There was a strange silence about one particular aspect of Nelson Mandela’s life this last week, namely his socialism. In order to turn a social activist into a cultural icon it is necessary to silence his or her radical critique of political injustice and turn the message into an inarticulate homage to niceness.
Also missing in most accounts was the fact that the US opposed Mandela for much of his life.
“Even as presidents from John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton denounced apartheid as a racist, untenable system, successive American administrations from the 1960s had friendly ties with South African governments and viewed Mandela with suspicion, if not outright hostility, through the prism of the Cold War.
And Mandela remained on a U.S. terrorism watchlist from the 1970s until the late 2000s. That period covers the living presidents of that period – Jimmy Carter, Clinton and George W. Bush – all of whom joined Obama at Mandela’s memorial service in Johannesburg’s Soweto township on Tuesday, as well as Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.” -Matthew Lee (AP)
The reason this history is important is because we it allows us to resist the cultural narrative that turns any radical prophetic critique of America’s foreign aggression and predatory economic system into mouthless teddy bears.