Mandela, terrorism, and reality

In a thoughtful comment to my article last night about the death of Nelson Mandela, Francis Porretto noted:

Let’s stipulate that Mandela did mend his ways, to the extent of forgiving his enemies and striving fr unity in post-apartheid South Africa. It remains an incontestable fact that as a young man he was personally involved in acts of sabotage that cost the lives of presumptive innocents. He was outspoken about it at his trial. That demands that we ask the core question of all civil uprisings: Does the situation Mandela fought against justify his crimes?

It is perfectly legitimate to come down on either side of that question.

You can read more of his thoughts on the matter in his most recent blog post.  Recommended.

In another comment, DiveMedic accuses Mr. Mandela of carrying out and condoning ‘necklacing‘.  He was never guilty of that, as far as I’m aware, although his former wife did so.  He spoke out strongly against such actions when he was finally able to do so after his release from prison.  To ascribe to him guilt for the actions of others is simply untrue, and has no foundation in fact.

A great many people have never forgiven Nelson Mandela, or the African National Congress, or other revolutionaries in many other conflicts, for their acts of terrorism and violence.  I’ve read many of their comments online since the news of Nelson Mandela’s death broke.  To provide just one example (with which I emphatically disagree), see ‘A Good Communist‘ at Western Rifle Shooters Association and its associated comments.  (The title, of course, is a misnomer, because Mr. Mandela denied being a communist.  On the basis of my long experience of South Africa and study of his life, I believe him, despite the frothing-at-the-mouth one-sided ‘evidence’ produced by articles such as this one.  I advise you to take a long, hard look at the sources it cites in support of its arguments, and judge it accordingly.  Independent, balanced and scholarly, they ain’t.)

I encountered terrorism at first hand, many, many times.  I’ve written about some of them before – in these blog articles, among others, particularly the last one:

If you haven’t read them before, I recommend that you do so – if only to establish my credentials to talk about this subject.  I know far, far more about terrorism ‘up close and personal’ than most of my readers.

I agree, without hesitation, that in the early 1960’s Mr. Mandela was a terrorist.  That’s undeniable – he admitted it himself.  He outgrew that, and became first a political leader, then a statesman in the last years of his life.  However, in calling him a terrorist, we have to ask why he became one.  The answer is terrifying, because it shows how easily misuse of the law can create terrorism and violence – as it may yet do in these United States, and as it has done here before.

The problem in South Africa was the blind, obstinate refusal by the National Party government – and by many White persons who did not belong to that party – to even consider granting equal political status, and equal rights under the law, to all South Africans.  They insisted that this would mean racial suicide – the domination of Whites by Blacks.  (If the capitalization of the races bothers you, I apologize, but this is how such matters were expressed in South Africa at the time.)  Instead, in a policy that became notorious under the name of apartheid, they came up with a fantastically grandiose scheme to grant ‘independence’ to each Black tribe in its own ‘Bantustan‘ or homeland.  Within those homelands, they would enjoy all the rights they wished.  Outside those homelands – in the 87% of South African territory reserved for the Whites, who constituted less than 10% of the country’s population – they would be ‘foreigners’, not entitled to equal rights or equal treatment, and subject to ignominious restrictions.  In effect, they would be stripped of citizenship in the land of their birth.

To give expression to apartheid, the White government passed innumerable laws.  Among the most notorious were the Population Registration Act, the Group Areas Act, the Pass Laws, the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act and the Immorality Act, the Suppression of Communism Act and the Terrorism Act.  There were many more, all of which effectively banned Black political, social and economic organization in ‘White’ South Africa.  (For example, Black trades unions were banned along with political organizations, because the two were seen as feeding each other.)  The Suppression of Communism Act became a particularly useful tool in the hands of the apartheid government to suppress any Black political opposition by labeling it and its instigators or protagonists as ‘Communist’.  As Wikipedia correctly points out:

The act defined Communism and its aims so sweepingly that anyone seeking to change a law could be considered a Communist. Since the act specifically stated that one of the aims of Communism was to stir up conflict between the races, it was frequently used to legally gag critics of racial segregation and apartheid. Communism was so broadly defined in the act that even judge Franz Rumpff stated during the trial of African National Congress (ANC) president James Moroka that “[the charge] has nothing to do with Communism as it is commonly known”, and defendants were commonly convicted of “statutory Communism”.

This led directly to the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe and the beginning of Black terrorism.  As Nelson Mandela said in his justly famous ‘Speech From The Dock‘ in 1964, when he was convicted of terrorism:

I have already mentioned that I was one of the persons who helped to form Umkhonto. I, and the others who started the organization, did so for two reasons. Firstly, we believed that as a result of Government policy, violence by the African people had become inevitable, and that unless responsible leadership was given to canalize and control the feelings of our people, there would be outbreaks of terrorism which would produce an intensity of bitterness and hostility between the various races of this country which is not produced even by war. Secondly, we felt that without violence there would be no way open to the African people to succeed in their struggle against the principle of white supremacy. All lawful modes of expressing opposition to this principle had been closed by legislation, and we were placed in a position in which we had either to accept a permanent state of inferiority, or to defy the Government. We chose to defy the law. We first broke the law in a way which avoided any recourse to violence; when this form was legislated against, and then the Government resorted to a show of force to crush opposition to its policies, only then did we decide to answer violence with violence.

There’s much more at the link.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.  I submit that this speech is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand Nelson Mandela or terrorism in South Africa.  It’s indispensable material.  Highly recommended.

What Mr. Mandela said in that extract, in the context of South Africa in 1964, is absolutely, incontrovertibly true.  It cannot be denied.  It’s simple fact.  Every avenue of peaceful protest had been shut down, not just by legislation, but by force.  The Sharpeville massacre was the most egregious example, but there were many others.  Under the circumstances, he and many others came to believe that their only recourse was to violence . . . and I can’t argue with them.  At that time, in that place and under those circumstances, they were almost certainly correct.

Does it seem that I’m condoning terrorism?  I’m not . . . but the fact that I cannot and will never condone terrorism does not mean that I refuse to acknowledge the desperation that leads some to undertake it.  That’s a reality these United States have confronted more than once in the past.  The activities of so-called ‘guerrillas’ in Missouri and Kansas during the Civil War are perhaps the best-known examples.  What student of that conflict has not heard of ‘Bloody Bill’ Anderson, William Quantrill or Champ Ferguson on the Confederate side, or James Henry Lane, Blazer’s Scouts or the Loudon Rangers on the Union side?

If you close off every legal avenue of representation;  if you use the machinery of the State to deny the rights and freedoms that we proclaim to be universal;  if you force others to conform to the will of the political faction in power, including by misusing organs of State to oppress those who do not agree with or support that will;  then you risk engendering terrorism as a response.

Right now, in these United States, we see a President allegedly trying to rule by executive fiatusing the IRS to intimidate political opponents;  and seeking to ignore legal and constitutional restrictions on his powers..  He also arrogates to his Administration the right to kill American citizens without due legal process.  There are many who argue that opposition to such an agenda – even armed resistance to it – is not terrorism, but patriotism.  There are conflicting views on this.  Some call it a threat;  others consider it dissent, a legitimate response to what they see as political oppression.  Isn’t it funny how terrorism, or the perceived threat of terrorism, appears different when viewed from one side or the other?  Isn’t that precisely the same situation we confront in categorizing Nelson Mandela and the ANC?  Were they terrorists, or patriots?

Mr. Mandela overcame his terrorist past to become, first a political leader, then a statesman.  Others have done so in the past in various countries, including Ireland (consider Michael Collins and W. T. Cosgrave) and Israel (where Menachem Begin, Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin were all former ‘terrorists’ according to official definition).  I daresay many of those who formed the first government of the United States after independence would also have been labeled as ‘terrorists’ by Britain at the time.

I think the word ‘terrorist’ has been so misused and abused over the years that it’s almost meaningless today.  I prefer the word ‘criminal’.  If one commits an act that is morally evil – murder, rape, whatever – there can never be any justification for it, legal, political, social, economic or otherwise.  To call it ‘terrorism’ merely obscures its intrinsically evil nature.

Mr. Mandela was indisputably guilty of such actions at one time in his past.  He moved on beyond that stage of his career, and strongly opposed terrorism by his followers and by other factions in the run-up to South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994.  To label him as a ‘terrorist’ forever is a travesty of justice and a deliberate denial of the truth.  You might as well call me a ‘soldier’ today because once I wore a uniform and carried a gun (or, for that matter, because I shot terrorists).  I haven’t been a soldier for decades . . . but if you want to pin that label on me, because of what I once was, go ahead – knock yourself out.  It’s no skin off my nose.  I don’t think it’ll affect Mr. Mandela’s legacy if the short-sighted and misguided among us do the same to him as a former terrorist, even though – like most of us – he ‘grew up’ and became far more than he once was, and a far better person.

He is now in the court of a far higher Judge than our opinions.  May his sins be forgiven him, and may he rest in peace . . . and may the same mercy be extended to us.  I know that I, for one, will most assuredly need it.



  1. Peter,

    Very thoughtful and true. One must judge the leaders in a civil war by what was done when the war was over.
    Mandela did not claim absolute power, he did not enrich himself from government sources, and he opposed racial violence.
    One need only to look at the countries surrounding South Africa to see how unusual this was and is.

    In evaluating his post revolution life, my only strong disagreement is in his failure to openly condemn his fellow revolutionaries who did not live up to his example. I do not, of course, have any knowledge of what rebukes he may have sent privately.

    Because of his policies while in government, and his personal example both in and out of government, South Africa is a much better society and country than any of the neighboring states.

    Yes, huge problems remain. But in South Africa there is hope. I cannot say the same for the majority of the African Continent.

    Glen in Texas

  2. Huh, who would have known.

    A conservative, free-market christian that tried to convert the remaining communists?

    I guess that why he championed Fidel Castro, Hamas, NK, and all the other commies, err, progressive, um, misunderstood free-marketers.

    I guess every other SA that says that Saint Mandela was a communist is a liar?

  3. Great article, Peter. I know I had my doubts on his motives and practices while in the ANC.

    I've read those prior posts but had forgotten. Thanks for refreshing my memory.

  4. Nelson Mandela may not have been perfect, but he was much, much better than the RSA, and the rest of the region and world, could have gotten. Further, and sadly, I do not see anyone even close to his stature to take up his mantle. "More difficult times ahead" indeed. Thank you for the informative posts, Peter.

  5. Borepatch, Your every syllable of comment reflect my thoughts completely.

    Peter, your comments shed a vastly different complexion on my memories of those aweful times in South Africa, different, and so much more truthful and accurate than what I knew of, as represented in the press of the day back then, here in Australia.

    Having said that, I fear there are dark days ahead, I so hope South Africa weathers the coming storm successfully.

  6. @Anonymous at 11:26 AM: And you're suggesting that Mr. Mandela participated in and/or encouraged the atrocities cited at the link you provided?

    If you are, on what evidence?

    This is a classic illustration of the sheer, utter stupidity of those frothing at the mouth over Mr. Mandela's death. They take the worst atrocities Africa has to offer, particularly those directed against Whites, and lay them at his door – without providing a shred of evidence, much less proof, that he committed any of the crimes against which they rail.

    As I said in another comment, the old proverb is proved true once again: "There are none so blind as those who will not see".


  7. So typical of the left to call out someone being stupid if they disagree. Maybe you'll resort to be next being a racist or Nazi.

    Yes I am blind. Yet article after article cites this negro as part of the African National Congress (ANC) leader a member of the SACP. His influence here has very direct relationship to the atrocities we now see and those in the past. Any attempt to deny is fruitless.

    can't wait to see how I get labeled now. blind.stupid have been already used by you.

    This is one of many pages that may open your eyes if willing to look.

  8. @Anonymous at 6:05 PM:


    I suspect your use of that word is a dead give-away as to the real root of your feelings.

    "His influence here has very direct relationship to the atrocities we now see and those in the past. Any attempt to deny is fruitless"?

    WHERE IS YOUR EVIDENCE? I'm not interested in opinions, feelings, anger (misdirected or otherwise), or anything except solid, hard, verifiable FACTS. You have produced none whatsoever to show that Mr. Mandela was personally involved, actively or passively, in any of the atrocities cited at the link you provided.

    There is no such evidence, of course. He didn't personally do any of those things and – after his sentence for terrorism in 1964 – didn't encourage them. He rebuked his wife Winnie when she encouraged 'necklacing', and when she wouldn't abandon her radicalism, he divorced her. He also worked very hard to overcome the violence and anger of the ANC's armed wing and its youth wing prior to the advent of democracy in 1994. I know this because I was there. I helped run those first democratic elections.

    Of course, some of the policies of the ANC can be linked to crimes such as those described and illustrated at the link you provided. On the other hand, so can many of the policies of the apartheid government, including land seizures, the treatment of Black farm workers, and other issues. If you want to show the truth to the world, why not strive to portray the whole truth, rather than only selective elements of it?

    Oh – and when you cite sources to support your argument, it would help greatly if you chose sources that were objective, honest, rational and factual. The article you cited at The New American is partisan, hysterical and irrational – almost as much so as some extremists on the Left. In fact, I think I'll write later tonight about the problems extremists on both sides of the spectrum have in discovering the truth . . . and how like each other they really are.

  9. Is Negro a pejorative now? Just wanted to see how fast you were to label me a racist.

    How fast will our President distance himself from the disaster of Obamacare? I bet later in life he will change his viewpoint of this cluster, but he is solely responsible for all the consequences it begets.

    Mandela, falls into this same fate.
    Below is a video of him actively singing for the death of humans.
    While you may believe that because later in life he denounced "His" monstrously hideous stance all is forgiven. Yet his influence is still being felt today and people are still being slaughter because of it.

    Mandela actively participating in a public setting and singing out for the killing of whites. He's directly influencing those that admire and worship this evil man.

  10. I hate to defend Anonymous, because he is fairly obviously an idiot. He does have a point though, you are responsible for the consequences of your actions. It boils down to if you believe Mandela did sufficient recompense later in life for his actions earlier in life. Frankly I don't know enough about the situation to definitively say whether this is true of Mandela or not. Those Mandela befriended later in life tend to give credence to those who call him a communist, but he was a politician, and politicians necessarily have at least nominally friendly relationships with people the rest of us consider to slimy to touch with a ten foot pole.

    I agree with you however that terrorism and patriotism are necessarily mutually exclusive, and that this is view that all to few Americans ever consider. It matters not so much whether they consider this view valid or not, they need to be more aware that SOME people consider this view valid, and the more overbearing the government becomes, the more people that will come to hold this view.

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