(FinalCall.com) – The 94-year-old Nelson Mandela has received much press of late. His hospital stays have garnered much headlines, and his mortality much discussion. Talk is of his legacy and what South Africa’s first post-apartheid Black president will represent to the country going forward.
His legacy, as it is being shaped, appears headed toward a similar image assigned to Dr. Martin Luther Jr., who became the principal symbol of a “dream” of a non-racial society where “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood,” as he said during his 1963 March on Washington speech.
Mandela, or Madiba, as he is often called by his clan name, when elected president in 1994, according to World News on NBC News.com declared: “We enter into a covenant that we shall build a society in which all South Africans, both Black and White, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity–a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”
King and Mandela both realized that the “dream” and the “covenant” respectfully, were “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” In their visions, a non-racial society would be the goal of their lifelong dedication; in reality it was and is an uphill battle, fraught with much difficulty, pain, disappointment and sorrow. King lost his life for his beliefs; Mandela lost 27 years in a South African prison.
And for the Fourth Estate to begin to tarnish Mandela’s legacy, as NBC News.com recently did, by portraying his “visible legacy” was represented in the fact that “South Africa’s interracial couples no longer need to hide” is tantamount to turning King into a dream, when he was much more than that. Using interracial couples as a sign of progress is hiding the continued unequal status of the majority of Black South Africans.
And then there is the evaporating memory of the struggle against apartheid. In South Africa these memories are being replaced with immediate needs, such as education, employment, adequate housing and public safety.
According to Dr. Samadoda Fikenia of the Walter Sisulu University, South Africans under age 30 don’t have memories of the struggle against apartheid. “Invoking the struggle wouldn’t impress them as much,” he said.
But if Mandela’s passing is close to next year’s general elections, he suggested, a new invigorated wave of sympathy would emerge, and would be reflected in the vote for “Mandela’s African National Congress party.”
So what is Mandela’s legacy? And why are we being beaten over the head with this post-Obama, non-racial society fantasy as though America has lived out its “creed,” and Black South Africans have achieved economic parity with Whites?
In 1996 the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, during Nation of Islam leader Min. Louis Farrakhan’s visit with then-President Mandela said, “ (It) would have preferred it if our esteemed president–who is the world symbol of reconciliation and non-racialism–would not have met with Minister Farrakhan.” They accused Farrakhan of possibly exploiting the meeting to further “his own agenda.”
The British daily, The Independent, also chimed in, suggesting without proof that “Mandela did not appear to pull any punches with Mr. Farrakhan, and left the impression he lectured him on the need for tolerance.”
During a joint press conference, in front of Mandela’s Johannesburg home, that the press was not privy to, the two leaders proclaimed they were like “two peas in a pod.”
“All the principles that President Mandela outlined (to us) we agree with totally. Islam is a religion, which, if practiced, disallows racialism, racism, injustice, tyranny and oppression,” Farrakhan said.
Mandela announced, “Our meeting has been very short and we were able to cover only those things that were considered to be fundamental. And there was no issue which arose on which there was disagreement.”
Did Mandela dishonor non-racialism by meeting with Farrakhan? For that matter, did Dr. King dishonor his dream when, two months before his assassination, he had a sit down meeting which included his wife Coretta with Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad?
In 1997 ignoring U.S. objections, and punishing United Nations sanctions against air-travel, Mandela traveled 100 miles in a 50-car caravan from the Tunisian border town of Ras Adjir to the Libyan capital Tripoli for an official Oct. 22 visit. “Sternly” dismissing U.S. reservations about his mission,” according to the Reuters news service, Mandela traveled to Libya and met with Col. Muammar Gadhafi. He told reporters he remained unimpressed with U.S. opposition to his trip.
“Those who say I should not be here are without morals. I am not going to join them in their lack of morality,” he said.
Mandela added that he spent 27 years in prison rather than abandoning his principles under pressure. He said he felt the same way about his debt to Gadhafi and the Libyan people for their support against the apartheid regime.
“This man helped us at a time when we were all alone, when those who say we should not come here were helping the enemy (SA’s apartheid govt.),” Mandela said.
Mandela’s legacy is much more than the non-racial society attributed to him. His willingness to forgive an oppressive regime and then bowing out after serving just one term, is a legacy of a true statesman, and an exemplar example for world leaders.
Mandela’s legacy, which included lecturing then U.S. President Bill Clinton on his need to “negotiate face-to-face with his enemies to solve conflicts peacefully,” reported the Los Angeles Times, may be summed in the foundation that he laid, and in the substance of Dr. King’s speech given the day before he was assassinated.
“… And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land. So I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.”
Until that glorious day; aluta continua, the struggle continues.
(Jehron Muhammad, who lives in Philadelphia, can be reached at [email protected].)