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After Mandela: World fight against white supremacy continues

By Dr. Wilmer J. Leon, III

Former South African President Mandela has passed. The world has lost another point on its compass of morality.

The dominant narrative is of a docile and passive man. A man, who according to President Obama’s remarks, “we draw strength from the example of renewal and reconciliation and resilience that you (Mandela) made real.” What is missing from this narrative is the reality of the warrior, the revolutionary.

The African National Congress (ANC) took up arms against the South African Government in 1961.  According to the ANC, “The massacre of peaceful protestors and the subsequent banning of the ANC made it clear that peaceful protest alone would not force the regime to change. The ANC went underground and continued to organize secretly.  Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) was formed to “hit back by all means within our power in defense of our people, our future and our freedom. In 18 months, MK carried out 200 acts of sabotage.”

Nelson Mandela was involved in the armed struggle to free his people, his country from the grip of white supremacist rule. That is why he faced death by hanging and was sentenced to life in prison.

It’s imperative that, as we honor Madiba, we don’t lose sight of the fact his struggle, the ANC’s struggle, the struggle for liberty and human rights in South Africa and for people of color all over the world has and continues to take place within the larger context of the global system of white supremacy.

That’s why for example when you read President Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he said he was mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago — “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones…I know there is nothing weak, nothing passive, nothing naïve, in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King. But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone.”

He was speaking as the President of the most powerful military imperial hegemony in the world. The not-so-subtle undertone of that passage is that even as the first African American president he was swearing to use all of the military force he commands in order to defend and protect “U.S. interests” any place he deems necessary.

Notice also, during that speech, Mr. Mandela’s name was only mentioned once, almost in passing. “Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize — Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela — my accomplishments are slight.”  Why?  Because Nelson Mandela was a true revolutionary, a freedom fighter and President Obama could never align himself with that part of Mr. Mandela’s reality.

It’s a great thing Nelson Mandela became the first Black African democratically-elected president of South Africa. This must also be put into context. He was not a perfect president. Many will argue that he cut a bad deal. That is not for me to judge.

Before he was elected president, there were approximately 4 million socially, economically and politically disenfranchised Black South Africans. During his presidency there were millions of socially, economically and politically disenfranchised Black South Africans, as there are still today.

I do recognize this is partially due to the fact even as the democratically elected president of South Africa he did not control the natural resources of his country; he did not control the military, and did not control the factors that impacted its economy. That’s the reality of being the first Black president within the greater context of a white supremacist power structure.

As President Obama expresses Americas condolences to the Mandela family and the people of South Africa, he should also apologize to them for the CIA’s involvement in the initial arrest of Mr. Mandela. He should apologize to them for President Reagan’s policy of Constructive Engagement. Reagan’s vetoing legislation and blocking attempts by the United Nations to impose sanctions and to isolate South Africa.

Madiba was a principled warrior.  During the June 21, 1990 Town Hall Meeting in Harlem, Ken Adelman from the Institute of Contemporary Studies asked Mr. Mandela about his relationships with Yasser Arafat, Col. Gaddafi and Fidel Castro, and tried to get him to renounce his association with them. Mr. Mandela responded, “One of the mistakes many political analysts made is to think that their enemies should be our enemies. That we can’t and will never do. We are an independent organization engaged in our own struggle. Our attitude toward any country is determined by that country’s attitude toward our struggle…Yasser Arafat, Col. Gaddafi and Fidel Castro support our struggle to the hilt. Not only with rhetoric but by placing resources at our disposal for us to win our struggle.”

It’s interesting to note that in 1960 when Fidel Castro came to America, he went to Harlem. Months after Madiba was released from prison he came to America and visited Harlem as well.

During the same meeting Mr. Mandela also said to Henry Siegman from the American Jewish Congress, “We identify with the PLO because, just like ourselves, they are fighting for the right of self-determination.” Madiba demonstrated in those exchanges he was not going to be bullied by outside interests and take positions that were not based on principle and contrary to the stated mission of the ANC. Many individuals in positions of “leadership” within the African American community would be well served to follow President Mandela’s example.  There’s a lot to be said for and gained by sticking to principle.

Facing death by hanging at his 1964 trial for treason in Pretoria, South Africa, Mr. Mandela said, “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people… I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against Black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve… But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

I submit that contrary to President Obama’s observations, most people who truly understand the arc of Mandela’s life really draw strength from the example of renewal and reconciliation and resilience that Madiba made real as a principled warrior and uncompromising guerilla fighter — the revolutionary who was willing to die for the freedom of his people.

Dr. Wilmer Leon is the producer/ host of the Sirius/XM Satellite radio channel 110 call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Wilmer Leon.” Go to or and Dr. Leon’s Prescription at  

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