but lesser men (Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, for
instance) have not let that stop them. And he even had a few good years
left to enjoy his family before age began to drag him down.