Monday, 22 April 2019

Remembering Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela. The man and legacy live on even in death. And as the world this week celebrates what would have been his centennial birthday — there are those who continue to battle against the West’s whitewashing of its Cold War treatment of the father of the South African nation. This is to be applauded.

Property of the People is a Washington-based non-profit organisation and, in its own words, is dedicated to the aggressive pursuit of governmental transparency in the service of democracy. Towards this end, it has published thousands of US intelligence documents detailing American surveillance of Mandela over possible Soviet ties. Even after his release from 27 years’ incarceration in 1990. That is, after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Indeed, the anti-apartheid icon remained a US-designated global terrorist until 2008.

It is important to remember how Nelson Mandela struggled for racial and socio-economic equality for black South Africans, who lived under segregation for more than 40 years. In fact, it offers many lessons for Pakistan and its people. Not least because of the human rights defender’s long-held tilt towards non-violent resistance.

As a young lawyer, Mandela helped launch the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League; leading its civil disobedience movement against apartheid for 11 years. This prompted the government in 1952 to ban him from travelling outside Johannesburg. Some seven years later he penned a note to the then Minister of Justice: “In spite the confinement of many individuals, banning them from organisations and gatherings, and the ruthless suppression of civil liberties by the Nationalists, the demand for democratic changes has become more assertive and powerful.”

Of course, Mandela did ‘compromise’ on his pacifist credentials following the South African regime’s killing of 69 unarmed protestors in what became known as the Sharpeville massacre in 1961. This gave birth to Spear of the Nation, the ANC’s militant wing. Yet it was the state that broke the social contract by unleashing disproportionate force on non-violent demonstrators. When his fellow comrades were put on trial for treason in 1963, Mandela delivered a speech in which he said: “We first broke the law in a way which avoided any recourse to violence; when this form was legislated against, and then the government resorted to a show of force to crush opposition to its politics, only then did we decide to answer violence with violence. . . ”

The Pakistani state, for its part, has got things back to front somewhat. For it welcomes into the so-called democratic fold those who preach bloody bigotry. Or else it supports the vanguards of the status quo. This will not do. Not only does it thwart the country’s progress towards religious and ethnic pluralism — it stokes the fires of deeply held resentment. What is therefore needed is to rethink notions of a national identity. For as Mandela himself once said: “No one is born hating another person . . . People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

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