Mandela: Learning to Forgive

ss-120601-mandela-tease.photoblog600Of all the things that have been said and will be said about Nelson Mandela, it is his small stories that move me most. His long days in the prison on Robben Island, where resentment gave way to clarity. A fence running around it, a tiny window letting in a sliver of daylight, a bird singing outside. In that place, Madiba overcame his own demons and managed to renounce the violence he had been a part of. He traveled the long road between developing the armed wing of the African National Congress, “Umkhonto we Sizwe” — Spear of the Nation — to transforming himself into a paradigm of peaceful struggle. This conversion was neither from convenience nor political opportunism, but authentic and from every cell of his being, as his later political actions would demonstrate.

Born in 1918, Mandela lived in a tumultuous century of cold war and leaders seeking prominence, even at the expense of their own people. He touched an era of big names and small citizens, where at times the “who” was more important than the “what.” He was defined as a “terrorist” not only by the racist South African regime of his time, but also by the United Nations itself. Once in prison, inmate number 466 dedicated his time to meditating about what he had done and what would be the best path for his country to emerge from exclusion and hatred. His personal transformation was a dominant influence in how he managed to dismantle Apartheid.

Amid so many statesmen who clung to power for several terms or several decades, Mandela was president of South Africa for only five years. The man from the village of Mvezo also had the wisdom to realize that negotiation and dialog were key for such a damaged nation. So, among all the snapshots of his life, all the smiles and all the shared hugs, I prefer the image of a prisoner who, among the bars, found himself. The Nobel Peace Prize being placed in his hands is not as striking to me as to imagine him starving, sore, cornered, and yet, thinking of forgiveness, peace and reconciliation.

To your memory, Madiba!

32 thoughts on “Mandela: Learning to Forgive

  1. Yoani,

    I’m really surprised by your statements. You have never been shy of the truth. You have always called the truth, regardless of whether the truth is popular.

    I can understand your praise of Mandela- for he rightly deserves it for all he did to end the evil of apartheid, and one must admire his ability to put hatred and violence aside and seek reconciliation of the races in his country- (this is an example one should follow),

    BUT it surprises me to no end that you would not condemn Mandela’s friendship and praise of Fidel Castro. Mandela never uttered a word of criticism against the Castro regime or about the many dissedents who have been imprisoned for decades in Cuba, as he himself was, simply for demanding democracy, free elections, and a free press in Cuba. On the contrary, Mandela never ceased to praise the Cuban Revolution for what it did to “FREE” it’s people.

    The main problem I have with Mandela is the LEGITAMACY that he bestowed on Fidel Castro. All your brilliant posts do not come close to the power of the photograph of Mandela embracing Fidel, and calling him a brother united in their fight for freedom. The world at large, hearing those words and seeing those photos will not believe that Castro is a dictator who has lead a repressive dictatorship for over fifty years, because if that was true, then Mandela, a near saint in the Western world, a man who fought his whole life for freedom and against oppression would not embrace Fidel Castro. Mandela’s embrace of him leads others to conclude that Fidel is “not so bad.”

    Yoani, you could have praised Mandela, and at the same time criticized him for his contradictions that harmed the cause of freedom in Cuba. You allowed him to legitamatized what you have fought so hard to undermine- the Castro dictatorship.

    I feel people are too intimdated to say anything that might be seen as disparaging about “San Mandela.” Nobody is a saint, and no one is beyond criticism. I expected better of you Yoani.

  2. On April 24, 1964 at the trial Mandela said: “I do not, however, 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.

    I, and some colleagues, came to the conclusion that as violence in this country was inevitable, it would be unrealistic and wrong for African leaders to continue preaching peace and non-violence at a time when the Government met our peaceful demands with force.

    We did so not because we desired such a course, but solely because the Government had left us with no other choice. In the Manifesto of Umkhonto published on 16 December 1961, which is Exhibit AD, we said: The time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices – submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa. We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means in our power in defense of our people, our future, and our freedom.”

  3. Re: Nick’s absurd posts about Mandela.

    I know that Mandela is generally disliked in Cuba. That’s the price you pay for choosing Castro as your friend.

    It’s the same in other countries, like Libya, where he decided to support the dictator instead of the people.

    The idea that Mandela is worshiped around the world and only disliked in the city of Miami can only come from a very simple mind.

    He was an ex-terrorist who made some great choices in his life and some very poor ones as well.

  4. Sandokan’s posts about Mandela are accurate, but they ignore that his views evolved over time.

    If Mandela had turned to socialism, he would have been South Africa’s most unpopular leader ever.

    Instead Mandela chose reconciliation over revenge and socialist starvation.

    The fall of the Soviet empire woke Mandela up, at least to the complete failure of socialism.

    It’s taken a lot longer to wake the Castros up, but they’re dimwits and Raul is in a perpetual alcoholic stupor.

  5. Almost every great revolutionary leader is lauded by those who stood in their way after they have died. Stalin made Lenin in to an idol with a perpetual wake. Lenin recognized that a split would be coming between Stalin and Trotsky. Lenin wanted an enlarged central committee with a hundred more workers. Lenin wanted to see to it that Stalin would not use the fact that Trotsky went over to Bolsheviks at the time the Military revolutionary Committee was organized. He also wanted Trotsky not to use Stalin’s original vote against setting up the committee. Yet because Lenin was ill all his thoughts and ideas were kept from the party by the secret faction lead by Stalin. Now we see all these people who did little or nothing for Mandela’s freedom coming forward and trying to turn him into an ML King. Let me post here Mandela own words with regard to Cuba and Fidel.
    Here are his words on July 25. 1991 after arriving in Havana.

    ‘The Cuban people hold a special place in the hearts of the people of Africa. The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom, and justice, unparalleled for its principled and selfless character. From its earliest day, the Cuban revolution has itself been a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving peoples … We in Africa are used to being victims of countries wanting to carve up our territory or subvert our sovereignty. It is unparalleled in African history to have another people rise to the defence of one of us. We also know that this was a popular action in Cuba. We are aware that those who fought and died in Angola were only a small proportion of those who volunteered. For the Cuban people internationalism is not merely a word but something that we have seen practiced to the benefit of large sections of humankind!’

    Now does that really sound like a routine visit. Do you think that Mandela goes to every country and make this type of routine speech? Did he show up in the US making this type of speech or in the UK, Germany, or France? Obviously not because none of those countries governments lifted a finger for or supplied a US dollar, a French Frank, Deutsche mark, or Pound Sterling to the anti apartheid struggle. They were all waiting and hoping it would fail. When it didn’t then they couldn’t say enough things good about it because they need to stay ahead of the curve. The reason he’s getting all these honors from Yoani Sanchez and others is because they want to turn him into a icon for do nothing politics. Their all wiping their brows as if the dodged a bullet since so far South Africa has not had a Socialist Revolution.

  6. Nick,

    If I were a journalist, which I am not, I’d say your intentional ignorance is the gift that keeps on giving. You don’t understand anything that anyone says to you. You seem uniquely immune to rational thought. This is a phenomenon that is rarely seen.

    Did you read the Lincoln quote I posted? Did you understand it? Do you know what it means? Do you understand how it relates to Mandela?

    You cite an obscure article from the San Francisco Chronicle to support your outlandish theory that the United States government intentionally introduced the Swine Flu Virus into Cuba. If that were true, don’t you think the media in the U.S and the rest of the world would have piled on to this story? Did that happen, Nick? Do you believe everything you read, or just the things you’d like to believe?

    You also try to link me to people in Miami. The people I’ve met in Miami escaped from Cuba in order to get away from the nut job Castro. Think about that for a moment, Nick. If your uncle, your cousin or your father were summarily executed by Castro’s thugs, how would you feel about that?

    Be honest, Nick.

  7. Hank,

    Evidence is not needed. All CIA conspiracy theories are true. If Castro says they’re true, who are we to argue?

    Castro is good. All friends of Castro are good. They gas children, blow up civilians in schools and hospitals, blow up civilian aircraft, but they’re all good.

    All critics of Castro are bad. Ladies in White are bad. Alan Gross is bad. They never killed or hurt anyone but they’re bad.

    The world according to Nick and Marabu.

  8. I suppose Nick also believes the moon landings were a hoax, as reported in respectable US journals.

    Getting back to reality. Any friend of Castro will not be popular in Cuba. That is a fact of life, no matter what good points some friends of Castro might have.

    The truth is that Castro is no better than the Apartheid rulers. Apartheid supporters denied black South Africans the right to vote, Castro’s supporters deny Cubans the right to vote.

    Another truth is that terrorism is counter-productive, besides being evil.

    Mandela seemed to learn that lesson, which is completely lost on some of the nut jobs who post here.

  9. Hank
    In this instance ‘The World at Large’ refers to the vast majority of reasonable. rational people who would regard this very vocal and historically influential element of Miami Cubans as terrorist supporting nutjob losers.
    You stick up for these wretched fools if you like Hank.
    But bear in mind that you are sticking up for the only group of people anywhere on this planet who ever made Nelson Mandela feel unwelcome since his release from prison.

  10. Hank,
    Sorry fella.
    But if The San Francisco Chronicle, the winner of many prestigious journalistic awards, says the CIA were instrumental in introducing swine flu into Cuba….
    Then who am I to doubt it.
    This renowned newspaper that survived damage to its premises in the San Francisco earthquake of over a century ago, is known as ‘The Voice of the West’.
    When the Voice of the West speaks, it pays to listen.

  11. HUMBY!
    You might not like the Cuban Government;
    but it is the Cuban Government (as recognised by the whole planet) whether you like it or not.
    Get over it.

  12. Nick’s latest proclamation requires a bit of clarification and explanation.

    When Nick refers to the “world at large,” what he really means is that small fraction of the several billion people who inhabit this earth who actually believe his nutty swine flu anti-Cuba conspiracy theories.

    To briefly recap, Nick believes that the United States intentionally introduced the Swine Flu virus into livestock in Cuba. He has no evidence to support this crazy accusation, but he believes it. And he sticks to it because that’s “Nick’s World.”

    Accordingly, the “world at large” as defined by Nick, is in reality probably no more than a total of seven crackpots living in communal harmony with various farm animals in the hinterlands of New Mexico.

  13. Yes Marabu,
    I know what you mean about Dear Old Humby.
    He seems like he’s in a world of his own.
    Living in his own little bubble with his own little eccentric political vocabulary.
    As I’ve said before….
    I think he’ll go on and on and on forever with his UPPER CASE RANTS and his C & Ps…
    But at least he’s harmless.

  14. Hi Nick,

    Of the two groups you have mentioned the first one is a shame and the second are clowns.

    The US has ended ist appartheid only 30 years before South Africa, so that the first group are not a surprise. There will always be resistance to progress.

    Those who say Mandela was bad because he was a friend of Castro are leftovers of the cuban contrrevolution. No need to worry about them. Castro will die soon and they will have a problem, not us. Like this guy who types CASTROFASCIST every day. What will he do tomorrow? Say DIAZCANELFASCIST? Sorry, but I can’t pronounce that one.


    MEXICO CITY — It is a rare day in Cuba when the Communist Party’s triumphalist newspaper suggests that the government — just maybe — messed up. Or when the party’s chief ideologist renounces government secrecy. Or a salsa star, performing at an official concert, calls for the freedom to vote and to smoke marijuana. – by Victoria Burnett

    Glasnost it is not, say Cuban intellectuals and analysts. But glimpses of candor in the official news media and audacious criticism from people who, publicly at least, support the revolution suggest widening tolerance of a more frank, if circumscribed, discussion of the country’s problems.

    There are still limits. While the government preaches frankness, it continues to crush opposition, and those who step over the fickle line between loyal criticism and dissent risk ostracism, loss of employment, harassment or jail.

    The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an independent group that tracks treatment of activists, said there were 761 short-term arrests of dissidents in November, one of the highest figures in the past two years. And in October, five independent journalists were detained for several days, according to Reporters Without Borders.

    “It’s ambiguous,” said Mr. Chaguaceda, the political scientist. “It depends who you are, how you say things, where you say them.”

    “There is more space for debate,” said Armando Chaguaceda, a Cuban political scientist and blogger who lives in Mexico. “People are more outspoken.”

    For decades, Cuba’s garrulous citizens discussed politics sotto voce and barely referred to Fidel and Raúl Castro by name, even in their own living rooms.

    But in recent years, especially in Havana, Cubans have begun talking more openly about the economy, the political leadership and the restrictions they resent. As they taste new freedoms and, increasingly, discuss their problems online, they are pushing the boundary between what can and cannot be said.

    In September, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference made a bold, if oblique, bid for a more democratic system, calling in a pastoral letter for an “updating” of the political model and saying Cuba should be a “plural” society.

    Meanwhile, the Internet — despite being out of reach for most Cubans — has broken the state’s monopoly on information and allowed for a spectrum of opinion, bloggers and analysts say. Bloggers, including many who support the Communist system, have written about economic mismanagement, the timidity of changes, corruption, bureaucracy, the lack of Internet connectivity and the passivity of the state-run news media. Blogs and Facebook posts often spur streams of blunt online comment.

    “It’s revealing that people who are supposedly on the inside are making the same criticisms as people on the outside,” Professor Henken said.



    TIME OF INDIA: Cuba drops veto, WTO clinches trade deal at Bali meeting

    BALI: The 159 World Trade Organization’s members overcame last minute hiccups and managed to get Cuba and three of its allies on board for what is the century’s first trade agreement.

    Cuba, along with Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela, had blocked the WTO’s move to adopt a deal that will allow developing countries to continue offering subsidies for their food procurement programme. In addition, a new agreement on trade facilitation to ease controls over flow of goods and services through ports and airports will be in place soon.

    Cuba had raised the red flag concerns over the trade facilitation agreement which took nearly 15 hours to resolve and members had to finally accommodate its concerns in the text. There were negotiations through the night to reach a deal. Cuba wanted language in the WTO deal to challenge the 50-year-old embargo by the US.

    “For the first time in history, the WTO has finally delivered” on large scale negotiations, he said.


  17. Those who are so obsessively against the Cuban Government can broadly be put into two camps regarding The Great Nelson Mandela and his passing.
    1 Those who seek to belittle him, his achievements and global impact.
    2 Those who acclaim him but say he was wrong to be a friend and ally of Fidel Castro.

    Its a strange spectacle to behold.

    As I said in a previous comment, the only place Nelson Mandela was ever made to feel unwelcome since his release from prison was Miami.

    There is an element in Miami who do not even seem to understand how shameful they look in the eyes of the world at large..

  18. Amnesty International never considered Nelson Mandela a political prisoner since he had committed numerous violent crimes and had had a fair trial. He had pleaded guilty to 156 of the 193 acts of public violence including mobilizing terrorist bombing campaigns, which planted bombs in public places, including the Johannesburg railway station. Many innocent people, including women and children, were killed by Nelson Mandela’s MK terrorists.

    Mandela, in his book “The Long Walk To Freedom”, admited that he personally approved the Church Street bombing, in which 11 people died and more than 200 were injured. Most of them were innocent civilians.

  19. @Socialist Worker
    I have an impression that Mandelas trip to Cuba was mostly PR and courtesy. His victories and his failures teach us how unimportant political rights are. The right to vote or the right to form parties are nice-to-haves, but if 25% are without jobs people would dump them in exchange for a controlled economy, such as in Cuba or China.

  20. Hank,

    I agree with that Lincoln quote.

    I think JFK showed moments of real greatness. He was certainly right about Latin America and the need for democracy.

    Too bad a Castro groupie cut his life short.

    Among Castro’s many acts of terrorism on US soil, this ultimate act remains the biggest mystery.

    Did Castro order it, encourage it, or just take advantage of Oswald’s insanity?

  21. Still waiting for Marabu to tell us about 12 USC § 3102. He loves to cite very long articles which he never reads.

    Hank is right. There are hundreds of foreign banks in the US, and my guess is that hundreds of them are willing to do business with the right-wing fascist dictator of Cuba.

    The reason Castro didn’t make good on his threats to close the consul is because it would hurt US tourism to Cuba, which is largely owned by Castro’s military.

    And all these US tourists come bearing very large suitcases filled with gifts and wallets filled with money. Losing all that will seriously affect the Cuban economy.

    Most of Castro’s communist party have family in the US, so they have the most to lose.

    The US should stop bending over for Castro. Call his bluff. Tell him he has a week to find a new bank or shut his consul.

  22. Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress also had the support of the South African Communist Party. The US had to drop the African National Congress from its terrorist list so Nelson Mandela could come here and meet with Clinton. Mandela also went to Cuba where he and Fidel meet. Despite pressure from US Imperialism that he not meet with Fidel. This meeting in Cuba and in South Africa is available as a clip from a longer movie on youtube.

  23. Thanks for the statutory cite, Marabu. It actually seems on point. I’ll study it.

    All of a sudden, you know how to write a sentence in English without silly, fake, grammatical errors and misspellings. Your ego has led you to betray yourself. That’s a rookie mistake.

    I’m looking forward to your lecture on 12 USC § 3102 after I shave.

  24. Mandela only spent 18 years of his sentence in Robben Island, and was move to this “cell” a few years before his release.

    In this picture Nelson Mandela chats with his former chef Jack Swart.

    From MPR article “Nelson Mandela Prison Adventures”: “In the last of the three prisons where he was held, Mandela lived in a secluded cottage with a backyard swimming pool. He had a personal cook, a white prison official who objected to Mandela’s choice of cheap, semi-sweet wines and insisted on bringing more expensive, dry whites for the frequent family, friends and political colleagues who visited Mandela for lunch.”

    In 1986, the South African government began making its first serious overtures, and Mandela was secretly driven from the prison to the home of Kobie Coetsee, the justice minister, who would meet often with Mandela in the years that followed.

    At the same time, the prison officials began taking him for semi-regular excursions around Cape Town to show Mandela what the modern South Africa looked like, and to help prepare him for a possible release.

    The outings became so routine that junior prison officials did the driving, taking Mandela for walks on the beach and tea in cafes. One young officer took Mandela to his apartment and introduced him to his wife and kids.

    Mandela and his cook, Warrant Officer Jack Swart, became good friends, though they occasionally quarreled when it came to doing the dishes. After a particularly savory meal, Mandela would volunteer to do them. Swart would always refuse, only to relent when Mandela kept insisting.

    ‘It was altogether pleasant, but I never forgot that it was a gilded cage,’ Mandela said of his final prison.”

  25. Your current task is the practical exercise as outlined below, Hank. Did you shave?
    As soon as you are back from the bank I may tell you something about 12 USC § 3102

  26. @Hank

    I congratulate you for discovering Google! You say:
    “In less than 2 minutes, I found 266 results for Branches and Agencies of Foreign Banks in the U.S.”

    Of course you realize, the foreign banks must comply with US law as any other bank.

    Now that you know how to use Goolge I suggest a non-virtual exercise for you:

    1. Shave
    2. Put suit and a tie on.
    3. Stick a Che Guevara emblem on your jacket.
    4. Go to any bank in the US. Tell them: “I represent a consulate of Cuba. We want to open an account with you. US government thinks we support trerrorism, but the State Department will help you to avoid persecution on Homeland Security grounds”
    5. Listen to what they tell you.
    6. Publish it here.

  27. Great comments regarding Mandela, Yoani.

    Bill Clinton had some extraordinarily beautiful words to say about Mandela today during an interview on CNN. I hope you can see the interview for yourself.

    In any case, as Lincoln said, we should “Stand with anybody that stands RIGHT. Stand with him while he is right and PART with him when he goes wrong.” I agree with Lincoln.

    Mandela was right on many, many things. But he was wrong in his admiration for Castro.

    Getting back to Raul’s banking troubles:

    I did a quick Google search for foreign banks having branches in the U.S.

    In less than 2 minutes, I found 266 results for Branches and Agencies of Foreign Banks in the U.S.

    If Raul can’t get a U.S. bank to do business with him because he’s a dictator on the state sponsors of terrorism list, then why doesn’t he simply apply for an account with a non-U.S. bank that can handle his consular affairs in the U.S.?

    He may have to pay a dictator premium to said bank, but that’s the price of doing business if you’re a dictator who likes to traffic arms to North Korea. Get over it.

    Raul’s minions in NY and DC must have access to the internet. They must have done the same search. Maybe they didn’t like the dictator premium.

    This ridiculous “we-can’t-find-a-bank-that-will-do-business-with-us” episode is a farce. And it isn’t about access to banking. Neutral Observer is right, this is about Raul’s latest bender and subsequent hissy fit.

  28. I was a bit schocked to learn that a quarter of South Africans live on less than US$1.25 a day. I was mislead by the numbers showing SA as a leading African economy. But production is one thing and distribution the other.

    Compare this to the $500 monthly income of a cuban worker. $500 is poverty by our standards and this is true. Many skilled South Africans will double or even tripple what a cuban engineer can make. A hotel owner may be a millionaire there. But I am concerned with those bottom 25% of the population. $1.25 a day!

    Too bad that Mandela, this great leader, did not leave a party such as Communist Party of Cuba for the next generations.

    People who know nothing about Cuba repeat the Cubans make $20 a month. $20 is a just a monetary part of cuban income. 95% of the other income comes in the form of goods, services and subsidies.

    Cuba is building communism where cash will disappear alltogether.

  29. Marabu, there’s much worse than that.

    MOST Cubans live on less than 50 cents a day. The poorest live on nothing.

  30. Good tribute to Mandela. He did a lot that should be admired, especially in South Africa.

    Unfortunately his unwavering support of fascism and racism against Cubans and others was a blemish that can’t be erased.

    It is very hard to put the human rights of others ahead of old friendships and ideology.

  31. Yoani point out that “Mandela was president of South Africa for only five years”

    I don’t know whether this is good. I think, after the great victory, his country started losing without a strong leadership. Mandelas African National Congress became a very corrupt party. There is no Maximo Leader. They do not care abut the poor.

    The history of S.A. shows how unimportant are the political rights under uncontrolled economy. Yes, the Blacks can vote and can enter any restaurant they can afford. But a quarter of the population is unemployed and lives on less than US$1.25 a day:
    And no embargo stops the S.A. exports any more!

    I would certainly prefer to be the wealthiest South African then the wealthiest Cuban.
    But I would prefer to be the poorest Cuban then the poorest South African.

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