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So, You Think Mandela Was a “Terrorist”?

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Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

As Nelson “Madiba” Mandela went home to the Lord, basically all of my activist friends have mourned his departure, and of course my South African friends as well. When I was in SA this summer many prayed for his healing, not because they thought he was immortal but because they felt that they weren’t ready to live in a South Africa without him.

He stood not only for justice and equality but also for unity and reconciliation, and even though I personally think he treated the whites a bit too kindly through letting them keep large parts of their wealth, and thus not overcoming SA’s enormous economic inequality, the fact that he wasn’t as hostile towards whites as for example Robert Mugabe created an atmosphere of much more tolerance and acceptance.

However, many South African whites are very disappointed with him and the ANC, some for racist reasons and some for facing the fact that they’re not as privileged as before, and thus there is still a hostility towards Mandela. This is appearant in that some whites still call him a “terrorist” just as the racist minority government, as well as the United States, once did. And even today some Americans join their white South African cousins in calling Mandela “terrorist”. Needless to say, this is severely problematic.

One should recognize that “terrorist” is a pejorative term. It is used by states that kill civilians to describe small armed groups that oppose their interests. Yes, states that kill civilians. I know of no state that accuse others of killing civilians that do not do it themselves. And I don’t just mean through collateral damage, but intentional killing of civilians.

The United States is obviously the king of doing this (one word: Hiroshima) but even nice little countries like Sweden kill civilians intentionally. Two years ago we deported a man to Iraq even though his religious group was severely persecuted, and he was killed shortly after that. Nothing has changed this incident, so we still deport persecuted minorities to Iraq and other dangerous countries. We kill civilians.

And so, terrorism is not defined as “a violent action towards civilians to send a political or religious message” or something like that, because then most states would be terrorist states. Thus, the US defines terrorism as involving “violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law” (my emphasis added) and “appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping”.

Violence towards civilians isn’t even mentioned! The crime here is to violate American law with violence, and thus the US doesn’t have to worry about the irony of arresting themselves after killing hundreds of thousands of civilians in Iraq in their “war against terror”.

A similar definition was probably used when the US placed ANC on its list of international terrorist organizations. It was justified by the fact that Mandela actually created a military wing of ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe. Now, let me be clear: as an Anabaptist follower of Christ I think violence always is wrong. I want to love my enemies and turn the other cheek. Thus, I think it was unwise and immoral of ANC to start using violence, and I am by no means defending that.

However, one must realize that ANC was using non-violence until the Sharpeville massacre, where the South African police killed (black) civilians. This was just one example of when the racist minority government killed civilians, but of course they were never labelled terrorists because they were obviously not opposing their own government with their violent acts.

I think it is good that we are critical to Umkhonto we Sizwe, not only becuase it’s wrong to kill but I also believe it made Mandela’s struggle harder since the terrorist claim could be justified easier. However, calling Mandela terrorist is very inadequate since the term in itself is not by any means neutral; again, it’s a pejorative term that is used by states that kill civilians to describe small armed groups that oppose their interests. The violence and structual violence of the apartheid regime was massive, and it is horrible that the US in particular did not oppose apartheid a bit but, on the contrary, opposed its abolishment. Likewise Mandela and ANC remained on the American terrorist list until 2008, even though Umkhonto we Sizwe was abolished in 1990. That’s not very honest at all.


  1. truthaholics says:

    Thank you for posting this – you make some very telling points.

    Particularly about the destabilising effects of racist ideologies and the incompatibility of mainstream political hypocrisy which condones and permits them to be inflicted upon the family of humankind.

    Mandela was a man who deeply believed in the universal Truth of equality for all regardless of race or background – both in theory and in practice.

    What a tragedy that he was ultimately fettered from fully following through with his ideals in order to achieve economic liberation for his nation

    But, his example shows us that we can succeed and mustn’t give up trying.


    “Because that’s South Africa now, a country long ago plunged headfirst so deep into the sewage of racial hatred that, for all Mandela’s efforts, it is still retching by the side of the swamp. Just imagine if Cape Town were London. Imagine seeing two million white people living in shacks and mud huts along the M25 as you make your way into the city, where most of the biggest houses and biggest jobs are occupied by a small, affluent to wealthy group of black people. There are no words for the resentment that would still simmer there.”

    | Mandela will never, ever be your minstrel!

  2. […] So, You Think Mandela Was a “Terrorist”? ( […]

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The author

Micael Grenholm, a Swedish charismactivist, apologist and author.

Micael Grenholm, a Swedish charismactivist, apologist and author.

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