When the kind-faced mocha Yoda named Nelson Mandela passed into the great beyond last week, the world joined hands like one big giant Coca-Cola commercial to canonize and lionize and deify and sanctify his memory. The torrent of treacly encomiums and mawkish panegyrics hurled at Mandela’s glowing feet surrounded his legacy with a force field of such pulsating holiness that anyone who’s remotely skeptical or inquisitive would be able to discern it was all a mountain of shit.
This isn’t to say there was nothing to admire about the man. His stoic perseverance against all odds is the stuff of which heroic legends are made. But to keep such legends unsullied requires a vigilant and ruthless pruning of inconvenient facts that would undermine the carefully sculpted image of Human Goodness Incarnate that surrounds what was possibly the world’s most famous man.
On Friday evening, ABC’s 20/20 presented a postmortem tribute that oozed with so much sanctimonious brown-nosing that it should have been called Up Mandela’s Ass. I doubt that this saccharine chunk of carefully packaged propaganda was any more idealized, unrealistic, or one-sided than the thousands of other tributes that burst forth like millions of sugarcoated tears after his passing, but I was only able to handle one Mandela tribute lest my eyes roll so violently that they pop out of my head.
The 20/20 special peddled such obviously fraudulent lies as the allegation that Mandela’s African National Congress was “committed to nonviolent resistance.” Not a peep was made about the fact that Mandela was sentenced to prison not for “treason””which is the only charge the show mentioned”but that he pled guilty to an indictment accusing him of complicity in “the preparation, manufacture and use of explosives”for the purpose of committing acts of violence.” Nothing was said about the radical guerrilla army he founded called “Spear of the Nation” that was linked to hundreds of acts of violence and sabotage. Nothing was said about his claim that “violence in this country was inevitable.” Nor was it mentioned that he was offered freedom from prison in February 1985 if he agreed to foreswear violence but that he refused. And they certainly didn’t dare to show a clip of an ANC “necklacing” that’s one of the most brutal snippets of mob violence I’ve ever witnessed. Nothing was said about the Church Street Bombing or any of the other bombings and violent acts committed in the ANC’s name that in other contexts would have Mandela dubbed a violent terrorist. Instead, 20/20 referred to him with the much cheerier sobriquet of “freedom fighter.”
The show argues that Mandela was able to quell racial tensions in South Africa and bring together a “rainbow nation” merely by being big-hearted enough to endorse the country’s rugby team. We are not informed that two years after his release from prison, Mandela joined ANC members in a group sing-along of a cheery ditty whose lyrics reputedly included “kill the whites.” Nothing was mentioned of other ANC slogans such as “kill the Boers” and “one settler, one bullet,” nor of ANC officials’ comments such as “When Mandela goes, we will kill you whites like flies.” And they didn’t dare show any photos of the thousands of white farmers that have been savagely massacred since apartheid ended. And we were not informed that rather than ushering in a post-racial utopia, South Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment program dictates wealth redistribution along racial lines.
The program refers to his second wife, Winnie Mandela, as “fiery and controversial” but neglects to include the fact that she headed a criminal gang that was responsible for the beatings, murder, and torture of adults and children. Nor did it mention his first wife’s divorce filing that included allegations of repeated physical abuse and threatening her with an axe.
We hear glowing reminiscences that Mandela was a voice of “democracy” but not a word about the fact that he was a lifelong committed Marxist. Even though he shrugged off accusations of being a communist, the South African Communist Party claimed on Friday that “At his arrest in August 1962, Nelson Mandela was not only a member of the then underground South African Communist Party, but was also a member of our Party’s Central Committee.” Nothing was mentioned about allegations that he handwrote a tract called “HOW TO BE A GOOD COMMUNIST” that claimed “THE CAUSE OF COMMUNISM IS THE GREATEST AND MOST ARDUOUS CAUSE IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND.”