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The death of Nelson Mandela and the significance of his apartheid struggle

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The world mourns the loss of Nelson Mandela, who was a freedom fighter, a political prisoner, a renowned anti-apartheid leader, a renowned unifier, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, a global icon, and South Africa's first black president. Mandela died Thursday in Johannesburg after a long bought with illness at the age of 95.

The current South African President Jacob Zuma, at a news conference, made the announcement late Thursday evening. In the words of Zuma: “We’ve lost our greatest son. He is now resting. He is now at peace.”

A public memorial service is scheduled at a Johannesburg soccer stadium in the next three to four days according to CNN.

After that, Mandela’s casket will lie in state for several days in Pretoria before it will be flown to his ancestral home in Qunu for a state funeral and burial according to CNN.

President Obama responded to Mandela's passing by saying: “He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages.”

One important question that will be asked by some but not many is whether or not Mandela deserves the iconic status that he garnered during his life – an iconic status that will only be amplified after his passing, and the answer to that question is an undeniable yes.

And as well-deserved praise, respect and admiration continues to pour in from all corners of the world, including from American conservatives and right wing linked organizations and pundits, winners and losers based on their support or opposition to apartheid will be etched into the stone of history despite how some factions will certainly try to rearrange their stance in hopes of appearing to be more favorable.

In reaction to Mandela’s passing, on Thursday night Fox’s Greta Van Susteren, a conservative, described Mandela as a “great man of the world,” not just in South Africa – describing him as the “real deal.”

She also said:

He set personal standards of dignity that the rest of us, we can only dream of achieving. He was in prison for 27 years, but upon his release he wasn’t bitter, not blaming.”

Former, Republican President George H.W. Bush also made a statement on Thursday about the passing of Mandela.

According to, he said:

Barbara and I mourn the passing of one of the greatest believers in freedom we have had the privilege to know. As President, I watched in wonder as Nelson Mandela had the remarkable capacity to forgive his jailers following 26 years of wrongful imprisonment -- setting a powerful example of redemption and grace for us all.”

He was a man of tremendous moral courage, who changed the course of history in his country. Barbara and I had great respect for President Mandela, and send our condolences to his family and countrymen."

Fortunately, Mandela was not the kind of person to ask: Where was all of this when I needed it the most, when I was imprisoned and fighting the apartheid powers that be in response to then President Bush’s choice not to strongly and specifically denounce the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Because for all of the supporters and enablers of the South African, apartheid, political regime, especially the American supporters of the contentious 1980s — people like the newly crowned king of tax reform Grover Norquist, Jack Abramoff, Jeff Flake, and Chester Crocker of the Reagan administration that saw South Africa as an ally in the Cold War regardless of the injustices of apartheid, if Mandela’s legacy is made of gold, the legacy of apartheid and all of its trappings has to be made of shameful mud at the very least. And even though that mud has been whitewashed away by many, it should not be so easily forgotten.

Mandela spent 27 years in prison based in part, if not wholly, to the political hands of apartheid, and it is highly unlikely that he would have ever compared his situation to something like Obamacare, like some conservatives such as Dr. Ben Carson and former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin have tried to compare American slavery to directly or indirectly.

Mandela’s triumph is great, because his opposition (apartheid) was legitimately villainous and rightfully so. It certainly was not some trivial inconvenience that has been overblown to hype his racial resume so he can, as conservatives would say: socialize healthcare or hustle race.

And if conservative naysayers are willing to legitimize Mandela's struggle against racial oppression, then they should be just as unwilling to try and minimize the American equivalent to that same struggle by equating it to social programs or anything they consider to be the latest bad law passed by their political opposition.

So whether it is American slavery, the Jim Crow Black Codes, the civil rights era, South African apartheid or any other oppressive institution, you cannot try to marginalize the traumatic effects of an institution like American slavery and the Jim Crow era on one hand and then turnaround and brag on Mandela’s personal and political conquest over the political system of apartheid on the other hand, because both of these corrupted hands are attached to the same corrupted mind and body, which means they cannot be separated.

And by all accounts based on the views of his life, Mandela would agree, especially when a reconciliation barometer poll from 2012 claims that 43% of the people living in South Africa still have trouble dealing with each other based on race.



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