Nelson Mandela, Africa’s most famous son, is coming to the end of his time on earth. And the world’s media are desperate ― some would say to the point of being disrespectful ― to cover every moment he has left.
On Tuesday, the media quoted comments by a member of the Mandela family that were interpreted to mean preparations were underway for the death of the 94-year-old former anti-apartheid revolutionary. Mandela has been in a “critical” state in hospital since Sunday.
Given the saint-like status he enjoys all over the world, it would be easy to forget that South Africa’s first democratically elected president was once a deeply controversial figure. As the leader of UmKhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress, Mandela directed bombings of government buildings in the early ’60s before he was arrested and sentenced to life in prison. Amazing though it seems now, Mandela was included on the U.S.’ terrorism watch list until 2008.
But complicated moral questions about the legitimacy of armed struggle against oppression are likely to barely register in the coverage of the man after he passes on. Recently, when a reviled British politician labeled Mandela a “murdering old terrorist,” news media en masse reported on the incident without even a mention of his past political violence.
While there are legitimate reasons to question the hagiography surrounding Mandela, his achievements are certainly great. In helping dismantle apartheid, he took on one of the most unjust political systems of the late 20th century and won. His stand against racism and his reconciliation with those who denied him his freedom will ensure that his legacy is honored for decades to come.
By John Power (john.power@heraldcorp