The death of Nelson Mandela on Thursday at the age of 95 was in many ways the culmination of a struggle and in other ways the revelation of a system of governance. Mandela in recent days has been referred to as the "Anti-Apartheid Crusader" who after serving 27 years in prison became the first Black democratically elected president of South Africa. Since his death, Mandela has been spoken of in the same vein as Gandhi and Martin Luther King. He has also been called a terrorist, a socialist, a communist and a Marxist. With his funeral scheduled for Dec. 15, 2013 there is plenty of time to form an opinion of the man. What Mandela fought against should not be lost in the debate over his legacy nor should it be treated as simply a side note to what he spent the bulk of his life on this earth trying to achieve.
Despite the fact that Mandela was taken off the U.S. terrorist watch list in 2008, many state officials refused to lower the U.S flag to half-staff at government buildings as ordered by the President of the United States. One sheriff in South Carolina gained the media's attention by going on the record and citing instead the assertion that the man was a terrorist. That being said, J. Edgar Hoover also put Martin Luther King, Gandhi, The Black Panther Party and anyone deemed to be fighting for civil rights or social change on that list. We as a nation didn't use drones to kill our enemies back in those days but assassinations were carried out in the name of "War on Terror" just as they are carried out today.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) who is by no means the most diplomatic senator serving in the Congress came under fire from his followers on Facebook following a post he did praising Mandela for his accomplishments. Similar reactions have become evidenced as the coverage continues and more people become crystallized in how the view apartheid. Apartheid is a word used to describe a system of governance which simply means "keep apart." The word we are more familiar with in the U.S. is "segregation."
It is there in the understanding of what Mandela fought against that we can began to put his legacy into it's proper context. We did not do such a good job with the before mentioned "Freedom Fighters" who gave their lives trying to achieve racial equality. But we have a chance to get this one right before the pundits and racists rewrite history before Mandela's body is covered with dirt.
Few would deny that Mandela will go into the history books as a person who transformed a nation and influenced the world, but embracing Fidel Castro and joining the Communist Party will be swept under the rug. I'm not implying that the man should be condemned for those acts but that we should reassess who we label as a terrorist for daring to do so. It seems to be a lot easier to simply say that Mandela was a man who could forgive his oppressors. Or that he was a man of great convictions who could endure 27 years of hard labor and still live past and age when most men would have been dead a long time ago. Maybe it was his smile or the calmness in which he carried himself.
Regardless of your conclusion as to who Mandela was understand one thing for sure. Unless a person has suffered oppression they should not try to speak as if they understand it. If they have not been a slave they should not use metaphors as something being like slavery. One such co-op of this metaphor is Rick Santorum suggesting that Mandela fighting against apartheid is analogous to his fighting against Obamacare. I won't elaborate on that story here for I'm convinced the talking points and anti-Obama rhetoric is being written as surely as I'm writing this article.
As President Obama makes plans to board Air Force One and take a seat as the representative of The United States of America. A nation where half it's citizens would rather see him in chains as opposed to even stepping foot on a plane reserved for the leader of the free world. He embodies everything Mandela stood for. He knows the feeling of being oppressed and the scars left as a result of being enslaved. He knows how to endure and skillfully out maneuver his oppressors. He knows the power of the ballot and what it means to have "One person, One vote." And of course, he knows what it feels like to be elevated to the highest office in the country that you are proud to claim as your home.