In 2001 on my website of that time "Breaking The Bloody Glass" I wrote a series of essays/articles under the heading "Letters From An Alien". One of them was titled "Mandela - a judgement". I re-post it here at the request of "maddogmaxim" in his response to my post "Nelson Mandela, thank you"
I post it without alteration but with this additional comment: I hold Desmond Tutu in very high regard.
Mandela - a judgement
© labi siffre July7th 2001
Some may view the next sentence as morbid but I must write this now in order to avoid being a cowardly vulture after the events. In the not too distant future Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu will die. There will be obituaries. Both men will be eulogised as courageous. Mandela in particular will be noted for his moral weight. After twenty seven years of unjust imprisonment by racist, murderous hypocrites, followed by his adherence to a non-racial agenda - free of revenge and translated into political power - he is one of very few politicians whose ethical stature is such as to embarrass the usual self-serving political pragmatists into a semblance of ethical behaviour. Desmond Tutu's quest for healing through his Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be noted alongside and seen as a duality with Mandela's let bygones be bygones approach.
The plaudits will pass; soon after to be replaced by questioning followed by criticism with accusation lurking in the wings. There may be suggestions of financial or sexual impropriety: holidays, houses, cars for family members - paid for out of government, party or church funds or merely given as gifts (better refused?) from admirers of these extraordinary men who subsequently passed them on. Hints of sexual excess or infidelity will ooze from digital quills though Mandela's twenty seven year confinement may clip the wings of all but the most imaginative of investigative journalists.
Did Desmond Tutu ever wear a tutu? Perhaps The National Enquirer, Daily Mail, News of the World or The Sunday Times have already done that one. If not they probably will. And what exactly did he get up to while ministering in the flesh pots of Golders Green, St Alban's and Bletchingley in Surrey. After all it was the permissive 60's. Did the future Bishop inhale? And of course there is that embarrassing BBC interview with journalist Mark Lawson on The Big Question re:God and Apartheid - painfully naive or intellectually dishonest? Well, Tutu is a Christian so he has to be one or the other.
The careers and behaviour of their respective children (four each) will be scrutinised and any faults or weaknesses discerned in the offspring will be shown to be signs of more serious paternal weaknesses and failings - pointing to even more serious political weaknesses and failings.
Nelson Mandela has confirmed that he sought and received financial aid for the ANC from some political figures we, in the morally superior first world, consider beyond the pale - for example: $60m from Indonesia's ex-president Suharto a man responsible for repression and atrocities in East Timor and for the financial looting of his own country. The question of whether it is ethically correct to receive money from a regime which denies human rights and commits crimes against humanity in order to fight another regime which also denies human rights and commits crimes against humanity is a complex one - unless, I imagine, one is in the position of having to make such a choice at a time when the good guys are giving aid and comfort to the murderers of your people. In that circumstance the question might well become academic.
As for letting bygones be bygones: suppose after a hectic morning of unexpected and unavoidably long phone calls accompanied by the tears and needs of children with tummy aches followed by a flat tyre and traffic jams you are late, but after finding a place to park your car and then running the 400 metres almost as fast as in your distant school past you reach your place in the gallery at the Truth and Reconciliation hearings where you listen to a white South African secret service agent confessing to the torture and murder of a dozen or so black prisoners, safe in the knowledge that he will be granted amnesty.
You leave the hearings feeling shattered and depressed by what you have heard only to find on reaching your car that in your hurry not to be late you had failed to notice the no parking signs and have been awarded a parking ticket which you can ill afford. You consider the two crimes and the two punishments (torture, murder, amnesty - weighed against careless parking and a fine) and realise that Desmond Tutu through his Truth and Reconciliation Commission has writ large - heinous crime does pay as long as you say you're sorry (though you needn't mean it) - and as a result has destroyed the very basis of law in South Africa no less thoroughly than did the apartheid regime itself. As you see, I have doubts about letting bygones be bygones.
I believe that black South Africans have displayed remarkable forbearance in not wiping out the white population of that country in a display of justified anger. Perhaps black South Africans realise better than I (a distant and comfortable observer) that in the struggle for freedom a small but dedicated number of white South Africans also put their lives at risk (some died) to oppose the apartheid regime and the evil men and women who operated it. Perhaps black South Africans realise better than I that in order to halt the cycle of bloodshed and killing, the victims of oppression, by rejecting revenge and retribution, must once again prove themselves stronger than dictatorships, torturers and murderers and the well dressed, comfortably housed, silent majority who support them.
As for the questioning followed by criticism followed by accusation: I have no doubt they will have their day. My respect for Nelson Mandela will remain, undiminished (I never expected him to be a saint). My assessment of Desmond Tutu, not as favourable as some would expect, might even improve.
© labi siffre July7th 2001