Nelson Mandela, died a couple of days ago, and the airways have been filled with tributes and analysis of his impact on the political landscape. Indeed Mandela stands forth with a handful of others of the 20th century whom we can look up to as real fighters for freedom and justice. His name is equal to that of Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Caesar Chavez, Lech Waleza in the pantheon of people we adjudge as heroes.
Mandela started as a peaceful revolutionary and democratic socialist in South Africa. The massacre at Sharpeville was said to have radicalized him and led to a more militant Mandela and a upturn violent activities. He co-founded the MK in 1961, becoming ultimately the ANC’s armed wing. He sought help from Casto and other Communist states in his struggle to help his people. After his conviction in 1964 for treason and his incarceration, he developed the present philosophy for which he is noted, and upon his release from prison in 1990.
He went on to become the president of the country in 1994, and today South Africa stands as a model of reconciliation between black and white citizens. Of course that doesn’t mean that all is well there by any means, but Mandela set the tone of forgiveness which allowed the country to move forward instead of devolving into a bloody war.
But most all of this is common knowledge. Today, the US, like countries around the world, are paying tribute to this freedom fighter. Yet it was not so very long ago that things were quite different here as regards this individual.
It is clear that there was no real desire in this country to come to Mandela and Black Africans in general initially. As was true in the 60’s as regards the Vietnam war, the impetus for change came from university campuses across the nation, as students challenged their schools financial investment in the rich industries of South Africa. Local governments in some cases followed suit.
Finally a coalition of Democrats and liberal and moderate Republicans passed a comprehensive bill called the Anti-Apartheid Act in 1986. The near-god of the Right, Ronald Reagan, promptly vetoed it. Back it went to the Congress, where people like Jessie Helms claimed that Mandela was nothing more than an ungodly communist aligned with the Soviet Union. In fact old Jessie led a filibuster against the law.
Other well-known Republicans who voted no to over-riding the presidential veto. Among them were: Phil Gramm, Joe Barton, Dick Cheney, Ralph Hall and Howard Coble and Hal Rodgers. Rodgers, Barton, and Coble had the gall to commemorate Mandela after his death, making no mention of the fact that they had tried to stop the imposition of sanctions against South Africa to end apartheid and his very imprisonment. Present members of the senate who voted against the bill are: Thad Cochran, Orrin Hatch, and Chuck Grassley.
For the first and only time in the 20th century, a coalition of Democrats and Republicans over-rode the President’s veto and the bill became law. The rest is history.
No doubt before long, the tea party will “adopt” Mandela as one of their own, much as they have laughingly tried to do with Martin Luther King, Jr.
But we remember that the Republicans again, in very large numbers were on the wrong side of history back in 1986. Cheney of course says his vote was proper and that Mandela has “mellowed” since then.
Indeed, some Democrats were as well. Mandela was not taken off the “terrorist watch list” until 2008.
Some “modern” wannabe leaders are finding the going a bit tough in praising Nelson Mandela. Ted Cruz gave the obligatory tribute and was vilified for it by his cadre of insanely crazy followers. It’s best we don’t forget that either.