We mourn the death of Nelson Mandela, who died today at age 95. Mandela’s sacrifice, courage, and vision inspired people throughout the world, and thousands, if not millions, of young people came to their political awareness through anti-apartheid solidarity actions.
Let us remember Mandela the freedom fighter, the revolutionary who was imprisoned (along with thousands of others) because he organized defiance campaigns and advocated violating unjust laws.
There will be many well-deserved tributes to Mandela, but in teaching about Mandela’s significance with students, it’s worth remembering that the U.S. government considered Mandela a terrorist, and the African National Congress, a terrorist organization.
While Mandela sat in jail and brutal repression was widespread, U.S. corporate investment in apartheid South Africa ballooned, and Ronald Reagan announced his be-nice policy of “constructive engagement” with the racist white-minority regime. When the Reagan administration decided to “pressure” its foes, it did so with embargoes (e.g., Cuba), invasions (e.g., Grenada), and covert war (e.g., the Contra War in Nicaragua). With South Africa, Reagan espoused a policy of “let’s invest as much as we can and we’ll change South Africa by example.” [See more on Democracy Now!]
To the extent that South Africa ended its apartheid nightmare, this was the result of popular struggle and solidarity, not gifts from those in power.
The end of apartheid did not mean the end of poverty and exploitation. There is lingering, even deepening, inequality in South Africa. The roots of these problems are ones we need to focus on. [See The Shock Doctrine.] But this awareness should not detract from the long freedom struggle in South Africa and the central role played by Nelson Mandela. This struggle inspired people throughout the world who worked in solidarity with those demanding justice in South Africa.
Mandela’s death is an occasion to mourn the loss of one the world’s great freedom fighters, a time to celebrate the work of those who worked for a free and non-racial South Africa, and also to consider the tasks remaining.
|Strangers in Their Own Country: A Curriculum Guide on South Africa. Free downloadable teaching guide by Bill Bigelow. Lessons on apartheid in South Africa and the global anti-apartheid movement. Originally published by Africa World Press in 1985.|
|Nelson Mandela: The Authorized Comic Book. A graphic novel about the life and times of Nelson Mandela produced for school children in South Africa by the Nelson Mandela Foundation and Umlando Wezithombe (History through Pictures).|
|South African History Online: toward a people’s history. Primary documents and background on the freedom struggle in South Africa. The website includes biographies of hundreds of South Africans of note. This is helpful so that students can see that Nelson Mandela was part of a very large people’s movement.|
|Mandela: An Audio History. Audio clips from six decades of the struggle against apartheid, told by the people who lived it, including Nelson Mandela. A Radio Diaries production.|
|African Activist Archive. Multimedia historical materials and interviews with activists in the U.S. movement in solidarity with struggles of African peoples against apartheid, colonialism, and injustice.|
|Democracy Now! A vital source of news, analysis, and interviews about Nelson Mandela and the history of South Africa. Listen to the coverage about Nelson Mandela’s life and legacy and check out the archives on South Africa here.|
|12 Mandela Quotes That Won’t Be In the Corporate Media Obituaries. Common Dreams offer a collection of quotes by Nelson Mandela in response to mainstream media attempts to “sanitize” his legacy.|