By LENNOX FARRELL
Nelson Mandela lived to be released – not freed – from prison. Ironically, in this, he was among the ‘lucky’ few, given the frequency of assassinations that befell others, both inside and outside Apartheid South Africa; assassinations effected by Apartheid agents internally and regionally.
For example, among the ‘unlucky’ ones was Patrice Émery Lumumba who, in January 1961, was the democratically elected Prime Minister of the Republic of Congo. Within months, his government was deposed in a coup. The main reason was his opposition to a Belgian-backed secession of the mineral-rich Katanga province. He was executed by firing squad. The United Nations, which he had asked to come to his aid, did not intervene. By contrast, the first time the Apartheid regime was put on the UN agenda was in 1946; the primary subject addressed? The mistreatment of Indians in South Africa.
Belgium, the United States (CIA), and the United Kingdom (M16) were later implicated in Lumumba’s death. Only the Belgian government has apologized for its role; killing him with the help of the CIA. De-classified U.S. documents confirmed that the CIA pursued a plan – ‘Project Wizard’ – to eliminate him, with authorization from President Dwight Eisenhower.
Outside Apartheid South Africa, and inside colonized Africa, many others were assassinated. Among these was yet another elected Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafewa Balewa of Nigeria. He was also an organizer of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). For his anti-British, and pro-Nigerian stance, in 1966, international forces opposed to a de-colonized, genuinely independent Nigeria killed him.
Another African with similar sentiments, and this time, opposed to Portuguese colonization was Amilcar Cabral. He would likewise meet the same end: assassination. This occurred in 1973 when, under his leadership as one of the most successful guerrilla fighters, Guinea Bissau was on the verge of liberation and independence; something it would nonetheless achieve months later.
An agronomist by training, Cabral while fighting a guerrilla war, also trained his soldiers and local farmers on how to grow food to feed the populace, and thus outflank the colonizers. Given territory in Ghana by Kwame Nkrumah to train his troops, Cabral remains the most highly regarded intellectual, thinker and fighter in Africa’s 20th century war for freedom. And a man most honourable.
Outside South Africa, there were other African patriots who were assassinated. One was Samora Machel, then President of a liberated Mozambique. A former guerrilla fighter against the Portuguese, he died on a plane crash October 19, 1986. He was en-route from a meeting between the leaders of Front-line states like Zambia, opposed to Apartheid and colonialism. According to Hans Louw, a South African ‘Civil Cooperation Bureau operative’ and assassin who later joined the anti-Apartheid forces, Machel’s plane – his wife Josina also aboard – had been lured off-course by a false beacon.
Inside the Apartheid state, there were also assassinations. One who was thus felled was Stephen Bantu Biko. The movie, Cry Freedom, starring Denzil Washington is based on his life and death. Founder of the Black Consciousness Movement, Biko was also the organizer of students involved in staging the 1976 Soweto Uprising. Like the earlier Sharpeville Massacre (1960), when Black South Africans had marched against the iniquitous ‘Pass Laws’, the Soweto students were also shot in their backs.
A year later Biko was detained in a road block by the South African police. His subsequent death while in their custody, they claimed was from a sustained hunger strike. Chained to prison bars, he had been beaten and tortured for 22 hours. Then, with massive head injuries; his body naked and shackled to the floor of a Land Rover, he’d been driven 1100 km to another police station, and there pronounced dead.
So, Nelson Mandela, comparatively speaking, was ‘lucky’. He lived to leave prison. Like many other Africans, for example, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, he would also leave prison to enter Parliament as the country’s first elected Black President. Confined during the most productive years of his life; released at the age of 71, he would serve one elected term.
Nelson Mandela was released to die from the effects of internment in the Robben Island Prison: tuberculosis! It is an infection afflicting many of his colleagues, including Bishop Desmond Tutu.
Thus, he would live fewer years, most in ill-health, than his imprisonment. His last daughter was 16 when he first saw her … unable to hold or touch her; each seated on opposite sides of a prison barrier. He had been taken from his wife, a young girl, Winnie. She, the Mandela face around whom we organized, would suffer solitary confinement for months on end, threats, and confinement to a township where no one could even keep her picture or that of her husband’s, without treasonable penalties.
Nelson Mandela is today an icon; deservedly so! Yet two other icons worshipped by the West: America’s Ronald Reagan and Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, dubbed him a terrorist.
More curiously, one of his ‘admirers’, Brian Mulroney, former Prime Minister of Canada, commenting on radio on one of Mr. Mandela’s speeches described it as, ‘ defiant, definitely defiant, but without bitterness … .’
‘Defiant? Definitely defiant?!”
Is that not a description more aptly used on someone immature; a feisty teenager questioning some status quo? Someone trying to flout restrictions?
Classic European writers, and others, have for centuries described Africans, on the continent and elsewhere, using words like, ‘boy’. Is Nelson Mandela, in the eyes of Europeans today, an exception? What one might call a ‘mature Black man’? For a fact, European civilization, with a few exceptions within its ranks, generally considers itself mature. Africans by comparison, they consider to be generally immature, with some exceptions; exceptions like Mr. Mandela.
Despite his iconography, he was listed on the U.S. terror list even after he had received the Nobel Peace Prize. This, he unfortunately accepted, standing shoulder to shoulder with F. W. de Klerk, the last Apartheid Prime Minister. de Klerk was a man who, despite public calls for peaceful solutions, was secretly funding Buthelezi’s Inkatha Zulus to destabilize the country prior to its first democratic elections.
Nelson Mandela’s governance was, like that of other Black leaders, circumscribed by international movers and shakers. The Boer populace for the most part kept what they had taken. The Black populace for the most part remained taken. Nelson Mandela’s virtues belong to himself; his flaws belong to his times. Whatever the future may hold for South Africa and Africa, for the rest of the Black world, and for men and women rising against oppression, Nelson Mandela’s name and example will ever remain both a rallying cry, and a beacon advancing human rights for the wretched of the Earth.
Meanwhile, while Mr. Mandela and other ANC colleagues, in alliance with other anti-Apartheid forces overthrew political Apartheid, economic Apartheid re-affirmed itself at home. Abroad, it would wax international as Globalization. Europe and its allies would continue to show the power of duplicity; that is, its ability to pivot 180 degrees … without shifting an inch; or chameleon-like, to tactically re-arrange its moral colours to suit changing immoral circumstances; circumstances ever aimed at retaining its strategic control of the world’s resources!
By any means necessary, including assassination, imprisonment, tactical releases!