Friday, September 20, 2002


It’s an awkward question to ask but can someone tell me why Nelson Mandela gets such a good press?

It’s rare to see him referred to as anything but “statesman”, often with the “elder” tossed in. But seriously, what has he done to rank him as someone qualified to comment on world affairs? The world press waits one every word he speaks, like he is actually acquainted with the problem.

Meantime his own people are dying like flies, due in no small part to the bizarre scientific beliefs of his hand-picked successor, Tabo Mbeki. Mandela refuses to condemn the policies, an attitude we would be unlikely to accept from our own politicians. The ANC remains close ties

How does spending umpteen years in jail in South Africa, then five years of a medium-sized African nation, promote you to World Leader?

Personally, I have some high regard for his struggle against a reasonably disgusting regime. I say “reasonably” in the expectation that it will bring great showers of abuse on my head, but confident in the accuracy. South Africa under apartheid was not a place I would have chosen to live, for any number of reasons. But it was no Congo, no China, no Rwanda. There were no famines, no slaughter of the occasional million people. No Great Leap Forward. For the large part, rule of law prevailed, property rights were respected. More people got to vote more often than just about anywhere else in Africa. And one of their constant headaches was illegal immigration. That’s inbound, mind you.

Please bear in mind this is put forward to place Apartheid South Africa in a continuum of nastiness. Better than Sudan, worse than Switzerland.

Mandela served more than his time, and was released by the National Party for the purpose of negotiating the transition to majority rule. In a tribute to Mandela and De Klerk, this was accomplished without open warfare. The country is on its way to rack and ruin as we speak, but way less people died than might have been expected.

But South Africa is a smallish nation in world terms. Its GDP is, for instance, about three quarters the size of Australia. No-one is gonna think of the Australian Prime Minister as a World Leader, regardless of who it is. And our pollies will be guys who have been on the job for decades, travelling each and every year to meet the heavy hitters in the really important nations.

Mandela has visited Libya (dictator gets South African state honours), Tehran (wreath on grave of founder of theocratic one-party state), Gaza (“good friends” in the kleptocracy) and Syria (mass murdering dictator).

He blames the rise of the Taliban on the US, thinks that Israel is a white nation (he should explain this to Aryan Nation), that Egypt and Iraq are black and believes Bush is plotting war to please oil and defence industrialists. He thinks that the USA and the UK only respect the UN when there is a white Secretary-General.

Imagine your response if the Prime Minister of Australia did these things. World Statesman? I don’t think so.

UPDATE: The Guardian has reached the stage of self-parody when it comes to Mandela:
he finally made the transition from the world's most famous prisoner to the world's most respected statesman

But let’s not damn him by faint praise:
But Mandela is not just anyone. Towering like a moral colossus over the late 20th century, his voice carries an ethical weight like no other.

Is there room for any Dissent?
So the belligerent tone he has adopted of late suggests one of two things; either that some thing is very wrong with the world, or that something is very wrong with Mandela.

Followed by two grafs detailing what’s wrong with .. you guessed it: the world.
Mandela has never been particularly encumbered by delusions of grandeur.

There are no delusions when one is a “towering moral colossus”.
There’s more. Nigeria needs a “softly softly” approach. Suharto? Top bloke. Castro, Arafat, Gadaffi, all nice guys because
”We are a liberation movement and they support our struggle to the hilt."

And if there’s any question about his reasons for his insistent anti-Americanism:
Setting great stock by the loyalty shown to both him and his organisation during the dog days of apartheid, he has consistently maintained that he would stick by those who stuck by black South Africa.

Have they done anything for you lately, Nelson?

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