If Martin and Malcolm were Married: The Case of Nelson and Winnie Mandela

I was 10 to 15 years old in the early-to-late 1960’s, when my father used to take me with him to the meetings and forums of the African American People’s Freedom Movement in NYC and up and down the East Coast. Invariably at these gatherings were the discussions and debate between the Civil Rights approach and that of Black Power. The discussions often scrutinized the way in which the powers-that-be used Martin Luther King’s “peaceful” stance as a way to distinguish the “reasonable” MLK, from the “fanatical” Malcolm and his birth-child — the Black Panther Party. Ultimately, the people’s movement moved everyone further into the camp of revolution, Martin Luther King included. Hence, his assassination by the very people who sought to exploit his “moderate” style.

The Passing of a Great Revolutionary

The recent attention being paid to the colossal countenance of Nelson Mandela has everyone meditating on times past, on identification with the images which are all over the mainstream and popular media, of this gigantic maker-of-history. Indeed, it has been, in some instances, over the top: We have been forced to witness haters and mass murderers like George Bush “celebrating” the life of this titanic revolutionary. This is to be expected: As time passes, those in power are smart to hoist up the mythic stature of someone who they think can no longer hurt them. Who would have ever imagined that there would be a U.S. Postal stamp with a picture of Brother Malcolm’s face pasted on it? To see fascist-types sitting in the coliseum, participating in an event to honor Nelson Mandela, an event that those they have murdered cannot participate in, makes it legitimate to provide the entire quote from Lenin on this craft of the oppressors:

During the lifetime of great revolutionaries, the oppressing classes constantly hounded them, received their theories with the most savage malice, the most furious hatred and the most unscrupulous campaigns of lies and slander. After their death, attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonize them, so to say, and to hallow their names to a certain extent for the “consolation” of the oppressed classes and with the object of duping the latter, while at the same time robbing the revolutionary theory of its substance, blunting its revolutionary edge and vulgarizing it. (The State and Revolution, p. 6)

One of the most outstanding presentations of the life of the first President of a democratic South Africa was aired on PBS the day after his death. It was titled The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela, and it was offered as the video version of his official autobiography. A couple of important pictures were painted by this movie: (1) It had enough information and voice from different sides so that Mandela did not come off as some kind of super-hero above the fray. They showed instances in which he was in the minority voice in the African National Congress. They showed times when he was a minority of one; and in some of these instances I can recall that we, from a continent away, were disagreeing with him. (2) They showed the Soweto Uprising, and ultimately its paramount leader — Winnie Mandela. And they framed a process whereby an imprisoned revolutionary was asking the leaders of the uprising to calm it down, take it easier, slow down, take a break.

It is Respectful to Honor All of Our Feelings

It brought me back to that time, as we applied the anti-apartheid support from Boston to our own struggle with an apartheid school system, and an apartheid-style drug trade in our neighborhoods. We can’t forget that apartheid was modeled after the domestic ways of the United Sates of America. In Boston’s African America we hosted youth from the Soweto Uprising to provide guidance for the young revolutionaries in our communities. It is not disrespectful to mention, on the death-bed of this great leader, that we were most enthralled at that moment by the leadership of Winnie Mandela. The fact is that Nelson Mandela could not be heard — he was in prison. We saw and heard Winnie Mandela urging the youth to continue to march forward. There was nothing in the world more inspiring at that time than the image of Winnie Mandela at the podium in front of thousands of raging young people, with her fist clenched, her arm held erect over her head. Our young people were brought up on this scene, with Winnie Mandela telling her nation, “We’ll watch the negotiations. But if they fail, we will go back into the bush with our AK-47’s in hand.”

It is not disrespectful to address all of the feelings that come up as a great revolutionary passes. Ask yourself this question, as you review the history: Would Nelson Mandela have been released from prison were it not for Winnie Mandela and the Soweto youth ignoring the call for them to halt their march forward? Had this uprising halted before apartheid fell, would apartheid still be here?

Scarlet Letter

It also must be noted that when great male leaders are unfaithful to their spouses, it is not news. Sometimes they even get the “’at-a-boy,” or “boys will be boys” treatment. Yet, on the passing of Nelson Mandela, we are being force-fed the story of Winnie Mandela’s alleged infidelity. Why? Is this not off-the-subject of the mourning of a great revolutionary? Of course, it is off the subject, and it is crass. But, as they canonize a dead revolutionary, they make certain to besmirch the character of great living revolutionaries.

My daughter is 16 years old and her mandatory reading in English class is the Scarlet Letter. Is that not what great women revolutionaries get when they refuse to compromise? Is it unseemly to bring these issues up on the passing of Nelson Mandela? We say, “What better time than when everyone’s eyes are on the subject?” Let’s bring out the most important and far-reaching conclusions, while the powers-that-be paint Mandela as a “moderate,” “pragmatic,” and “reasonable” leader. Indeed, if we can envision, for one moment, that Malcolm and Martin were married by the Black Liberation Movement, was not Malcolm the Winnie Mandela of the pair?

The effort on the part of the media drones is to glaze our eyes over with false images. One friend of mine said she was reading internet responses from what she called “racists in Massachusetts,” to the passing of Nelson Mandela. “What were the racist comments?” I asked her. She said, “They were calling him a communist and a revolutionary.” Hmmmmmmmmm? What’s racist about that? He was a communist and revolutionary. That’s why the people in our millions love him.

He wasn’t always Right

As we look back at the history, it is fine and righteous for us to remember what we learned back then: In the words of Winnie Mandela: “We could not stop our children…” In the face of machine guns and tanks, they used rocks and bottles and fought to the death, so that others could taste freedom. Are we sad at the death toll? Without a doubt! We are living today in the midst of an unprecedented death toll. Wherever this dying culture is allowed to go unchecked, the death toll mounts ever higher. Today, this decadent system, as long as it experiences no resistance, continues its funeral dirge towards the abyss of history, over the dead bodies of our family members.

The fact is that the apartheid rulers looked at their options: All over the world the peoples were witnessing children armed with stones, defeating one of the most brutal murder machines in the history of humankind. “Gee,” the apartheid rulers said to each other, “Nelson Mandela is easier to talk to than his crazy wife. Let’s get him out of here [Robin Island]. Anything is better than having to talk to her — she doesn’t make any sense.”…

Moving Forward

We are in the era of the decline and demise of Western civilization. War and rumors of war are the rule. Revolution is the process whereby the oppressed take history into their own hands, collectively rise from the decomposition, and bring new life. We do not believe in hero worship, and we believe that the people, and the people alone, are the motive force in the making of world history. Nevertheless, there is a role for great individual revolutionary leaders, and Nelson Mandela was one who made an individual contribution worthy of merit.

In a conversation with Jesse Jackson, Mandela recalled the launching of the armed struggle in 1960: (not verbatim) “Our first actions were the demolition of bridges and railways. Our next targets were to be hospitals and schools. I’m glad I was caught, arrested and jailed for over 20 years. Had I not been caught I would have killed innocent women and children.” Today, no deaths of innocent women and children are part of Mandela’s cross to bear.

We are revolutionaries, and we want no part of the “collateral damage” that is the staple of the terrorism of the present crumbling regime. War is politics by other means, and we prefer that the moral authority of the people determine the course of our progress forward. Nelson Mandela made an indelible contribution to the pantheon of revolution and socialism, and he left it for us, the living, to learn from.