Mandela Moments


Faith without works is dead, Ubuntu without Socialist Pan-Africanism is meaningless

The death of Nelson Rohilala Mandela caught me by surprise, despite his advanced age. The ones we love are eternal. Just the previous night, Wednesday, I served on a panel moderated by my colleague and sister, Dr. Stephane Dunn, after an advance screening of the new film, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. The film was powerful and moving, bringing back memories of how in the mid-to-late 1980s, the Azanian struggle helped to grow us up–for Real! Elba and Harris, both gave moving performances.

Despite the great coverage by Amy Goodman and Democracy Now, Al-Jazeera, AfricaOnline and good efforts by MSNBC, the media coverage of Madiba’s death has been suspect. I appreciate the quality and quantity of tributes to the life of the freedom fighter, but we owe it to Madiba’s memory and the history we bequeath to our children’s children to check the history of those in power now claiming to love Mandela. The best tribute to a leader is suitable behavior. Did Mandela, ever, even in his active Umkhonto we Sizwe period, create collateral damage of women and children? No. Mandela did, though incompletely, begin reforms to raise the quality of life of African people in the Townships and abolished statutes supporting the Bantustans. The failure to deliver on these reforms belongs to that nation not just one man.

As some right-wingers are decrying, he did embrace Cuba, Libya and Angola as allies for African liberation, while Presidents Reagan, Bush I & II, Clinton and Obama were, respectively, belligerent to these nations. Within a year of his release from prison, Mandela toured the Americas including states and municipalities that supported the South African struggle: New York, Oakland, Cuba and Jamaica. In Havana, on July 26, 1991, he thanked the Cuban people for their singular contribution to African liberation, including South Africa’s impending emancipation. In assistance to the MPLA, Cuba sent thousands of troops and arms to Angola where they fought Union of South Africa, D.R. Congolese, and American “advisors” at the decisive Battle of Cuito Cuanavale. The African leader said,

“That impressive defeat of the racist army… gave Angola the possibility of enjoying peace and consolidating its sovereignty”,

The defeat of the two USAs, and their proxies, liberated Angola and Southwest Africa (Namibia), and meant an end to the reign of terror for the Frontline States under South African dominance and hegemony. In the spirit of Ubuntu, Mandela said thank you:

“Without the defeat inflicted at Cuito Cuanavale our organisations never would have been legalised.”
“The Cuban people hold a special place in the hearts of the peoples of Africa… The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom and justice, unparalleled for its principled and selfless character.”

South Africans, like Africans globally, still have much work to do to restore human dignity in the townships and in the former frontline states. Black South Africans should begin by ensuring that all attacks on African Migrants simply seeking work end immediately. I hope that all Africans return to the writings of Mandela and his particular brand of Ubuntu. This wisdom and its application are severely needed. We need to identify and replicate ‘Mandela Moments.’ Moments of principle and commitment to the values of our true Jegnas.

My favorite Mandela moment was during Clinton’s 1998 African tour, where the African statesman took Clinton by the hand and chastised him in front of the global media for pushing his exploitative African Growth & Opportunity Act, which would, unilaterally, benefit american corporations without maintaining environmental and other regulatory performance requirements in Africa. PBHO has endorsed and rebranded the AGO along with his Power Africa initiative. Mandela’s advice to Clinton holds for president Obama. We definitely need a series of Mandela moments from our president.

For us, everyday day people, the challenge is to inform ourselves with Mandela’s and other worthy philosophies. We need to read Mandela’s speeches. Read Nelson Mandela Speaks and other works. In appreciating him, let’s not pretend that his path was simply one of color-blind post racialism. Mandela was a nationalist, a pan-Africanist, a race man whose application of African philosophy transformed his nation and the world. Mandela’s walk was one of intense cultural education and pride, commitment to freedom, willingness to use selective violence, and if need be, to die for the principles for which he stood. For his life example, I say thank you.


Samuel T. Livingston

The Faculty, Staff and Students of the African American Studies Program
The Livingston Family
The Barr – Witherspoon – Sumpter Clan

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