Robin D.G. Kelly and Erica Lorraine WilliamsDecember 10, 2013.
Nelson Mandela’s death has produced both an outpouring of international solidarity, remembrance, and celebration commemorating Madiba’s leadership in defeating apartheid in South Africa. It has also generated a wave of historical revision and mythmaking—the sort of thing we’ve come to expect when radicals become icons. Mainstream media outlets and statesmen who had only a few years earlier heaped opprobrium on Mr. Mandela, eulogized him not for his commitment to the African National Congress’s unrelenting struggle against the apartheid system, but rather for forgiving his oppressors. In other words, Mandela was great because he transcended race – he chose not to “hate.” Of course, “hate” is far-removed from the politics of the ANC, a non-racial organization open to all committed to democracy.
The magic wand of mass media has transformed what was a potent international boycott of South African products and all firms doing with business with the apartheid regime into a slogan: Free Nelson Mandela. Yet again, a broader social movement to overthrow a racist, oppressive regime is individualized as being about one exceptional figure. The boycott, a global, non-violent movement conducted in solidarity with the disenfranchised, dispossessed, and subjugated people of South Africa, was organized to pressure the South African regime to abide by international law and dismantle apartheid. And it succeeded.
Rather than participate in this mythmaking and what Cornel West calls the “Santa Claus-ification” of the man who was only removed from the U.S. Terrorist Watch list in 2008, let us reflect on Mandela’s transition as an occasion to remember not only his understanding and advocacy of boycotts as a strategy of resistance, but also his unwavering support of the Palestinian right to self-determination.
Shortly after being released from prison in 1990, Nelson Mandela met Yasser Arafat in Zambia. He embraced the Palestinian leader as a “fellow freedom fighter.” On a trip to Australia in October 1990, Mandela referred to Israel as a “terrorist state,” which is perhaps not surprising since Israel “provided expertise and technology that was central to [apartheid] South Africa’s development of its nuclear bombs.” Israel’s illegal occupation also made it something of a rogue state in Mandela’s view. In 1990 he told a Los Angeles Times reporter that “the boundaries of Israel should not include the West Bank, the Gaza Strip or the Golan heights,” and “we [the ANC] identify with the PLO because, just like us, they are fighting for the right to self-determination.” Not surprisingly, Mandela was roundly criticized for his support of the PLO and dismissed as a terrorist himself. A decade later he explained to Larry King, “I was called a terrorist yesterday, but when I came out of jail, many people embraced me, including my enemies, and that is what I normally tell other people who say those who are struggling for liberation in their country are terrorists.”
While Mandela never publicly characterized Israel as an apartheid state and waxed enthusiastically about the Oslo peace accords, he always conceived of the Palestinian struggle for nationhood as a global movement, a struggle that demanded the kind of international solidarity the ANC and the United Democratic Front enjoyed in South Africa. In his address at the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, delivered in Pretoria on December 4, 1997, he cautioned just how easy it was to “fall into the trap of washing our hands of difficulties that others face. . . . But we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” In an address delivered a year later, Mandela reminded the world that solidarity cut both ways: “South Africans drew courage and strength from the support so generously given by the Palestinian people even though they themselves lacked freedom…South Africans have a duty to lend a supportive hand to others seeking justice and equality.”
Palestinians against Apartheid poster circa 1980,
by artist Abdul Hay Musallam.
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Comment: No wonder the top leadership of Israel decided not to attend Madela's memorial in Soweto today. Good riddance is my thinking.
BOYCOTT ISRAEL !!!