Turning Nelson Mandela into a political prop

Trigger Warning: racism, classism

On Bill O’Reilly’s show the night of former South African Prime Minister Nelson Mandela’s death, he discussed the man briefly with former Republican Senator Rick Santorum. O’Reilly’s fascinating inability to reconcile Mandela’s record as both a communist and a visionary who ended the horrifyingly violent Apartheid social order has caught most of the flak, but Santorum’s own comments seem equally astounding. He babbled, seemingly a bit caught off guard by being asked about Mandela’s death:

Nelson Mandela stood up against a great injustice, and was willing to pay a huge price for that, and that’s the reason he’s mourned today, because of that struggle that he performed. You are right, what he was advocating for was not necessarily the right answer, but he was fighting against some great injustice. And I would make the argument that, you know, we have a great injustice going on right now in this country, with an ever-increasing size of government that is taking over and controlling people’s lives. And Obamacare is front and center in that.

Working our way through it, he seriously called the near half century of resistance to Apartheid something “performed”. The years of both peaceful and violent protest being met by South African police killing people by the dozens was apparently a “performance” or something else sufficiently unserious. In the face of staggering economic inequalities between the various racial groups in South Africa, affiliating with pro-redistribution political groups was “not necessarily the right answer”. Finally, Mandela’s general reception as a hero for the downtrodden is nothing more than a cypher for how opponents to Obamacare, like say Santorum, should be treated.

The irony, given that Mandela’s post-Apartheid government declared healthcare a right and enacted something quite similar to Obamacare, is palpable. Santorum pretty clearly has a lot of hostility towards Black people being supported by their governments, which makes his claim to be a politician in the same camp as Mandela seem even more laughably self-serving. It’s hard to imagine any way of “praising” Mandela in a way that’s so utterly designed to make him and his work useful to you while discrediting and working against his actual causes.

Musa Okwonga, a UK writer of Ugandan descent, predicted this all too well in his reaction piece to Mandela’s death – “Mandela will never, ever be your minstrel”. Whoever you are, you need to read that or listen to Okwonga’s own reading of it, but in the context of Rick Santorum, this part seems especially pertinent:

You will try to make out that apartheid was some horrid spontaneous historical aberration, and not the logical culmination of centuries of imperial arrogance. Yes, you will try that too. You will imply or audaciously state that its evils ended the day Mandela stepped out of jail. You will fold your hands and say the blacks have no-one to blame now but themselves. […] Nelson Mandela was not a god, floating elegantly above us and saving us. He was utterly, thoroughly human, and he did all he did in spite of people like you. There is no need to name you because you know who you are, we know who you are, and you know we know that too. You didn’t break him in life, and you won’t shape him in death. You will try, wherever you are, and you will fail.

Well, I think we found one who’s exactly like that.

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One thought on “Turning Nelson Mandela into a political prop

  1. Pingback: The year that class apparently stopped mattering | northup news

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