Notes From the Margins…

Nelson Mandela’s Phony Fanclub

  • December 06, 2013
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The death of Nelson Mandela is an event to be mourned, but his magnificent life is also something to be celebrated, for his exemplary moral courage and for the heroic struggle against one of the most oppressive and vile political systems ever created which   he symbolized, and helped bring to a triumphant conclusion after spending 27 years in prison as a ‘terrorist.’

Few politicians have ever achieved as much as he did, and few have generated such enormous goodwill in their own lifetime.

Long before his death, Mandela had acquired – regardless of his own intentions – the status of universal celebrity and secular sainthood, and the glow that he created had already begun to attract some very dubious admirers.

‘They flee from me that sometime did me seek,’ wrote the poet Thomas Wyatt.   In Mandela’s case the reverse is true.     Take for example John ‘bomber’ McCain.   Last month McCain attended the screening of the Mandela biopic Long Walk to Freedom, in Washington, where he delivered a eulogistic address which declared:

‘It is hard not to be in awe of Nelson Mandela. His character is awe-inspiring his courage, resilience, generosity, selflessness, wisdom. History offers few examples of people who were as devoted or sacrificed more for a cause greater than their self-interest than Nelson Mandela.’

McCain went on to praise Mandela’s ‘capacity for forgiveness. Imprisoned unjustly for 27 years, he bore no hate for those who took his freedom from him, who denied his dignity.’

The man who once sang ‘Bomb-bomb-bomb-bomb Iran’ cited Mandela’s close relationship with one of his guards on Robben Island as evidence of ‘a mutual regard that ancient hatreds could not prevent. Love, you see, comes more naturally to the human heart than hatred.’

Noble words.   But what was McCain doing when Mandela was in prison?   Well back in 1987, he voted various times in an attempt to persuade the Reagan administration to back the RENAMO organization in its violent campaign against the left-wing FRELIMO government of Mozambique.

Initially created by the Rhodesian secret services, RENAMO or the ‘Mozambican National Resistance’ became a tool of South Africa in its ‘total strategy’ against the anti-apartheid ‘frontline states.’

RENAMO’s contribution was a reign of absolute terror in rural Mozambique, in which as many as 100,000 civilians were deliberately slaughtered.   Funded and equipped by the apartheid regime, it barely even bothered to fight a ‘military’ campaign against the Mozambican security forces.

Its ‘resistance’ was so insanely murderous that even the Reagan administration wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole. McCain was less scrupulous.   In 1987 he voted alongside the racist Jesse Helms and other senators to oppose the appointment of a State Department nominee for ambassador to Mozambique, because she was not seen as sufficiently pro-RENAMO.

So much for love and forgiveness.     Do people change?   Yes.   But there’s no evidence that McCain has, and his pious praise of Mandela positively reeks of hypocrisy.

And he isn’t the only one.   Closer to home there is our own Prime Minister, who has described Mandela as the person he most admires, and praised him for his ‘grace and complete lack of bitterness.’

Yet what’s this?     Back in 1989, Cameron visited apartheid South Africa, not to show solidarity with the prisoner on Robben Island, but   on a ‘fact-finding’ freebie   organized by the anti-sanctions lobby firm Strategy Network International  (SNI).

There are many other people who have showered praise on Mandela in order to try and bathe in his light.     Some of them are merely ridiculous,     Like Donald Trump, who tweeted ‘ Nelson Mandela and myself had a wonderful relationship–he was a special man and will be missed.’

Or Lindsay Lohan, of all people,   who has responded to his death by tweeting ‘A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.’     Well she ought to know.

Lohan is merely an idiot.   But too many of the politicians and celebrities who are lining up to pay tribute to Mandela praise him for things that they would never even dream of doing themselves, in ways that conceal and obscure what he actually did.

They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it, and when they do, we should call them out.     Because Mandela’s legacy should not be left in the hands of hypocrite politicians, millionaires and moronic celebrities who seek to bathe in the light that he left behind him, and his funeral shouldn’t become a Hello-style watch-the-celebrity event that obscures the struggle he fought so bravely.

Because there was once a time when he wasn’t famous or powerful, but chose to fight for truth, justice and equality without knowing whether he would ever succeed.

That’s what made him great.

How many of those empty vessels who now praise him, who have spent their lives pursuing nothing but fame, power and money can say the same?

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  1. Alexander

    8th Dec 2013 - 4:08 pm

    I agree that the whole system is corrupt, but regardless of how hypocritical these people are at least they realise that he is someone to be sorely missed. By attacking Lindsay Lohan and other celebrities (however moronic) etc for mourning his death, are you suggesting that they should be ignoring it instead?

    • Matt

      8th Dec 2013 - 4:25 pm

      Many of these people realise that Mandela is someone to be sorely missed, because he has become a universal celebrity/saint. That doesn’t they realise WHY he is to be missed, or what it was about him that made him so impressive. I don’t actually believe that people who have so little interest in the struggle that he fought for are really mourning his death at all – or celebrating his life. I think that many of them, like Donald Trump are merely trying to get some moral worthiness for themselves. I mean Trump is supposed to have said once that ‘laziness is a trait in blacks.’ As for McCain and Cameron – frauds and hypocrites the pair of them, and in makes no difference whatsoever if they mourn him or not. I actually think that the kind of mourning that the celebrity/global leader Mandela cult goes in for could be even be damaging, in its attempts to turn Mandela into a fluffy/kumbaya type figure.

  2. Paul Seligman (@PaulMSeligman)

    8th Dec 2013 - 8:01 pm

    One of the most nauseating tributes, for me, was Tony Blair’s.

    But among all the gushing (who is Lindsey Lohan? actually, don’t answer, I don’t care), there have been some great voice.

    Denis Goldberg on Radio 4’s Today program (Friday 6th, I think) was a breath of fresh air. He cut through the rose-tinted reminiscences by reminding listeners that 10,000 people died in the ‘bloodless revolution’ between Mandela’s release and the transfer of power and ripped into those South African politicians and others who enrich themselves unjustly today and who ‘build mansions with public money’.

    It was clearly not what John Humphreys and colleagues wanted to hear.

    Unfortunately, the clip does not seem to be available to “listen again” online.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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