Mandela and Morons

Growing up in the political hotbed of 1980s Cold War London, I found myself among interesting people. The African National Congress, after being banned in the 1950s, had set up a leadership-in-exile, based in London and Amsterdam. One of my teenage friends was the son of senior ANC exiles, a couple who had fled South Africa when the clampdown on the ANC began – including the jailing of the activist lawyer Nelson Mandela.

My friend, and other children of the ANC leadership, tried to be normal teenagers, but that must have been hard. I was warned to keep phone conversations with him minimal and to the point: their phone was almost certainly bugged by British intelligence which, despite our nation’s professed love of “freedom”, was working to monitor and help the South African government suppress the ANC. These children of the ANC had been raised in London, but groomed for political leadership when they one day returned to a country they had never visited. They also had to endure their parents leaving on long, secret trips to southern African countries, from which they might never return.

When Mandela walked free, my friend’s parents returned to South Africa, his father becoming a government minister in the first ANC government. My friend moved to Johannesburg shortly afterwards, was offered a diplomatic career, but decided to follow other paths.

Mandela, like many leaders of oppressed people, showed immense bravery and self-sacrifice. He famously spent 27 years in prison for his “seditious” activities, and refused to leave until a transition to democracy was assured. But Mandela differed from other revolutionary heroes: he tamed his people’s justifiable thirst for revenge, and instead crafted a new, multiracial South Africa; he taught a love of democracy and racial tolerance; he stood down from power rather than try to cling on to the bitter end, like so many other African revolutionary heroes had done. He refused to repeat the mistakes of earlier African independence movements which had angrily expelled the white and Asian elites, only to lose their most educated people and wealthiest investors.

Racists and white supremacists hate Mandela more than any other black leader because he didn’t just outperform other black leaders: he has a valid claim to be named as the greatest national leader of the 20th century. Neither of the great Western “heroes” of the 1980s, Reagan and Thatcher can remotely compare.

Yes, the ANC’s acts of resistance included acts of terrorism. But ANC atrocities are tiny compared to the real terrorism of that era. South African forces repeatedly gunned down civilians, including school children. The South African, US and UK governments supported far greater acts of terrorism in Mozambique and Angola, as they tried to stamp out the ANC’s fighters. How ironic that Mandela, a creator of democracy, was labelled a terrorist by the terrorists – Thatcher and Reagan – who crushed democracy and free speech in the name of freedom.

Mandela rose above all the world leaders of his generation. It is testament to his greatness that the people and newspapers that labelled him a menace in the 1980s are today lining up to praise him.

“But Mandela wasn’t a saint”, people are saying. So what? Both right and left revel in the simplistic idea that the world divides easily into good and bad people. His early activism, his time in prison, his ascent to the Presidency, his founding of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, his creation of a stable nation where most others would have created war and misery; all these things mark him out as far greater than his peers. He wasn’t a superman. He was a human being. But he was a remarkable human being.

“But look at South Africa now”. It’s easy to cherry-pick bad things in the country today. Mandela’s successor, Thabo Mbeki, was easily convinced that AIDS was not caused by the HIV virus, and effectively killed hundreds of thousands of people by suspending treatment programmes. Corruption is rife. The ANC leadership now stuffs its pockets, gorging itself on countless millions of dollars. President Zuma lives in enormous luxury, and boasts an impressive collection of wives. South Africa is a violent country – but then that’s nothing new. Only generational change, coupled with free speech, housing, education and healthcare, can address the violence.┬áSouth Africa is a deeply racist place too, as attacks on immigrants (mostly other Africans) demonstrate.

Mandela understood his country and his continent. He must have realised much of this was inevitable. Just as in the rest of Africa, the liberation struggle was just the first of a series of struggles. Colonialism and Apartheid put a racial mask on inequality, but now in South Africa, as in the rest of Africa, inequality, corruption and brutality can no longer be conveniently blamed on a foreign devil: it is home grown. Mandela and his ANC comrades, sowed the seed of democracy, human rights and free speech, allowing future generations to renew the struggle – this time a class struggle, not a racial or tribal one.

Nelson Mandela died in a very different world to the one he was born in. His death prompted an inevitable barrage of abuse from morons, but this just served to highlight how much organised racism has declined worldwide. The racist American right settled for complaining that America’s black President was attending Mandela’s funeral but hadn’t attended Thatcher’s (ignoring the facts that Thatcher was not a head of state, and that her greatly-contested achievements were tiny compared to Mandela’s).

I finally visited my old friend in Johannesburg last year. A local celebrity, he mixes in a wide multiracial circle. His black friends are internationally educated and well travelled, unlike their parents’ generation. They are part of a confident and rising Africa that is just starting to be noticed internationally. This Africa is the creation of generations of leaders who shook their people awake and harnessed their resentment; but one man stood head and shoulders above the others.

RIP Madiba.

The Racist Tram Woman And Her Moronic Defenders

Racist Tram Moron
Racist Tram Moron

You’ve probably seen the video of racist-tram-woman ranting at “non-English” people on a tram in South London; it went viral yesterday, culminating in the woman’s arrest. The arrest was predictably followed by moronic screams about attacks on free speech or authoritarianism. But the woman’s behaviour was clearly within the definition of hate speech, and was clearly upsetting to those she chose as targets. It also came close to inciting a violent response. It was a textbook example of why hate laws exist.

People who have never experienced such an attack may have difficulty understanding how it feels to be on the receiving end. As I’ve mentioned before, I have experience of being a “visible minority”, to use the politically correct terminology. At my London school, I was among a white minority of around 10%. Through my adult life, largely because of choices I’ve made, I’m often in a minority of one among black people. And black crowds are no more enlightened in their treatment of minorities than white crowds are.

I experienced something very similar to yesterday’s incident, a few years ago on the Subway in Brooklyn. I was the only white person on my train carriage; this didn’t strike me as weird or frightening, as I’m used to being in that position. Nothing happened until I caught the eye of a man staring at me; my natural response was to nod in greeting, to which his reaction was to scream at me: Who the fuck you looking at, you White Bastard? My initial response was rage, then a mixture of fear and embarrassment. In London, I’d know how to respond, but in New York, I didn’t know where I stood. Unlike the other passengers in the South London tram incident, nobody on that train stood up for me. Every coward or racist on that carriage found something else to stare at. If there’s a shred of comfort from the London video, it is that people stood up to the racist bully; London 1, New York 0.

There’s no such thing as “reverse racism”; it’s a myth. Racism is racism, and it’s always moronic. The idea (that I’ve heard from liberals at times) that racism directed at white people is somehow more excusable due to the actions of other white people towards other black people at other times is ludicrous. Because some other white people were/are guilty of “oppressing” some other black people somewhere else doesn’t make my skin colour a valid target of hatred.

I’ve experienced racism many times – usually in subtle forms. Walking with a black woman in London, New York or Accra I have been met with confrontational stares from passing men. My only option as a man on the receiving end is to puff out my chest and stare back. To look down, to back down increases the risk of an attack escalating. This can become tiring; it drains you, makes you angry, makes you start to misjudge people’s attention and see racism where there isn’t any. Those black and Asian people on the London tram have all faced racial aggression before – probably not so overt, but nonetheless, it’s hardly a novel experience for any of them to know that a person dislikes them for their skin colour or accent. I fully understand the reaction of the young black man who rose to respond; but was glad that he was persuaded to sit down again.

People have the right to ride a tram or walk the streets without facing aggression. The moronic woman broke hate laws and it’s right that she was arrested. A failure to react condones the behaviour; at a time when racism and nationalism are on the rise, failing to deal with hate crimes will inevitably result in the crimes multiplying and becoming more serious.

The same applies to hate speech everywhere; for example, South Africa too is experiencing increased racial tension, not just against the white minority but against foreign blacks too. South African minorities need hate laws to be enforced every bit as much as (or perhaps even more than) minorities in the UK need protecting. So do minorities in Rwanda, where hate laws (for obvious reasons) are ruthlessly enforced. Racism is a universal problem, affecting minorities of every race, tribe, religion and colour. To protest that arresting the tram moron was an attack on free speech is simply moronic.