Weekend open thread: Nelson Mandela and his legacy

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? I’ve been reading and watching retrospectives on South Africa’s first democratically-elected president, Nelson Mandela. Bill Keller’s obituary for the New York Times is a good place to start.

When the question was put to Mr. Mandela in an interview for this obituary in 2007 – after such barbarous torment, how do you keep hatred in check? – his answer was almost dismissive: Hating clouds the mind. It gets in the way of strategy. Leaders cannot afford to hate.

Only about a tenth of one percent of people live into their 90s, and it’s phenomenal that Mandela lived to the age of 95 after suffering tremendous physical and emotional hardship during 27 years in prison. I wonder how much Mandela’s ability to rise above hatred, anger, and the desire for revenge contributed to his longevity. During the late 1990s, I had a chance to meet Keyan Tomaselli, a professor of media studies from South Africa. Having spent some time in the U.S., he felt that South Africa had a better chance of overcoming its racist past and identity politics than this country does.

Since news broke of Mandela’s death, many American politicians have reflected on the battle in Congress to impose U.S. sanctions on the South African government during the apartheid era. President Ronald Reagan supported the ruling regime, and many Republicans opposed the aspirations of the African National Congress, viewing Mandela’s group as a communist, terrorist organization backed by the Soviet Union. On Thursday and Friday, several Republican politicians posted tributes to Mandela on social media, only to see their comment threads littered with attacks on the commie terrorist. Steer clear of those threads if you don’t want to be depressed.

I wasn’t involved in the divestment movement, other than putting a “DIVEST” button on my backpack when I was in college during the 1980s. But I learned this week that as a college student, the future Iowa Democratic Party Chair Gordon Fischer was a leader of the drive to convince the University of Iowa to divest from South Africa.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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  • Nelson Mandela

    My earliest memory of Nelson Mandela, who died this week, is associated with a black image of Mandela behind bars with the words “Free Mandela!” printed everywhere. At the time, South Africa seemed like a remote corner of the world, and there were other substantial, and more local, social justice issues with which to be involved during and after I attended college at the University of Iowa. I recall President Reagan’s veto of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act in 1986, and for me, it typified what was wrong with that administration. I supported the act and congress overrode the president’s veto. Others have said more eloquently what I would, may Nelson Mandela rest in peace, and may his legacy live long.