At last, the real Nelson Mandela appears in the pages of the Fairfax press thanks to journalist Paul McGeough:
"History's airbrush was in overdrive as world leaders and the media farewelled a truly great leader of his people - South Africa's Nelson Mandela. There would be no talk here that might be read as legitimising armed struggle by whole populations who are denied their rights. It was just too mucky, wasn't it, to go into the violence of armed struggle. But in sanitising Mandela's story, it seemed we were being asked to deny an essential element of the fight for freedom in South Africa.
"It was lost on dignitaries, from US President Barack Obama down, that the real Mandela story is greater than the arc of his leadership, as traced in their speech-making. This is because when the bit about violence is included, an audience has a better sense of the frustration experienced by black South Africans and hence can more appreciate the challenges in Mandela's long and brutal walk to freedom.
"And that becomes a teachable moment for us all - that one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter; and when the fighting has stopped, yes, it would be great to have him for dinner and hear a retelling of his account, on being released from prison, of his rebirth as a man of peace: 'As I walked out the door, towards the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in [a] prison.'
"Searching the Factiva global news archive in the 6 days after his death, there were more than 35,000 mentions of Mandela. But narrow the search by adding 'violence' or 'terror' and indeed it seemed history was being cleansed. Put 'violence' beside 'Mandela' and slightly less than 1,000 reports use the word; add 'terror' and the count shrinks to slightly more than 100, and a good number of those refer to the violence of others.
"Obama's blurring of the story was intriguing. Instead of remaining silent on Mandela and the African National Congress' resort to violence in the wake of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre, in which forces of the white regime gunned down 69 peaceful demonstrators, Obama made the oblique suggestion that the whole struggle had been peaceful: 'Emerging from prison, without the force of arms, he would - like Abraham Lincoln - hold his country together...' Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose predecessors were staunch allies of white South Africa through apartheid, didn't make the journey. But he, too, gilded the lily, describing Mandela as 'a man of vision, a fighter for freedom who rejected violence'.
"Now, go back in the archives, to Mandela's 1964 trial on charges of sabotage and treason. 'We were placed in a position in which we had either to accept a permanent state of inferiority, or to defy the government,' he told the court. 'We chose to defy the government. We first broke the law in a way which avoided any recourse to violence; when this form was legislated against, and when the government resorted to a show of force to crush opposition to its policies, only then did we decide to answer violence with violence.' Mandela went into greater detail on the rationale for the ANC's armed wing, of which he was the founder. 'I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness, nor because I have any love for violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after... years of tyranny, exploitation, and oppression of my people by the whites.'
"And notwithstanding pressure from Western capitals, Mandela refused to renounce violence or to disarm until the time of his choosing, i.e., when the deal was done with the white regime. And he could do the deal because of the man he was, including being a warrior for his people.
"Many Palestinians see their circumstances as apartheid-era South Africa replicated.* And while many went lightly on the role of violence in the African struggle, Netanyahu did get a shellacking at home. In Haaretz, Roy Isacowitz wrote: 'It's a pity that Netanyahu, vulgar and transparent as usual, tried to manipulate Mandela for his own purposes. It might be comforting to contrast the supposedly peaceful anti-apartheid legend with the obviously non-peaceful Palestinians - but that's not the way it was or is. Both sides wield violence in an armed conflict and state violence is no less lethal than the irregular kind.'
"The challenge for Obama and the rest then, is to back their rhetoric in the stadium with the kind of action their predecessors were reluctant to take when Mandela really needed help. They could speak up for political prisoners around the world, from China to Saudi Arabia; and instead of helping to manage the occupation, they might seek to have real effect in the Middle East peace talks, to honour Mandela's assertion: 'Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians'." (Sanitising Nelson Mandela's legend no help to today's fighters, The Sun-Herald, 15/12/13)
[*Not to mention many South Africans.]