Nelson Mandela died yesterday, marking the end of a life lauded as inspirational and heroic by millions around the world. The first black president of South Africa, Mandela is hailed as a central figure in the fight against apartheid and its brutal legacy of racial segregation.
In case it needs to be mentioned, Mandela was not American, and as such, not all of his beliefs reflected traditional American values. He publicly supported Fidel Castro and Moammar Gadhafi, and was a ferocious critic of American foreign policy. By definition, he was a revolutionary, determined to tear down existing social structures in his home country. He wasn’t one of those non-violent types, either. The militant group that Mandela co-founded, Umkhonto we Sizwe, carried out guerrilla attacks that were aimed at government targets but resulted in numerous civilian deaths.
Maybe you didn’t know that stuff; the darker pages of Mandela’s story certainly aren’t emphasized in mainstream eulogies of his life. On the other hand, you can be an American patriot and still respect Mandela for the life he led, his indomitable spirit, the battles he fought and won for human justice. The world is a better, fairer place today because he existed.
That’s why this tweet from UFC fighter Tim Kennedy bothered me. It dismisses all of Mandela’s accomplishments, on the grounds that his views on social justice didn’t completely mirror America’s. He’s a commie at heart, so he can’t be a hero.
Mandela’s death has inspired all sorts of questionable reactions on the Internet, ranging from the horrfying to the merely idiotic, and that’s fine. Everybody’s entitled to his or her opinion. (And we should probably include the mandatory disclaimer that Tim Kennedy is a hero in his own right.) But which part of Mandela’s life should he be remembered for? And what would the world look like without him?