Tag Archives: Nelson Mandela

Good bye, good riddance to the tyrant Mugabe

Robert Mugabe’s legacy surely will be carved in stone.

He became the first head of government in 1980 of a newly renamed country that at that time was the model of prosperity in Africa. Rhodesia became Zimbabwe and Mugabe became the country’s first prime minister.

He later became its president. What happened then over the course of the next three-plus decades is shameful in the extreme.

Zimbabwe devolved from prosperity to abject poverty and deprivation. Mugabe wanted to govern the country until he died. He didn’t quite make it. He was forced out in 2017.

Mugabe died this week at the age of 95. The world should not mourn this guy’s passing. It should instead declare that Earth is a better place without him.

He took office as a revolutionary, promising even greater prosperity for his constituents. He delivered nothing but misery and mayhem. Zimbabwe plunged into a state of utter despair under Mugabe’s iron-fisted, ham-handed, brutal rule.

How does one dare call that a successful transition?

I cannot.

He saw himself as Africa’s model of reform, known around the world as a statesman. Then in 1990, something remarkable happened. A real statesman was released from prison in South Africa. Nelson Mandela took control of his country and emerged as one of the world’s pre-eminent champions of political reform. He eclipsed Mugabe almost immediately.

Mugabe’s tyrannical rule has virtually ruined his country.

So long, Mr. Dictator.

Bill Cosby: He’s no Mandela, MLK Jr. or Gandhi

I don’t usually comment on convicted criminals, but I cannot let this issue pass without offering a brief response.

Bill Cosby, the formerly revered comedian and actor, is now a convicted sexual assailant. A jury convicted him of sexually assaulting a woman. He’s now spending three to 10 years in prison.

But now he says he doesn’t feel remorse because he is a “political prisoner,” in the mold of Nelson Mandela, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi.

No, he isn’t.

Hmm. Mandela was held on Robben Island for 27 years because he protested apartheid in South Africa; Dr. King was held in jail because he opposed oppression of African-Americans in the United States; Gandhi was imprisoned because he wanted independence for India.

Yep, those great men were political prisoners.

Bill Cosby is in the slammer because he was convicted of sexual assault. There is absolutely zero moral equivalence between what he did and why the men to whom he compares himself were denied their freedom.

Be quiet, Mr. Cosby, and do your time.

Time of My Life, Part 2: In the presence of greatness

I once belonged to an organization called the National Conference of Editorial Writers. The group occasionally sponsored remarkable overseas trips to members, editorial writers and editors such as yours truly.

In the summer of 2004, I had the distinct pleasure of attending the International Conference on HIV/AIDS in Bangkok, Thailand. It was my second trip to Southeast Asia with NCEW; the first one was in 1989, and I am likely to tell about that journey at another time.

This installment wants to focus on my being in the same room with one of history’s towering giants.

The AIDS conference focused on the disease that ravages so many millions of human beings. Our journey was aimed at studying the impact of the disease on Asia; in Thailand, Cambodia and India.

But there was a side story to cover as well. Tuberculosis is another killer, communicable disease that afflicted this great man: I refer to Nelson Mandela.

The former South African president came to Bangkok to tell attendees that TB needs the world’s attention, too.

Mandela staged a press availability in a room full of attendees, including our NCEW delegation. I stood about 30 feet from the microphone where Mandela would stand and speak.

He contracted TB during his imprisonment on Robben Island, where he was held prisoner for 27 years before his release in 1990. He had the temerity to protest against South Africa’s apartheid policies; the government threw him in the slammer because he demanded human rights for all of his country’s citizens, not just the white minority that ran everything.

By 2004, Mandela’s place in world history had been established. He stood as a giant among giants. To see this man in person was one of the thrills of my life as a working journalist.

I remember seeing him walk into the room and I was struck by something that was said about Robert Kennedy, which was that when RFK walked into a room, everyone else turned to black-and-white, while Bobby stood in magnificent color.

You could say the same thing about Nelson Mandela.

The great man told us about TB, his struggle to overcome it and urged the HIV/AIDS conference attendees to look for cures to TB. He took a couple of questions and then left.

We were instructed before Mandela came into the room to avoid flash photography, as he had developed acute sensitivity to bright lights during all those years he was kept in the dark on Robben Island. And, to no one’s surprise, some nimrods in the crowd took pictures with blinding flashes of light.

I didn’t get to speak to the great man. I don’t even know what in the name of star-struck wonder I would have said to him.

To be totally candid, just being able to see this man in the flesh was enough of a thrill to last my entire lifetime.

Obama speaks out in semi-muted tone

Barack H. Obama by and large has refrained from criticizing his successor as president of the United States.

Then he stood on a podium today in South Africa to honor the memory of the late Nelson Mandela.

The 44th president said a lot of things that observers know to be critical of Donald J. Trump. He didn’t mention the president by name. He didn’t need to do that.

The audience knew about whom he was referring when he said, for instance, the following: “Too much of politics today seems to reject the very concept of objective truth,” Obama said. “People just make stuff up. They just make stuff up.”

He referenced the embrace of authoritarian regimes. He spoke about the politics of “fear” and “retrenchment.” He took a nod toward the angry rhetoric that imbues our current political discussion.

About whom do you think he was speaking?

You can read the full transcript of the former president’s speech here.

I remain one American who misses the kind of dignity I had come to expect in my president. Barack Obama embodied that. George W. Bush did as well. Same for Bill Clinton (except for that one terrible episode that tarnished his presidency).

What we’re getting these days is a lesson in crudeness, clumsiness, ignorance, anger and rage.

This is unity? This is how you make America great again?

Barack Obama arguably could have done better at unifying the country. Then again, there were many Americans who wouldn’t rally behind him under any circumstance. I know you get my drift.

His speech today in South Africa, however, lays out a dire warning about the quality of so-called “leadership” we are getting in this troubling time.

“I am not being alarmist, I’m simply stating the facts,” he said. Yes, “the facts” can be frightening, indeed.

Donald Trump, remember Nelson Mandela?

This photo has gone viral. It showed up on my Twitter and Facebook feeds today.

I thought I’d share it here, with a couple of quick comments.

One is that the quote from Donald J. Trump makes no equivocation about how he believes he has been treated. The phrase “No politician in history” excludes no one. It’s the height of hyperbole.

There’s that.

Two, the picture is of the late Nelson Mandela. He is looking out from his prison cell on Robben Island, in South Africa. He was held prisoner there for 27 years before being released in 1990.

His “crime”? Mandela protested his country’s apartheid policies, the law that kept black and white people separate and denied black South Africans the basic rights of citizenship. Things like, oh, voting, home ownership, the freedom to speak their minds in public. Small stuff like that.

The government scrapped its apartheid policies shortly after his release from prison and Mandela later would be elected president of South Africa.

This great man was treated far worse and “unfairly” than Donald J. Trump has been treated.

I just had to get that off my chest.

Obama set to meet Castro

President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro are going to attend a meeting together this weekend.

They’ll shake hands. They’ll talk to each other. They’ll likely exchange an idea or two about the changing relationship between their two countries. And much of the world will be hanging on every look, gesture and spoken word.

Is this a big deal? Yes. But perhaps not for reasons that some have given for it.

http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/238395-obama-raul-castro-get-ready-for-historic-meeting

This won’t be a meeting between equals. Obama is head of state of the world’s pre-eminent military and economic power. Castro heads a third-rate, Third World nation that folks once thought posed some sort of threat to the United States of America.

Cuba never really did pose that threat. What danger existed essentially evaporated right along with the Soviet Union in 1991. Still, U.S. and Cuban relations remained frozen in time.

That’s changing now that Obama and Castro have agreed to proceed toward normalization. The economic, travel and diplomatic embargoes are going to end in due course. Cuba will get to become an actual neighbor of the United States.

The leaders will meet at the Summit of the Americas. They shook hands briefly at a memorial service for the great Nelson Mandela a couple of years ago. This meeting is supposed to signal the start of a new relationship.

Yes, critics chide Obama for ignoring Cuba’s human rights issues. Sure thing. As if we don’t have diplomatic ties with other nations around the world with dubious human rights reputations. Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Pakistan, the People’s Republic of China — they all come to mind. I believe it was President Reagan who followed what was called a policy of “constructive engagement” with South Africa when that nation was operating under its apartheid policy that denied its black majority any rights of citizenship.

This meeting is long overdue. The Cuban Missile Crisis has receded into history. Raul Castro’s brother, Fidel, has retired from his lifetime job as president, is in frail health and appears to no longer be the commanding presence in the island nation.

The time arrived long ago for the nations to establish a formal relationship.

It’s good that Barack Obama and Raul Castro are going to that important step together.

Speak carefully … always

Secretary of State John Kerry is the latest victim of the urge to record everything everyone says every time they say it.

That does not for a moment excuse what he said the other day in what was supposed to be a closed-door meeting, which is that Israel may be turning into an “apartheid state” if it doesn’t hammer out a peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority.

http://www.politico.com/blogs/media/2014/04/john-kerrys-private-remarks-taped-by-reporter-187578.html?hp=l8

The term “apartheid” is poison in polite international policy company. South Africa implemented that disgraceful policy for many decades in which it denied the black majority living there the rights of citizenship. Whites and blacks couldn’t interact with each other. The policy ended with the release from prison in the early 1990s of the late Nelson Mandela. The rest is history.

Kerry’s use of the term at the very least was careless. It well may have damaged U.S.-Israel relations beyond repair.

Why wasn’t he smarter than to make his point another way? Didn’t he learn from recent history, such as the time Mitt Romney was caught on an audio recording at a fundraising dinner making his infamous “47 percent” remarks about how nearly half of Americans are going to vote Democratic because they depend on government subsidies and handouts? Didn’t he learn from the video recording of Congressman Vance McAllister making out with his staffer? There are countless other instances of people in high places being caught saying and doing things they regret because someone had a recording device hidden somewhere.

A Daily Beast reporter recorded Kerry’s statements the other day, getting past detection and apparently not heeding ground rules stipulating the meeting wasn’t open to the public.

In this world of instant communication where everyone has a set of electronic eyes and ears, the only response simply is: Too bad.

Mandela was no pork-barrel politician

They’re burying Nelson Mandela today in his hometown of Qunu, in a remote eastern region of South Africa.

Indeed, the remoteness of the great man’s home brings me to an interesting point. Listening to NPR on Friday, I heard something that caught me by surprise. A Qunu villager actually was critical of Mandela for — are you ready for this? — failing to bring more modernity and infrastructure to his hometown.

The news report detailed how much hassle it would be for Qunu to prepare for this event that is drawing worldwide attention. The village lacks many modern amenities. Roads are unpaved. There’s virtually no lodging available for visiting dignitaries. Qunu lacks much of the sewage and fresh water infrastructure that is needed to accommodate the visitors.

The individual being interviewed wondered why “Madiba,” as Mandela is called, would have neglected his hometown while basking in the glory of international acclaim and reverence.

Interesting, I thought.

I’ve tried to ponder the implications of that criticism.

Imagine, then, this scenario playing out. Suppose Barack Obama would steer road and bridge development to his south Chicago neighborhood, or perhaps to Hawaii, the state of birth. Imagine if you will George W. Bush directing federal money to Crawford, Texas, where he vacationed often while he was president and where he has a small ranch; Crawford could use some highway improvements, too. What if Bill Clinton had done the same for his hometown of Hope, Ark., or George H.W. Bush done so for Houston (which doesn’t need as much federal help as many small towns in America)? Hey, Ronald Reagan came from a small town in Illinois, Dixon. Couldn’t that town have used a little presidential push to build infrastructure? Same for Plains, Ga., Jimmy Carter’s hometown.

Any of those men would have been accused of promoting pork-barrel politics above the national interest.

Might that have been the case for Nelson Mandela, who presided for a single term — from 1994 to 1999 — over what’s been called a “developing country”? Its gross domestic product goes only so far and it well might have raised more than a few eyebrows if Qunu had received money that could have been spent in other struggling villages.

Mandela will be buried today. The town will erect a suitable monument to its iconic son.

My hunch is that Nelson Mandela eventually will bring much in the form of tourist money to Qunu now that he’s gone.

His greatness lives on.

‘Shaking hands with Hitler’? C’mon, Sen. McCain

John McCain needs to get a grip on reality.

The Republican U.S. senator from Arizona compared President Obama’s handshake today with Cuban President Raul Castro as akin to “shaking hands with Adolf Hitler.” Good grief.

http://news.yahoo.com/obama-mandela-memorial-172822763.html?soc_src=mediacontentstory

The men met for an instant today as Obama was arriving in a section set aside for dignitaries who gathered to pay their respects to the late Nelson Mandela, who was memorialized today in a stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The meeting was unscripted. It was unplanned. It was totally spontaneous. It also was totally in keeping with the spirit of conciliation and forgiveness that speakers today honored as they spoke of Mandela’s greatness.

I also ought to point out that when President Obama spoke today in the pouring rain, he railed against government leaders who proclaim their undying support for what Mandela stood for while denying their own people the right to protest their government’s policies.

Do you think he might have had Raul Castro in mind when he said that?

John McCain has served his country with high honor. He’s paid a huge sacrifice. That shouldn’t give him license to make patently ridiculous statements on the day the president of the United States represented his country in honoring the life and times of Nelson Mandela.

Shaking hands with a foe? Stop the presses!

I can hear it now from the conservative media.

There he goes again, shaking hands with our enemies.

President Obama today took a moment at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service to shake hands with Cuban president Raul Castro, who was among the 100 or so heads of state and government who traveled to South Africa to honor the life of one of history’s greatest liberators.

Obama took his seat among the dignitaries and shook hands with a number of them. One of them happened to be Castro, the brother of Fidel Castro, the communist dictator who outlasted 10 U.S. presidents — all of whom sought to remove him from power in Cuba. The United States still has a trade embargo in place against Cuba, a nation we still regard as some kind of geopolitical threat — even though the Cold War ended more than two decades ago.

Then the commentators made an important point about Obama’s fleeting gesture of good will toward Castro: It is totally in keeping with the life of the man they all were gathered to honor.

I’ve said it here already, but it bears repeating. Nelson Mandela emerged from imprisonment in February 1990 with his head held high and his hand held out to those who held him captive. He could have fomented violence. He could have returned to freedom an angry man bent on revenge.

Instead, he reached out to his foes and said, in effect, “Let’s build a new nation together. I need you and you need me.”

No one on Earth — except Barack Obama and Raul Castro — know what they said to each other for all of about two seconds. It doesn’t matter. The nations still are at odds over a whole host of issues. The two men weren’t present in that massive Soweto stadium to argue with each other. They were there to honor a great man’s memory and his glorious life of reconciliation.