Monday, December 16, 2013

Rafiq Rohan: 'I was jailed along with Nelson Mandela'

December 13, 2013.

Rafiq Rohan was the last prisoner to occupy Nelson 
Mandela's old cell at Robben Island 
[Rafiq Rohan/Al Jazeera]
While Mandela might not have publicly embraced the saintly status he was accorded, he also never took very kindly to criticism that could impact on his sainthood.

While my relationship with the great man was not always smooth-sailing, I nevertheless saw him as a towering personage the likes the world will never see again. But I also saw him at times being an ordinary man, with ordinary failings - many wives later - and ordinary levels of parenting tolerance.

Mandela was a man who appeared to forgive easily but the levels he extended himself towards white masters could never really be understood by many who came along the same political path as him. When we were the last remaining political prisoners on Robben Island, on hunger strikes and almost dying in our beds, Madiba was out visiting and hugging the wife of the grand architect of apartheid Hendrik Verwoerd, Betsie.

When we were expressing our anger at the likes of F W de Klerk, we never fully understood the rescue net he threw to De Klerk. It must be understood that De Klerk's history in the apartheid National Party (NP) did not begin in 1990 when steps were taken to un-ban the ANC and release leaders like Mandela from prison. De Klerk was involved with the NP in government since 1969, was a cabinet minister from 1978 variously as minister of Energy and Mines, Education, Internal Affairs and Sport.

De Klerk and his ilk were pretty much Mandela's jailer for the 27 years of imprisonment but Mandela shook his hands, made up and together they won Nobel Peace prizes.

Mandela was truly like a father, who loved and disciplined his son, but who also took positions that parents take that never seemed to make sense.
Read the rest here.
Comment:  Rafiq Rohan has written an honest and bare piece that avoids the usual one-sided fawning over Mandela.

Though Rohan is not contesting the greatness of Mandela or the power of his legacy he is offering a more human depiction of a man that confounded many in the liberation struggle with some of the choices he made.

A major issue for many including myself was - as Rohan points out - Mandela's over-generous appeasement of whites.

This appeasement has not covered the deep cleavages that exist between whites and blacks in the so called rainbow nation.

The idea of a rainbow nation is, of course, a myth.  The term is widely said to be coined by the Arch, Desmond Tutu.

But it is also Tutu who has openly complained that white South Africans remain largely unrepentant about their past and continuing privileges.

Not surprisingly then it is the forgiving Mandela that most whites want to beatify.  This Mandela is the figure that in effect allowed most whites to escape being responsible - or even willfully recognizing - what whiteness has wrought in South Africa and beyond.

Though folks like Rafiq Rohan no doubt will always admire and look up to the struggle icon that is Mandela, many of them still believe he gave away too much to whites - particularly the powerful barons and their political masters.

The problem then is not about the extent of forgiveness but rather the expediency of using forgiveness and reconciliation to ignore, obscure and deny white culpability for apartheid and its consequences.


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