[News] The Spirit of Nelson Mandela in Palestine: Is His Real Legacy Being Upheld?
news at freedomarchives.org
Fri May 6 11:59:43 EDT 2016
The Spirit of Nelson Mandela in Palestine: Is His Real Legacy Being
by Ramzy Baroud <http://www.counterpunch.org/author/ramzy-baroud/>, May
I had mixed feelings when I learned that Palestine has erected a statue
of Nelson Mandela, the iconic South African anti-Apartheid leader. On
the one hand, I was quite pleased that the unmistakable connection
between the struggles of Palestinians and South Africans is cemented
more than ever before. On the other hand, I dreaded that rich, corrupt
Palestinians in Ramallah are utilizing the image of Mandela to acquire
badly-needed political capital.
The six-meter bronze statue now stands in its own Nelson Mandela Square
in Al-Tireh neighborhood in Ramallah, where the Palestinian Authority
headquarters are based. The PA is known for its endemic political and
financial corruption. In some ways, its survival is both essential for
the richest Palestinian class and also for the Israeli military Occupation.
Thus, it was quite disheartening to witness the travesty of political
theater where the likes of PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, who rules with a
long-expired mandate, unveiling the statue in a ceremony attended by his
ministers and foreign diplomats.
The statue was a gift from the City of Johannesburg, and its costs of R6
million was paid for by the people of that city, whose solidarity with
Palestine is rooted in a long history, that of blood and tears, and the
haunting cries of pain and freedom. At that, the gift is most appreciated.
But the Mandela that now stands erect in Ramallah has been incorporated
into the zeitgeist of this city, particularly the rich and beaming
neighborhood of massive white-stone villas and luxury cars.
It would have meant much more if it had stood in the center of Gaza, a
city that is withstanding an ongoing genocide; in the heart of Jenin, a
town known for its bravery and hardship; in Al-Khalil, in Nablus or in
Khan Younis. Seeing rich Palestinian officials and businessmen rubbing
shoulders with unmistakable giddiness while fighting for space before
the many cameras, made the occasion vastly less special.
Oddly enough, the main location of the Nelson Mandela Square and statue
in Sandton City in Johannesburg is equally unsettling. I visited the
place more than once, and despite my immense admiration for Mandela, it
failed to move me.
The commercial atmosphere there felt as if it was an attempt at
redefining who Mandela was: from a populist leader and a former prisoner
with proud ties to the Communist Party to an emasculated icon, a warm,
fuzzy figure with no radical roots.
Worse, he is being promoted as if a merchandise within a precarious
neoliberal marketplace, where revolutionary values are shunned and
everything is on sale. This is how the Sandton City website describes
“Home to some of South Africa’s finest restaurants, exclusive couture
and designer labels and a European styled piazza, Nelson Mandela Square
offers chic sophistication, culture and glamour, all under the African sun.”
Yet, the Mandela that is promoted by some in South Africa and their
counterparts in Palestine is fundamentally different from the Mandela
many of us knew about. The man passed away on December 5, 2013, but he
clearly left behind two legacies, one celebrated in Palestinian refugee
camps and South Africa’s slums, while another is sold to the culturally
‘sophisticated’ tourists and Ramallah’s corrupt class.
The name ‘Nelson Mandela’ was a staple in my family, living in a
dilapidated refugee camp in Gaza under military Occupation and the
constant threat of violence. We rushed to the television to watch
whenever his name was mentioned in the news. The finest young men in
camp were chased down, beaten, arrested and shot while trying to write
his name on the decaying walls of our humble dwellings.
That was the Mandela I knew, and most Palestinians remember with
adoration and respect. The one standing in Ramallah, unveiled by those
Palestinians who speak proudly of conducting ‘security coordination’
with Israel – as in jointly cracking down on Palestinian Resistance – is
a whole different Mandela.
He is a different Mandela because Abbas and his Authority do not, in the
least, embody the spirit of Mandela the freedom fighter, the defiant
prisoner, the unifying leader, the champion of a boycott movement.
In fact, the Palestinian leadership as represented in the unelected
government of Abbas in Ramallah, is yet to endorse the Palestinian civil
society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), itself modeled
after the South Africa boycott movement.
Instead, Abbas’ PA has wasted over 20 years of nonsensical and futile
negotiations, collaborated with Israel, divided the ranks of
Palestinians and is actively involved in suppressing Palestinian
Resistance in the West Bank.
With his popularity falling to an all-time low among Palestinians, Abbas
is desperate to concoct hollow victories, and insist on presenting
himself as a national liberation leader, despite all evidence to the
But the bond between South Africa and Palestine is much greater than a
photo-op in Ramallah, involving well-dressed men repeating insincere
clichés about peace and freedom. I dare say it is bigger than Mandela
himself, regardless of which legacy we insist on remembering him by. It
is a link that has been baptized in the blood of the poor and the
innocent and the tenacious struggle of millions of black and brown
Africans and Palestinian Arabs.
I was fortunate enough to experience this for myself.
In my last South African speaking tour a few years ago, I was approached
by two South African men. They seemed particularly grateful for reasons
that initially eluded me. “We want to thank you so much for your support
of our struggle against apartheid,” one said with so much sincerity and
It made sense. Palestinians saw the struggle of their black brethren as
their own struggle. But the two men were not referring to
sentimentalities. While the Israeli government, military and
intelligence supported the apartheid government in many ways, the
Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) had actually trained and
equipped ANC fighters. Cuba and others did too, but to think that the
then Palestinian leadership had the kind of political consciousness to
extend a hand of solidarity to a nation fighting for its freedom, while
the Palestinian people were themselves still enduring that same fight,
filled me with pride.
Those men told me that they still hold onto their PLO-supplied military
uniforms, even after all these years. We embraced and parted ways but,
with time, I came to realize that the present struggle against apartheid
in Palestine is not merely similar to that of South Africa. Both
struggles are extensions of the same movement, the same fight for
freedom and, in fact, against the same enemy.
When Nelson Mandela said, “We know all too well that our freedom is
incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians,” he was not trying
to be cordial or diplomatic. He meant every word.
Someday, we hope that a statue of Mandela, one that represents the
spirit of Resistance in Palestine, will stand tall amid the people who
championed his cause and loved him most.
/*Dr. Ramzy Baroud* has been writing about the Middle East for over 20
years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media
consultant, an author of several books and the founder of
PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom
Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is:
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
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