I had Mandela fatigue as soon as I saw the news on Facebook last night that the great man had died. Today it reminded me a bit of the mourning in Russia for Stalin. I couldn't help
finding the general glumness slightly amusing, but Godless people need saints too, I know, and often choose unsaintly ones. Think of the nocturnal habits of Martin Luther King and Gandhi.
The whole thing is strange. Peter Oborne, who usually has very good judgment, said Mandela was Christ-like. Has Peter heard of Barrabas? Charles Moore whom I usually agree with was almost as hyperbolic.
Mr Mandela was a great man, and a real man, but I feel the adoration is very overdone - people like Lech Walesa deserve that kind of admiration. Things would have been much worse in South Africa without Mr Mandela and may still be. But why does Mr De Klerk not get the adulation and hero worship? De Klerk is responsible for majority rule, though it was inevitable at some point. It is too soon to say if it will prove to be a good thing.
Apartheid was an unpleasant, unjust system, very different from the paternalism in British colonies, but for most of Africa white rule ended too soon, from the Africans' point of view, because an educated black elite wanted power. The communism which many other African countries endured after independence was very much worse than white rule. South Africa would have become Communist had the ANC came to power before Gorbachov did, perhaps Mozambiquan style, where, under Mr Mandela's friend Samora Machel, the whites fled, and for a short time property and even religion were abolished. The National Party, for all its sins, and the end of Communism in Eastern Europe saved South Africa from this fate.
I admired Mr. Mandela, but I really hate the widespread idea that some global hero has died. Oddly, nationalists who have white skins are treated as wicked but ones with brown or yellow skins are considered good. But the reason why Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Mandela make up a secular triptych of saints is to do with how people feel about race - and about other things too, like the social revolution of the 1960s, about the role of women, about tradition and change. About killing one's corrupt father.
And indeed under majority rule South Africa became progressive. One of the early things the ANC did was to legalise abortion and South Africa in the 1996 was the first country in the world to make discrimination against homosexuals illegal. Readers can decide for themselves what they think of these two things.
One very good article that spoke about the real Mandela is here. He was a nationalist, which is fine, a Communist, which is not fine at all, a revolutionary, like Washington, Lenin and Hitler, a (not very competent) terrorist and in the end a unifying figure whose presidency prevented a race war. He was always a man of the far left, not the conscience of the world. For those who doubt he was a Communist here is the proof.
I regret that the whites did not make an independent state of the Western Cape where half the population is 'coloured'. I was also surprised that De Klerk did not reserve any special rights for whites in Parliament, unlike those in Zimbabwe. Had the whites made terms a decade earlier much more could have been done but the Cold War was waging and the ANC were firmly on the Soviet side. Even after Mandela's release from prison many Afrikaaner politicians wanted to carve out a separate Afrikaaner state, which might have been a good idea. The problem is that the Africans, unlike the aboriginals in Australia and North America, outnumbered the whites everywhere.
Mandela chose to use violent methods and of course committed the crimes for which he was imprisoned. He received a fair trial. In a dictatorship Mandela would have been killed but the National Party tried him by the book and gave him much more time for political speeches than he would have got in England. It was because they were Christians that they later did not ruthlessly crush the uprising as Stalin or Brezhnev would have done.
While Mandela was in gaol and after ANC supporters murdered and tortured very many people, including many Zulus, who had made terms with the government. But Chief Buthelezi, the Zulu leader, once more famous than Mandela, is forgotten now. Mandela could have left gaol much earlier had he renounced violence. Had he done so the leadership of the blacks might have gone to one of his lieutenants, who were much smaller men, but it might not have done. In this case, apartheid might have taken much longer to end but with many fewer killings, killings which have continued after majority rule until the present day and show no signs of abating. They are slowly persuading whites to leave.
The magnanimity and lack of bitterness that Mandela showed when he took power was of course magnificent. His great achievements were to win round the whites, who came mostly to love him, and to preserve the white domination of the economy, so essential to the whole country. Neither of these were expected when De Klerk released him.
Mandela, like Bill Clinton, had charisma and, unlike Clinton, great dignity. Mandela was, like many nationalist leaders, a heroic figure. His life was Shakespearian, fascinating, noble in many ways, but I do not understand why so many clergymen like him. After all, he was a rebel who did not give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's. But clergymen are more left-wing than they used to be when they were sent to convert Africans during the European scramble for Africa and the clergy have often backed nationalist rebels in various times and places, including Ireland and America.
Talking of the clergy, my sermon for today, in the words of my father's Mass book, is let us be submissive to our superiors and condescending to our inferiors. And, in the words of Pope,
For forms of Government let fools contest,Let the final words be Mandela's. Mandela in 1991 - when he and his murderous wife, Winnie, went to what they called their "second home", Cuba - said:
Whate'er is best administered is best.
Long live the Cuban Revolution. Long live comrade Fidel Castro... Cuban internationalists have done so much for African independence, freedom, and justice. We admire the sacrifices of the Cuban people in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in the face of a vicious imperialist campaign designed to destroy the advances of the Cuban revolution. We too want to control our destiny... There can be no surrender. It is a case of freedom or death. The Cuban revolution has been a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people.
[Footnotes for royalists:
Mandela began his bombing campaign at the end of 1961, a few months after South Africa abolished the monarchy so he did not commit treason against the Queen. Had the Queen married Div how might things have been? People spoke of it before she met Prince Philip.]