Among the bourgeois politicians who lined up to eulogise Nelson Mandela over the past week, the competition for Awards in the categories Most Convenient Amnesia and Greatest Hypocrite Of All was fierce. As the judges commented in their preliminary remarks, the caliber of all the contestants was outstanding, and choosing between them was a difficult task.
And the nominations are…
1. Shimon Peres, president of the state of Israel, whose span of life roughly mirrors that of Mandela – and, like every mirror image, shows everything in reverse. In 1948 Peres was a member of the high command of the Haganah, the paramilitary organisation largely responsible for the violent eviction of 750,000 Palestinians from their land, (an event with remarkable parallels to the construction of the apartheid state in South Africa). In 2012 Peres received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from US president Barack Obama. Peres says on his Facebook page:
…Nelson Mandela was a fighter for human rights who left an indelible mark on the struggle against racism and discrimination. He was a passionate advocate for democracy, a respected mediator, a Nobel peace prize laureate and above all a builder of bridges of peace and dialogue who paid a heavy personal price for his struggle in the years he spent in prison and fighting for his people. Nelson Mandela’s legacy for his people and for the world will forever remain engraved in the pages of history and the hearts of all those who were touched by him. He will be remembered forever.
(For more such unblushing tributes from Israeli political figures see +972 Magazine )
2. David Cameron, prime minister of the United Kingdom. The youthful Cameron was attracted to the Federation of Conservative Students in the 1980s, which produced a poster with the slogan “Hang Mandela and all the ANC terrorists”.
In 1989, as the campaign to impose sanctions on apartheid South Africa gathered strength, Cameron accepted an expenses-paid trip to South Africa as part of the counter-campaign opposing sanctions.
Cameron’s tributes were less verbose than Peres’, but included the obligatory photograph of himself next to Mandela.
3. Jacob Zuma, prime minister of the Republic of South Africa. Zuma is the only nominee who can claim to have been a fighter in a progressive cause at one time in his life, as a member of the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, and as a fellow prisoner of Mandela on Robben Island. More recently, he has been famous for a recent $20 million ‘security upgrade’ to his house, which included features – such as a swimming pool and an outdoor amphitheatre – not normally associated with security. Unfortunately I was not able to transcribe his eulogy to Mandela, because all I could hear was loud whistling and jeering from the crowd as he spoke.
4. John Key, prime minister of New Zealand. Key graduated from Canterbury University in Christchurch in 1981, the year opinions in New Zealand were sharply polarised by large protests against a sporting tour by the Springbok rugby team, representing apartheid South Africa. Key chose as his delegation to Mandela’s funeral three parliamentarians, two of whom supported the Springbok tour. As to his own opinion, Key ‘can’t remember’ – which makes him frontrunner for the prize for Most Convenient Amnesia.
5. Barack Obama, president of the United States, who managed a Shimon Peres-style reversal in his tribute to Mandela. Whereas Mandela is admired for having subordinated his own personal fate to the needs of a mass movement, Barack Obama managed to portray the mass movement against apartheid as little more than the lead-up to his own election to the US presidency.
” [Mandela’s] sacrifice was so great that it called upon people everywhere to do what they could on behalf of human progress. In the
most modest of ways, I was one of those people who tried to answer his call… A little more than two decades after I made my first foray into political life and the divestment movement as a college student in California, I stood in Mandela’s former cell in Robben Island. I was a newly elected United States senator…. Prior to my election as president of the United States, I had the great privilege of meeting Mandela, and since taking office I have spoken with him occasionally by phone…. And I was reminded that even as he became a legend, to know the man – Nelson Mandela – was to respect him even more.”
And the winner of the Greatest Hypocrite of Them All is……
The crowning achievement of Obama’s hypocrisy is the fact that at the very moment he was intoning piously about the long years Mandela spent in solitary confinement, there were, in US prisons run under Obama’s own presidency, thirty-six thousand prisoners kept in conditions worse than Mandela endured under apartheid. They are housed in cells that are often windowless and smaller than the one Obama visited as a museum, with less contact with other human beings than Mandela had, since they are kept separate from other prisoners even in their one hour outside the cell. Their one-hour-per-day exercise is taken in a yard hardly bigger than their cell, with concrete on four sides and an iron-mesh roof. Many of these prisoners have been kept in these solitary confinement torture chambers for upwards of twenty years. Earlier this year, thirty thousand prisoners in California alone carried out a desperate form of protest: a sixty-day hunger strike, to protest these inhuman conditions. These prisoners were, as Obama was speaking, suffering additional tortures in reprisal for this action.
And while most of the bourgeois blathering surrounding Mandela’s funeral was so contemptible as to make any normal person laugh, Obama’s particular brand of hypocrisy was all too sickeningly real and present.