Saturday, December 21, 2013

"Nelson Mandela vs. his hagiography", Benjamin Fogel

Now that Nelson Mandela's body has had a chance to cool, figuratively speaking, we can appraise him and his legacy with a more objective eye. I found Benjamin Fogel's essay (from Jacobin via Salon) to be persuasively evenhanded. Caveat: I'm not a Mandela scholar. All I know is, Fogel plausibly explains Mandela's sometimes baffling contradictions and seeming lurches in policy direction, not to mention the dissonance between the ideals Mandela putatively exemplified and the realities of South African life.
There were really two Mandelas. The first is that of the revolutionary, the lawyer, the politician, flaws and all. The second is a sanitized myth: the father of the nation, the global icon beloved by everyone from the purveyors of global humanitarian platitudes to even the erstwhile enemies of the African National Congress. This Mandela is removed of his humanity and touted as an abstract signifier of moral righteousness.
It's hard not to be reminded of George Washington and some of the other so-called Founding Fathers of the United States. They, too, were real men with real flaws (and virtues, to be sure) who have been mythologized by those in successive generations who have found the myths more useful than the reality. One day, I'm sure, there will be a story told to South African children about Mandela and whatever the South African equivalent is of a cherry tree.

No comments:

Post a Comment