Politics, like any team event, is incredibly divisive. Fans hate the opposition team and their supporters, probably more passionately than in most sporting divides. The tendency therefore becomes to label anyone perceived as on ‘your side’ a hero, and anyone who opposes you evil. Tories become sub human poor haters, while Labour becomes spend-addicted communists.
Of all the political figures Nelson Mandela is one of the most divisive. Supporters see him as saint who helped bring down an oppressive regime, fighting nobly against a racist state. His detractors see him as a terrorist who helped kill many civilians in a serious of vicious attacks. The truth probably, as it often does, lies somewhere in between.
Mandela was born into a country that automatically made him a second class citizen. Black South Africans could not vote, Black hospitals were poorly staffed, underfunded and woefully inadequate compared to their White counterparts. Trains, buses even ambulances were segregated. Black’s were forbidden from White only zones without a permit and were forcibly resettled away from areas the Government deemed inappropriate. In short it was a system that almost none of us today could even comprehend.
It is with that background that Mandela moved from a decade of non violent, peaceful protest, to a more direct and violent approach. A process that Andy Bolton documents well here.
The use of violence is questionable for many people, something that we find hard to justify. Those that support him point to the fact that Mandela was fighting against a system that had all but declared war against non whites.
Mandela was not perfect, he did not have the tolerance and the ability to forgive that many seem to demand he had. After years of seeing others fighting his cause beaten, attacked and killed he gave up on peaceful protest, something that many will not forgive him for, and turned to a more direct approach.
The worst of the violence was long after Mandela had been arrested, and the civilian deaths were during a period when he was held isolation on Robben Island allowed one visit and one censored letter every half year. To blame him, as many do, for the deaths of civilians in this period is questionable at best. But it is without doubt that Mandela helped change a movement based on civil disobedience to one that relied on violence and eventually led to some indefensible attacks on many innocents, and for some that is enough to damn him as a terrorist entirely.
It is easy, sitting comfortably in a comparatively free society, to set the bar high for people like Mandela. To demand that they show virtues that we ourselves often don’t show in our everyday lives, and then condemn them as evil when they fall even slightly below our requirements. Only you know if you could have lived up to those standards yourself in the same situation Mandela faced, and fortunately none of you are likely to have to find out if you will. Nelson Mandela was imperfect and flawed as all humans are, he was not a saint, he did not live a perfect life. But he was far from a devil, from an evil terrorist who desired only to kill. Apartheid South Africa showed some of the very worst a state could become, some of the most appalling ways we can treat our fellow man. Mandlea showed true bravery in standing up for rights we today take for granted as self evident. That his fight was imperfect will tarnish him forever in the eyes of his detractors. While he was no angel he did what he could, in an impossible situation, to make life better for those who were crushed under the heel of an oppressive state. So maybe it is time to do away with the extreme labels, to recognise that Mandela was flawed like any of us, and fighting in a situation few of us can imagine. And while he may not have achieved perfection, he did what he saw was right at a time when almost every option would have horrific consequences. Rather than demand perfection and, due to a lack of it, refuse to even consider any positives maybe we should just applaud one man who stood up for what he saw as right and accept that in life, good comes with bad.