Tag Archives: apartheid

Tutu’s legacy towers over world

Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

Desmond Tutu

The great man did many “little bits of good” that indeed overwhelmed the world. Desmond Tutu died today at age 90.

He was arguably the world’s pre-eminent foe of the oppressive regime that kept most of South Africa’s population in a form of bondage. He fought to free the nation’s black majority of the apartheid philosophy that had governed that country since its founding.

He was an Anglican priest who embodied the kind of peaceful resistance that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. made famous in this country.

The great man retired from public life in 2010, but his legacy as a champion for freedom for most of those who lived in South Africa was well-established. He stood alongside the great Nelson Mandela to lead his country out of its oppression to a new era of enlightenment and freedom.

Desmond Tutu did not need to do one great thing to “overwhelm the world.” He lived by the thought he expressed. He was a champion.


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.

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.


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.


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.

'Apartheid state'? Israel?

What in the name of all that is sensible was Secretary of State John Kerry thinking?

He was speaking in a closed-door event and then suggested Israel was in danger of becoming “an apartheid state” if it doesn’t work out a two-state peace treaty solution with the Palestinian Authority.

I heard it today and am shocked beyond belief at what he said. Should he resign, as some congressional and media critics have suggested? Not just yet. But he’d better have a clear explanation of what precisely he meant.


The term “apartheid” is as highly charged and offensive as they come. It was the long-standing racial separation policy used in South Africa to deny blacks any rights of full citizenship in a country in which they comprised the overwhelming majority. Only upon the release from prison of the late Nelson Mandela and the country’s first fully free and fair election in 1994 would bring an end to that heinous policy.

Now, to suggest Israel could become something similar if it doesn’t make peace with the Palestinians goes far beyond anything reasonable.

Kerry followed up his statement, recorded by The Daily Beast, with this: “… I have been around long enough to also know the power of words to create a misimpression, even when unintentional, and if I could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word to describe my firm belief that the only way in the long term to have a Jewish state and two nations and two peoples living side by side in peace and security is through a two state solution.”

Kerry has made a Middle East peace agreement his No. 1 priority since becoming secretary of state in 2013. He has worked hard to bring Israel and the Palestinians to the negotiating table. Then this past week, the Palestinian Authority announced a unity government agreement with Hamas, the notorious terrorist group that wants to eradicate Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, understandably angry with the PA, suspended the talks.

The secretary of state has harmed the peace process further by using such inflammatory language. If there is a model of government diversity and democracy in the Middle East, it is Israel. The nation has a significant Muslim minority; its government has installed Muslims in key positions; it remains a bastion of freedom in a region governed by tyrants.

Yes, John Kerry should have chosen his words more carefully. If he cannot make it right — and soon — with Israel, then he should consider resigning.

Santorum defames Mandela’s struggle

I’ll admit I didn’t see this one coming.

On the heels of Nelson Mandela’s death this week in South Africa, we hear from a two-bit American politician who equates the great Mandela’s struggle against injustice and tyranny with Republicans’ effort to rid the United States of the Affordable Care Act.

Yep, according to former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., the two battles stand as moral equals. That’s what he told Bill O’Reilly. Have a listen.


I don’t know which offends more: Santorum’s equating the two fights or O’Reilly’s failure to call him out on his ridiculous comparison.

I’ll stick with the original offense, which would be Santorum’s asinine assertion.

Say whatever you wish about the ACA or about its chief benefactor, President Barack Obama, what is going on now in the United States bears no resemblance, none, to what Nelson Mandela endured as he led the movement to rid South Africa of its apartheid policy.

You remember apartheid, yes? It was the policy that required separate societies within South Africa, one for the white minority that governed the country and the other for black residents who comprised the overwhelming majority of the country’s population. The black residents, though, didn’t have the right to vote or to have any voice at all in the policies that suppressed them.

This was the battle Mandela fought and which cost him 27 years of imprisonment on Robben Island.

For a one-time U.S. senator who may run for president yet again to compare his party’s struggle against the Affordable Care Act with what Nelson Mandela endured is offensive beyond all measure.

Mandela’s example of grace could benefit U.S.

It didn’t take long for this example to come forth in the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death.

It came in the form of questions about how the great man’s spirit of grace and forgiveness could somehow be brought to bear on the poisonous political climate that afflicts Washington, D.C.

Think about this for a moment.

Mandela was sentenced to 27 years in prison. The South African government had charged him with treason because he fought to bring basic human rights to the majority of residents of his country. Black people did not enjoy the fruits of freedom in their country because the white minority imposed the rule of apartheid. Mandela said that was wrong and lead demonstrations against his government.

For that he was imprisoned until his release on Feb. 11, 1990. Did he condemn his captors? When he was released, did he launch reprisals against those who took away his freedom? No. He sought to reach out to them. Mandela said the end of apartheid meant he had won. He demonstrated grace and compassion. Nelson Mandela became a living symbol of forgiveness.

Is there a lesson for American politicians who cannot put aside their hard feelings? Do their differences now seem even more petty and petulant when compared to the deep schisms that afflicted politicians in South Africa?

I believe there exists a lesson that should not be lost on those who have crippled our government.

R.I.P., Nelson Mandela

One of the world’s greatest men has left us.

The life of Nelson Mandela, who died today at age 95, can be summed up, for me, in a single word: courage.

He endured 27 years in prison because he fought for equality for the majority of South Africa’s citizens, who were denied basic human rights under a policy called “apartheid.”

He emerged from prison in 1990 with his head held high. He became, in an instant, a towering world figure.

Mandela then ran for president of his country in 1994. For the first time in their history, millions of black South Africans were given the chance to vote. They stood in line for days to vote. They wept. They cheered. They performed their rights as citizens with immense pride. Mandela won, becoming the first black man to lead his country.


In the summer of 2004 I had the privilege of laying eyes on the great man. I attended the International Conference on AIDS in Bangkok, Thailand. Mandela was there to talk about tuberculosis, another communicable disease that he contracted while imprisoned. He came into a room full of journalists. I stood about 40 feet from him. He spoke for a few minutes and then left the room.

I didn’t speak to the great man, shake his hand, pat him on the back, nothing. Just being in the room with him — in its way — had some undefined effect on me. I am proud to have seen him.

Yes, he had his critics. He was too cozy with communist leaders, they said. Mandela’s response: They were the folks who stood behind him during his time in prison. He owed them for their loyalty.

He also said something else upon his release. He spoke of his lack of bitterness at his captors. A coward might lash out, casting aspersions on those who had deprived him of his freedom.

Mandela, courageous man that he was, instead spoke of the triumph he had scored. Apartheid had come to an end upon his release from prison. That, he said, was cause for joy.

He was a happy man. He also embodied courage beyond measure.

Well done, Mr. President.