** This article has subsequently also been published by Palestine Chronicle.
Their eulogies whitewash the South African anti-apartheid struggle and Mandela's actions as a freedom fighter. They have rinsed clean, from their histories of him, that Mandela was a radical, who worked with and was inspired by communists both in South Africa and Latin America (Today, in the wake of Mandela's death, the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) have issued a statement confirming that Mandela was a member of the SACP in 1962 when he was arrested and imprisoned - something which had been previously denied for political reasons). In order to create a whitewashed caricature of Mandela, these revisionists are attempting to rewrite history and the fact that Mandela's resistance and struggle against apartheid encompassed all forms of disobedience and defiance, both violent and non-violent.
As a leader of the ANC Youth, which he held found with Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu in 1944, Mandela worked to convince the ANC to adopt mass militant non-violent tactics, which included boycotts and strikes. In the wake of the brutality of the 1960 Sharpville massacre which saw 69 unarmed Black South African's gunned down by the regime, Mandela co-founded (with Walter Sisulu and Joe Slovo) the Umkhonto we Sizwe or Spear of the Nation which carried out sabotage against both military and civilian infrastructure in South Africa. In founding Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1961, Mandela took inspiration from the revolutionary struggle taking place in Cuba, in particular from Fidel Castro and Che Guevara's 26th of July Movement.
Mandela recognised the importance of all forms of struggle against the violent oppression being imposed on his people. In 1980, as the non-violent mass struggle once again began to flourish, both inside South Africa and internationally in the form of the boycott and sanctions anti-apartheid solidarity movement, he wrote in a smuggled message from his prison cell that “between the hammer of armed struggle and the anvil of united mass action, the enemy will be crushed.”
The comradeship between the two struggles was highlighted by Mandela, just sixteen days after he was released from 27 long years in prison in 1990. InFebruary 1990, Mandela met with Yasser Arafat in Lusaka in Zambia. At Lusaka airport, Mandela embraced Arafat and reiterated his support for the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the Palestinian struggle telling the media that Arafat was “fighting against a unique form of colonialism and we wish him success in his struggle”. He went on to say, “I I believe that there are many similarities between our struggle and that of the PLO” stating “We live under a unique form of colonialism in South Africa, as well as in Israel, and a lot flows from that.”
“For instance, we had the Bantustans and we had the Group Areas Act and we had the separate schools and all of that but I don’t think it ever even entered the mind of any apartheid planner to design a town in such a way that there is a physical wall that separates people and that that wall denotes your freedom of movement, your freedom of economic gain, of employment, and at the same time is a tool of intimidation and dehumanisation. We carried passes as the Palestinians have their ID documents but that did not mean that we could not go from one place in the city to another place in the city. The judicial system was absolutely skewed of course, all the judges in their judgments sought to protect white privilege and power and so forth, and we had a series of what they called “hanging judges” in those days, but they did not go far as to openly, blatantly have two separate justice systems as they do for Palestinians [who are tried in Israeli military courts] and Israelis [who are tried in civil, not military courts]. So in many ways the Israeli system is worse”.
Photo: In Johannesburg, a graffiti artist helped promote this year’s Israeli Apartheid Week. (Minhaj Jeenah / BDS South Africa)
In April 2013, the South Africa's International Relations Minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane reiterated the ruling ANC's position, saying “the struggle of the people of Palestine is our struggle”.
This is Mandela's legacy, a legacy of actions and deeds – not just empty words - in support of the struggle against injustice, oppression and a brutalising regime which oppresses and dehumanises an entire nation of people. As Mandela knew, apartheid was wrong in South Africa and it is wrong in Israel. Honour Mandela by joining the struggle for a Free Palestine, by joining the struggle against Israeli apartheid and by supporting the Palestinian BDS campaign!