Mandela's death this week has seen an outpouring of cynical political advantage. A man Western Governments hated for most of his life, Governments who did nothing to gain his release from an arbitrary prison sentence and did much to prop up the regime which imprisoned him. These same Governments now slobber all over him as a hero. Mandela, a man Cameron once stated should be hung as a terrorist is now Cameron's hero, a 'great man' a 'hero of our times' a 'beacon of justice and humanity'.
Cameron is not alone in this political sophistry. It is both sad and amusing watching the right in the USA tripping over themselves to find a way to damn Mandela with faint praise. Mandela a man who rejected everything neo-liberal capitalism stands for. To give the US Republican's and their 'Tea Party' extremists some respect they have tried to keep quiet on the issue but the more extreme members of their support could not help themselves, their mean and sick posts read as if they killed Mandela themselves. Somehow those 'Tea Party' supporters have the idea they put Mandela's head on their wall along side the elk, wolves and President Kennedy.
I watched the UK media fall over themselves in hubris and mawkishness, presenting a Mandela that suited the particular media's political and editorial line - never about Mandela himself. A rare flower were the pieces by Desmond Tutu and the Dalia Lama about their friend Nelson, about the man and not the media 'super hero' construct - Nelson Mandela.
I never met Mr Mandela. I do not know Mandela the man. The only measure I have is did he do more good than harm? Even then through which prism is this to be measured? Did Mandela merely act as the symbol of hope for the oppressed in South Africa? A symbol imprisoned on Robbin's Island by the South African Apartheid regime in an attempt to prevent its light from shining across the darkness. It is clear the apartheid regime feared Mandela's most powerful weapon - words.
As for Mandela and the ANC - how much did Mandela's public light shine into its dark and seedy corners; its deals, its extortion, its murders of innocents, its sacrifice of pawns like Steve Bikko, its internal and continual fights for the supremacy of one clique or another which debilitated the movement and held the process of ending apartheid back for so long and to whose actual advantage?
Watching Zuma and others in the ANC, at work, there is this horrible sense all that has really changed is the people of the South African regime and not the style of the regime itself. The tribal violence and tensions which the apartheid regime leveraged to their own advantage still impact heavily on the ordinary people of South Africa, on a daily basis, and inform South African politics as a result.
On balance, in my limited view, Mandela, as a man, did far more good than harm. He created a unity in South Africa which prevented the messy and vindictive civil war apartheid's collapse could have triggered. He created a vision of a South Africa which the world could identify with, engage with and openly trade with for the first time since the mid 1950's. In achieving these successes he deserves all the praise and renown heaped upon him.
“The best tribute we can pay to him is to do whatever we can to contribute to honouring the oneness of humanity and working for peace and reconciliation as he did”.
was the Dalai Lama's request as the best way to celebrate his friend's life and death. I suggest this would be a far better and longer lasting memorial than the politicised hubris, faux international leader tears and political show boating coming to a television or computer screen near you over the next week.