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Thoughts & Views: The world mourns the passing of Mandela

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The world experienced a great loss Dec. 5 with the death, at age 95, of Nelson Mandela, the man credited with ending apartheid in his native South Africa.

Despite being imprisoned by his white oppressors for 27 years, when he was freed in Feb. 1990, at 71, Mandela worked to establish a new government based on “reconciliation,” rather than retaliation.

Initially, he was met with resistance from his fellow South Africans, both whites and blacks, but in the end he got what he wanted: a coalition government that would respect all colors.

Mandela’s struggles – in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds – should remind us of at least two other statesmen whose clamoring for justice resounded on the global stage: Ghandi, who fought to end British rule in India through a policy of non-violence; and Lincoln, the “Great Emancipator,” who waged a civil war to preserve the Union in which all citizens were free.

As in Mandela’s case, the goal was achieved but a flawed creation followed. Years of infighting took its toll on South Africans; as a byproduct of independence from Britain, Ghandi had to accept a divided India; Lincoln’s assassination sparked a revenge-minded Radical Republicanism bent on punishing the South for its rebellion.

All three were truly pivotal figures in their lifetime but all were quite mortal, and, therefore, no matter how many statues may be consecrated in their honor, none should be elevated to deity.

To that end, let’s recall the words of University of Cape Town political professor Anthony Butler who wrote in South Africa’s Business Day newspaper (as quoted in the Dec. 7 New York Times), “To idealize a great political leader – to try and take that person out of politics and the humanity out of that person – is in the end a futile or even contradictory endeavor.”

Still, we can say that Mandela, Ghandi and Lincoln each left a great legacy for which we have much to thank them.

Shifting gears: Has a version of the Prince of Denmark crept into North Korea?

News accounts report that before he came to power, Kim Jong-un, that country’s leader, was propped up by his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, and his aunt, Kim Kyong-hee.

But, of late, if these accounts are accurate, following the death of the Kim Jong-il, the current 30-year-old leader’s father, Kim Jong-un (read: Hamlet) has arranged for Uncle Jang to be removed from his government posts and for two of his uncle’s deputies (read: shades of Rosencrantz and Gildenstern) to be killed. Alas, these same accounts say that Uncle Jang (read: Claudius) is estranged from his sickly spouse (read: Gertrude).

Now, Kim Jong-un has been talking about unleashing some of North Korea’s nuclear capability on the country’s traditional eastern and western rivals. (Read: “To take arms against a sea of troubles. And by opposing, end them ….”).

Draw your own conclusions.

Finally, some thoughts on Kevyn Orr, Detroit’s emergency manager, asking the Detroit Art Museum to consider auctioning off some of its collection, including the famous Diego Rivera murals celebrating the workers of the world, to help the bankrupt Motor City pay its creditors.

What a great irony that would be, if art work that exalts the contributions by the American laborer – the same type of work that came very close to being displayed in the iconic capitalist building, Rockefeller Center – were to be sold to prop up the very city that made America Roar in the Twenties.

Rivera and his staff undertook the Detroit museum job in the wake of Ford Motor Co. goons having killed four auto workers and harming 22 during a 1932 demonstration at Ford’s Dearborn plant. The city’s plutocrats warned Edsel Ford – who had given Rivera the commission – he was being undermined by the artist.

But Rivera was allowed to proceed and, despite the Depression, the museum – which was on the ropes – survived and prospered, thanks in large part, to the Rivera murals’ popularity.

Maybe history will repeat itself.

– Ron Leir

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