On December 5th, 2013, arguably one of the world’s noblest sons and perhaps the modern day epitome of humanity exchanged mortality for immortality. The world stood aghast whilst readying to converge to attend the home going of Nelson Rolihlala Mandela. In record time a 10-day period of mourning to mark his death was announced and by the 5th day, I like many others found myself in Suite 71, earmarked for the accredited religious persons to attend the State Memorial at FNB stadium, South of Johannesburg.
This was an occasion graced by ninety-one former and present presidents, with an even larger contingent of one hundred and three governments who also came to pay due honour to Mandela. The list of speakers made up a crossbreed of friends, foes, enemies, and celebrity politicians honoured to speak on this occasion says more of the mosaic of a Mandela.
It was on this occasion that Barack Obama acted as the first of eight global figures afforded to speak, an occasion dovetailed with an epic fulfillment of a reflection on Mandela with Raul Castro of Cuba paying homage to a friend and cadre.
Obama gave without any doubt perhaps the address of the day, in sterling gifted oratory skills and aptitude cloaking this rendition in personalising his Mandela celebration.
There is no question that he had the crowd salivating for more, and for days after that his speech was the focal point of discussions on various platforms of social networks, print media, and television broadcasts.
We also can forgive him for his ‘selfies’ and maybe Michelle has already forgiven him for his over friendliness to a Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt who could not waste time to converse, chat, touch, and pose with him. After all, he is an ordinary “youngster” if Mandela’s age is used as barometer, rendering him also a fan of the colossal Mandela.
In the aftermath, we were informed that there is a PHD student Ryan Shapiro who is presently heading to court to force the CIA to reveal or declassify documents admitting its role in the capturing of Mandela at Howick in 1962.
This and other issues necessitates upon us to ask did Obama not miss an opportunity to set the record straight on perhaps critical issues. I shall herewith list eight things I have been mulling over which I thought Obama could and should have reflected upon as he addressed a moment we never again will experience, for the extraordinary person Mandela has come to define.
- Obama could have confirmed if the involvement of the CIA in Mandela’s capturing in Howick was true, owned up to the fact that the man he and three former USA presidents came to honour could potentially have been killed by the work and hand of a previous US government.
- Obama could have spared a thought to actualise the grave implications for this act when we consider the US the bastion of democracy. He perhaps could have deliberated on the challenge of democracy and its fruit, which often do not reflect its values.
This thinking resonates at another level to solicit acknowledgment that it was a democratically elected US government that shared in stark contrast to the espoused democratic principles a symbiotic and cozy relationship with an Apartheid state heresy. An apartheid system that had as fundamental axis racism, breathing discrimination and came exemplified in segregation with a resultant effect of the debasement of an African dignity.
That same firstly acknowledged in a common humanity, the founding fathers of the US thought critical to include in the Declaration of Independence … We hold these truths to be self- evident that all men are created equal….
The US as a democracy is over 240 years old, therefore the definition of democracy if we seek to make sense of this construct in a greater context it must be accepted it derives a recognised indebtedness to what is often referred to as the West.
- Obama could have alluded to the fact that it was US multinationals and corporates that fought against the cause for which Mandela became the “black pimpernel” in underwriting the discrimination of opportunity and resource for those of darker melanin content.
Therefore and acknowledgement of this, at this the demise of his hero, would have been very pragmatic and redeeming.
- Obama could have referred to the fact that Mandela like so many others until recently still reflected as a terrorist on the intelligence of US radar.
Perhaps an acknowledgement of how shortsighted the US was in not recognising the man to be buried and for which the globe only had personal and collective veneration was served a grave injustice in this fashion by none other than the US.
Obama could have taken collective responsibility for this injustice in pragmatism thus fixing the past in establishing a future. After all he was addressing this crowd less as Obama but as Obama the 44th President of the US.
- Obama could have spared a moment to reflect on the US’s role in an Angola – Namibia (South West Africa back then). We have recently been taken down in an epic journey of reflection from the pen of Cuba’s former president, Fidel Castro who also followed Mandela. This soul-cleansing of rear-view mirror opinion corroborated by facts and names mentioned in his article“Mandela is dead, don’t tell no lies about Apartheid” gives us a perspective less known.
Thus, I thought Obama would engage the nature and actuality of the risks of those engagements at the time the error of such whilst arguing no different to a Martin Luther King Jr, on Vietnam ‘being a senseless war’. According to the records, the South African apartheid regime was backed by a democratic US in this instance.
If anybody was capable of putting the record straight not in narrow defence of US but in balance of objectivity whilst owning up, this lanky son of a Kenyan Father who brought his shooting-hoop to the White-House was the appropriate candidate.
These are not facts too far removed from any US president be it in historic precedent or experiential reflection.
- Obama would on behalf of previous US administrations apologise to the current ANC and its preceding leaderships for misunderstanding this organisation not as liberation organisation but as a terrorist group. Jogging the memory of this 102-year-old movement in highs and lows with a definitive undeniable reality of being a non-racial organisation could have helped in this celebration of a movement Mandela swore allegiance to beyond his death.
- Obama’s speech clearly could have acknowledged the fact that by then the ANC in almost twenty years of democracy upholds and maintains respect for the SA constitution it firstly produced and jealously guards in having shown a maturity to share common space for all in line with the reconciliation mantra of Mandela. He easily could have acknowledged that in 2004, the ANC with a 2/3 majority could have reinterpreted and altered the constitution to legally reflect what some feared possible if the intentions of the ANC were considered ambivalent on democracy. It would have been easy for Obama to acknowledge the maturity of this movement in consistently engendering the fundamental principles of democracy.
- Obama could have acknowledged that his ascendance to the US White House of political power inadvertently and automatically generated expectations justifiably and sentimentally in hopes from fellow Africans on a desired change in US diplomacy as that which respects the legacy of a Mandela and his ilk evident in a greater sensitivity for Africa.
It appears whenever Obama addresses Africans it is to lecture them from a veiled place of aloofness. One key interview with SABC anchorman in Washington Sherwin Bryce-Peace, confirmed this assertion.
The ‘black’ 44th President of the US identifies easily with the power to pronounce on the thematic narrative of corruption which is justified, yet Obama’ the African Fathered-Son wrestles to come home to walk in barefoot embrace of Africa in admitting the concomitant wrongs and evils committed by the West.
There must be something worth questioning when Obama as the 44th President of the USA can lecture Africans and yet as an African cannot identify with Africans in this that Africa remains abused by the toxic concoction of Euro-USA self-interest.
These constitute perhaps the aspects lending legitimacy on the claim of a definitive missed opportunity the 44th and First African President of the USA shared.
Though we cannot yet confirm the research on the CIA involvement as advanced by a the PHD – student Ryan Shapiro, we remain vigilant to follow the outcome of this as one of the many things Barack Hussein Obama could have included in his address when Rolihlala Mandela was laid to rest. The occasion called for more than great oratory skills, it called for an admission of wrong on the part of the US in defiance of the ethic of a Mandela. Maybe we never will hear these admissions ever in history to come, for the best opportunity to engage these were lost and now register a missed opportunity.
We will never have that opportunity again, Obama himself is now retired, and we certainly will never hear any of the above from the nationalist put America first, Donald Trump. Mandela is gone, and we as South Africans celebrate his birthday again today but the nagging questions with which Obama could have helped us with will remain for a long time, who knows how long.
Clyde N. S. Ramalaine
A reminder of Obama’s speech:
Below is a poem, written by Ramalaine:
Mandela the myth,
Mandela the yardstick,
Mandela the sjambok of every black soul,
Mandela the false conscience,
that must keep us in line.
Please give us back our lion?
Keep your icon!
Mandela, the founding myth
Mandela, our collective whiplash,
Mandela, the oft’ cited standard,
by which a false white identity,
keep every dark soul in guilt,
denying making a rightful claim
never to make a people’s rightful demand,
on land-no ship brought!
Mandela, the fiction
Mandela, the mirage,
that one made by white interest,
Mandela the mystery,
Mandela the nightmare
Mandela the emaciated shadow
of a rightful economic freedom
Mandela our collective scarecrow!
Mandela, Mandela our curse,
they named him Nelson
for their convenience,
Rolihlahla the lion,
that lost more than a roar:
He who lost his fangs and maulers,
Please give us back our lion?
keep your icon!
in life, their insurance,
in death their protection
a haunted spirit -not allowed to rest.
He is theirs, they know him best,
then again they made him the icon
for us he is one of many of our own.
Clyde N. S. Ramalaine
Courtesy of ‘Wilted Leaves’ a poetic reflection
March 9, 2017 (10h23pm)