I can’t take it anymore. All week, I’ve watched Nelson Mandela reduced to a Barbie doll. From Fox News to the Bush family, the politicians and media mavens who body-blocked the anti-Apartheid Movement and were happy to keep Mandela behind bars, now get to dress his image up in any silly outfit they choose.
Poor Mandela. When he’s not a doll, he’s a statue. He joins Martin Luther King as another bronzed monument whose use is to tell us that apartheid is now “defeated” – to quote the ridiculous headline in the Times.
It’s more nauseating than hypocrisy and ignorance. The Mandela Barbie is dressed to serve a new version of racism, Apartheid 2.0, worsening both in South Africa – and in the USA.
The ruling class creates commemorative dolls and statues of revolutionary leaders as a way to tell us their cause is won, so go home. For example, just months ago, the US Supreme Court overturned the Voting Rights Act, Dr. King’s greatest accomplishment, on the specious claim that, “Blatantly discriminatory evasions are rare,” and Jim Crow voting practices are now “eradicated.”
“Eradicated?” On what planet? The latest move by Florida Republicans to purge 181,000 voters of color – like the stench from the shantytowns of Cape Town – makes clear that neither Jim Crow nor Apartheid has been defeated. They’re just in temporary retreat.
Nevertheless, our betters in the USA and Europe have declared that King slew segregation, Mandela defeated apartheid; and therefore, the new victims of racial injustice should just shut the f$#! up and stop whining.
The Man Who Walked Beside Mandela
To replace the plastic and metal Mandelas with flesh and blood, I spoke to Danny Schechter. Schechter knew Mandela personally, and more deeply, than any other American journalist. “One of the great reporters of our generation, Schechter produced South Africa Now, a weekly program for PBS Television stations, from 1988-91, bringing Mandela’s case to Americans dumbed and numbed on by Ronald Reagan’s red-baiting.
Schechter has just completed the difficult job of making the official documentary companion to the Hollywood version of Mandela’s life, Long Walk to Freedom.
The fictional movie is about triumph and forgiveness. Schechter’s documentary, Inside Mandela, has this aplenty, but knowing Mandela, Schechter includes Mandela’s anger, despair and his pained legacy: a corroded South Africa still ruled by a brutal economic apartheid. Today, the average white family has five times the income of a black family. Welcome to “freedom.”
The US and European press have focused on Mandela’s saintly ability to abjure bitterness and all desire for revenge, and for his Christ-like forgiving of his captors. This is to reassure us all that “good” revolutionaries are ones who don’t hold anyone to account for murder, plunder and blood-drenched horror – or demand compensation. That’s Mandela in his Mahatma Gandhi doll outfit – turning the other cheek, kissing his prison wardens.
Schechter doesn’t play with dolls. He knew Mandela the man – and Mandela as one among a group of revolutionary leaders.
Mandela’s circle knew this: You can’t forgive those you defeat until you defeat them.