Nelson Mandela and Nonviolent Resistance

Statue of Nelson Mandela, London (cc photo: George Rex)

Statue of Nelson Mandela, London (cc photo: George Rex)

People who were closely watching the corporate media tributes to Nelson Mandela had to assume that certain aspects of Mandela’s life would be forgotten. Here’s one example, from CNN‘s Wolf Blitzer and Fareed Zakaria (12/5/13):

BLITZER: Fareed, we’re remembering Nelson Mandela, a world leader who made such, such a change, not only in South Africa, but, indeed, he inspired so many people around the world.

ZAKARIA: Absolutely, Wolf. I mean, you remember, this is a man born in 1918, born when the Sun never set on the British empire, and lived a long life, and was part of a kind of tradition of nonviolent resistance to colonial power and colonial oppression that was part of the Indian independence movement. He was greatly inspired by Gandhi, by the nonviolent struggle.

If you’re familiar with Mandela’s life story, you know this is misleading. Yes, Mandela initially pursued nonviolent resistance. But he led the armed wing of the African National Congress, a shift in strategy that Mandela and others believed would be more effective in their struggle against racist apartheid. It was that violent resistance that landed him in prison. In 1985, Mandela was offered a conditional release if he were to renounce violence; he refused. 

Hours later on CNN, former Time editor Rick Stengel offered a more realistic assessment of Mandela’s views: 

One of most interesting things he ever said to me was this idea of nonviolence. Remember, we compare him to Gandhi, we compare him to Martin Luther King. He said: “I was not like them. For them, nonviolence was a principle. For me, it was a tactic. And when the tactic wasn’t working, I reversed it and started” –that’s a very important difference.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.