by: Obert Madondo
Its ironic, isn’t it? Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the leader of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition, four provincial premiers, three former prime minister, two former governors general, MPs, a senator, and the head of the Assembly of First Nations, are in South Africa to convey of our collective last respects to the late Nelson Mandela, who died last week.
Under current Canadian terrorism laws and Conservative rule, Mandela, a globally-celebrated anti-apartheid icon, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, the first black president of South Africa, and an honorary Canadian citizen, would be considered a terrorist.
Who should we blame for this inconvenient fact? The global war on terror in the post-9/11 era. The Harper Conservatives’ crude and selective approach to terrorism and crime. Mandela’s “complicated” history. And, our double standards when it comes to our relations with dictators and other not-so-democratic foreign leaders who are prepared to employ violence as a political tool.
The Toronto Star‘s Thomas Walkom explains:
Under current Canadian law, this iconic hero of South Africa’s liberation would be considered a terrorist.
To remember this is not to diminish Mandela. He peacefully transformed a desperately divided apartheid state into a more-or-less united country.
The extravagant eulogies that followed his death are well-deserved.
But Mandela’s complicated history also underscores how crudely the post-9/11 world approaches what it calls terrorism.
Former U.S. president Bill Clinton once likened Mandela to India’s Mahatma Gandhi. Both were visionaries. But unlike Gandhi, Mandela was not averse to using violence.
In 1961, he established an armed wing of the anti-apartheid African National Congress to wage war on the South African state.
Modelled on Fidel Castro’s guerrilla forces in Cuba, MK, as it was known, sabotaged power stations, attacked military bases and engaged in the occasional car bombing.
Though I would never call Mandela a terrorist, I find his eagerness to embraced violence troubling. In his statement made from the dock on April 20, 1964, at the opening of his trial on charges of sabotage in the Supreme Court of South Africa, Mandela declared that “without violence there would be no way open to the African people to succeed in their struggle against the principle of white supremacy.”
I do not… deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness, nor because I have any love of violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation, and oppression of my people by the whites.
During 46 years of apartheid rule in South Africa, at least 18,000 people died due to violence inflicted by Umkhonto we Sizwe, the state police, the army and rioters. As I explained in this Huffington Post piece, as recently as 2012, South Africa’s ruling ANC party defended the infamous “kill the Boer”(kill the farmer or white man) song.
U.S. President Barack Obama is taking the following busload of top leaders to South Africa: First Lady Michelle Obama; ex-Presidents Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush; ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; national security Advise Susan Rice; attorney general Eric Holder; and White House advisor Valerie Jarrett.
Until 2008, Mandela, a personal friend of President Clinton, was on the infamous US terror watch list. To enter the U.S., Madiba and members of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress required special certification from the U.S. secretary of state. Mandela ceased to be a terrorist only after American politicians felt guilty enough and pressured then President George W. Bush to sign Bill H.R. 5690, which removed him from the list.
Not sure whether Harper will speak during Tuesday’s memorial for Mandela. But Obama is expected to deliver remarks. If someone, say a journalist, were to ask them both whether their countries ever treated Mandela as “terrorist”, what would the answer be?