Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mbewe on Mandela

Conrad Mbewe has posted his postmortem on Mandela:
HT: Patrick Chan
Mbewe makes some valid points, but he also indulges in special pleading. His own racial bias comes through. That's understandable. But it also skews the analysis.
i) Some Christian pundits were turning Mandela into a Christian role model. But by that standard, his policies, both before and after he came to power, are very subchristian. You have members of the Evangelical Left to canonize certain individuals (e.g. John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, Mandela) as a prophetic voice whom we should all heed and revere. And they turn a blind eye to their lead-footed heroes. It's an exercise in radical chic. I don't accept their attempt to impose on me who my moral standard-bearers should be. 
Mandela's policies on sodomy, statutory rape, abortion, and euthanasia are subchristian. 
ii) Some of Mandela's defenders have compared his tactics to Revolutionary Gen. George Washington or the CIA during the Cold War. I don't know enough about the American War of Independence to evaluate that comparison. I'm not of the my-country-right-or-wrong philosophy. However, there are people both on the left (e.g. Edward Said, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky) and the right (e.g. Ron Paul, Lew Rockwell) who's reflexive instinct is to blame America first. Their historical critiques are often inaccurate, simplistic, and one-sided. I'm not impressed by selective moral outrage.
iii) How I evaluate Mandela depends on the standard of comparison. If we're comparing him to Prime Minster Botha, then, to my limited knowledge, there's a certain moral equivalence. 
iv) Ironically, my own assessment is more nearly the opposite of Mbewe's. I'm more understanding of Mandela's position before he came to power, and far more critical after he came to power. "Terrorism" is an indiscriminate term. Take one example. I think the theory behind attacking civilian infrastructure is that it's ineffective to only target the security forces. That alone won't topple the regime. Rather, you have to make daily life unlivable for the general populace. That will force the regime to make concessions. At least in theory. Bomb bridges. Take down the power grid. Especially in urban centers, which depend on so many interlocking systems to coordinate goods, services, transportation, &c., you can disrupt life on a mass scale, reduce urban life to gridlock, through selective sabotage. 
That's different than bombing an open air market or sports stadium. And even if that's effective, you lose the moral high ground by such tactics. 
v) There's also terrorism in the classic sense, like torturing a suspected gov't informant or killing all his relatives to deter others from collaborating with the regime. 
To my knowledge, the operating philosophy of the ANC was do whatever it takes to defeat the regime. That's subchristian. It's just as ruthless as what it opposes. At best, it employs ruthless means in pursuance of a worthy goal, in contrast to ruthless means in pursuance of an unworthy goal. So it's not quite moral equivalence. Just degrees of evil.
vi) There's also the question of how effective his tactics were. What about the impact of economic sanctions?
vii) I understand a pragmatic alliance with the Soviets. However, that's a big gamble. If you win through Soviet backing, your sponsors will likely set up a puppet regime, ruled through Moscow. Turn South Africa into East Germany. It didn't play out that way, but he was taking quite a risk with his own people as poker chips. 
viii) It's not enough to have a just cause. The Bolsheviks had legitimate grievances against the Tsarist regime. But if what you replace it with is just as bad in a different way, or even worse, then you burned your moral leverage. Your lofty principles go up in smoke. 
ix) By the same token, if you complain that whites are brutalizing blacks, yet you brutalize your own people, then you lose moral authority. 
x) To my knowledge, there are basically two white groups in S. Africa: Dutch settlers and English settlers. I believe the Dutch descendants were primarily responsible for the Apartheid regime. 
I understand resentment against the whites, but there are degrees of complicity in the regime. And when you have stratospheric levels of black-on-black crime, the protesters are treating their own people-group as badly as the one-time oppressors. So it's hard to be sympathetic at that point. 

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