Nelson Mandela was a bad man
Nelson Mandela"Dedicated his whole life to the fight against apartheid"
Christine Heuer: Nelson Mandela is 95 years old, and he was expected to die soon for a long time. In the summer it looked very bad once, when Nelson Mandela's health had deteriorated massively. So now it really happened: the man who brought South Africa out of apartheid and whom the whole world reveres as a freedom icon died last night in his house in a suburb of Johannesburg.
Political scientist from the University of Regensburg, Stephan Bierling, is on the phone. He lived in South Africa when Nelson Mandela was president there and he wrote a biography of Nelson Mandela which has the same name as the freedom fighter. Good afternoon, Mr Bierling.
Stephan Bierling: I greet you, Ms. Heuer.
This year: You wrote an entire book about Nelson Mandela. If you have to make it a lot shorter now, what kind of man was Mandela?
Bierling: Well, if one can condense this person into one term, then it is the light figure of Africa. He is the greatest politician this continent has ever produced, and he is one of the most central figures of the 20th century, along with Mahatma Gandhi.
This year: What are the main characteristics of Nelson Mandela as a person?
Bierling: As a person he was quite ambivalent. He dedicated his whole life to fighting apartheid and everything had to take a back seat. The family had to take a back seat, the children had to take a back seat, he has always made that very clear and that is why it has never been easy for him with his family. The children have become quite alien to him. When he stood at his son's death bed, he couldn't even take a hand, and there are repeated reports that he had more intimate, personal conversations with the housekeeper and the driver than with members of his family.
This year: So a politician through and through. - You mentioned Mahatma Gandhi as a benchmark. What then makes Nelson Mandela an icon around the world?
Bierling: It is that he makes the right decision in an epochal situation and that he has basically prepared himself for it over many decades in prison, namely to stretch out his hand when his hour comes to a multiracial, peaceful society, a rainbow nation in South Africa justify, and not do what one expected and also seen from so many of these freedom fighters, namely to become a new oppressor of the ruling minority, with the whites. This message of reconciliation is what characterizes and outshines his whole life.
A man of iron discipline
This year: How does such a man survive 27 years in prison? That was almost a third of his life.
Bierling: Through discipline, iron discipline. He learned this in the white mission schools in South Africa, some of which were still run by the British. There he was noticed at a very young age as a great talent, as a speaker, as a leader, as someone who was intelligent. But he has got used to iron discipline in his lifestyle, in his daily routine, in his rhythm - you can also see that in sports, for example - and this was the only way he was able to survive this grueling everyday life in Robben Island and mature inside and out from a hothead, he went to prison, to this serene, intelligent, strategically thinking politician.
This year: How did he manage to get out of Robben Island after such a long time - you mentioned that, this is the infamous prison island - how did Nelson Mandela manage to get free?
Bierling: Well, the apartheid government already noticed in the 1980s what pound it would have in Mandela if they could enter into negotiations with him. It was imprisoned, locked away, forgotten in 1962/63, but in the 1970s and 1980s South Africa threatened to explode. The struggle between white and black became more and more violent, there were terrorist attacks, and at some point the white government realized that it might have to fall back on this man who had offered them a peaceful transition, a democracy, a multiracial South Africa in the 1950s . At that time it was rejected brusquely, now it was realized that maybe this is the only figure who can prevent the civil war.
This year: Both sides benefited from it. - Has the West, has Germany given Mandela enough support in his struggle for freedom, Herr Bierling?
Bierling: That depends on the time you address.
This year: Let's talk about the 70s and 80s, let's talk about black and yellow.
Bierling: In the 60s and 70s, Mandela wasn't really a big issue. In the 1980s, the ANC introduced him to the fight against apartheid as an important figure. There it suddenly becomes a great celebration in the West too. The black and yellow government then kept a certain distance in the Cold War days, because South Africa was in the end an ally against communist infiltration in Africa and has always presented itself that way. But already from, I would say, the Gorbachev phase saw a great opening up, and then in Germany, especially in the USA, Mandela was basically already hyped up as this new figure of liberation.
"The rainbow nation has fallen into disrepute among Mandela's successors"
This year: Did Mandela actually regret that the support from us came relatively late, I'll say now?
Bierling: He never spoke about it in public. It didn't matter that much. Very quickly he no longer stayed in the past, which was also a great gift, but made great trips immediately after his release, including to Great Britain. Margaret Thatcher was one of the characters who held up the apartheid regime the longest. But he left that behind very quickly. He knew how important the West is economically and politically. He was particularly successful in the USA, developing a close friendship with Clinton, and the American Congress allowed him to speak to the entire House as only the second private citizen in history. In other words, he was courted, ensnared, as early as the early 1990s as a historical, moral authority in whose light every Western politician would very much like to bask.
This year: Is South Africa a democratic, anti-racist state today?
Bierling: No. I wouldn't say it that clearly. This legacy from Mandela has certainly been clouded over. Above all, his successor Mbeki practiced racism from the other side to a limited extent, built very heavily on the black legacy of the South African state, and that's not it. It is also a white legacy of the Boers, it is also a legacy of the colored people, the indigenous people who were there before the blacks. That went under very badly and in this respect this rainbow nation, which Mandela has always dreamed of, has fallen into disrepute among his successors.
This year: Indeed: We also see scenes from time to time that black police officers shoot black miners in South Africa, the ANC is considered corrupt. Is Mandela's party losing its legacy?
Bierling: To a large extent, yes. Without Mandela, the ANC is basically another revolutionary party, but it attracted attention after the seizure of power through mismanagement and corruption and also in the last through the enrichment of the well-educated former ANC members. That's why they tried to instrumentalize Mandela again and again. It was only this spring that the terminally ill Mandela was put on public display again, basically like an animal in the zoo, said one critic, where President Zuma wanted to be photographed again, because of course the entire ANC leadership knows that they are without Mandela it's basically not even worth half of it anymore. But the ANC was of course successful in referring Mandela's legacy only to its own party, although in South Africa during the apartheid period the resistance was much broader, including in the black community, and there were also many white oppositionists to the apartheid government gave.
"In the past, many believed they could instrumentalize him"
This year: Mr Bierling, I would now be interested in closing: you said that attempts were made to use Nelson Mandela as an instrument. How did he perceive that himself? Did he still notice it?
Bierling: Hardly any more in recent years. I would say that since 2006/2007 he was physically and, above all, mentally unable to play out this strategic skill that has always distinguished him. In the past, many believed that they could instrumentalize him, right up to the apartheid government, but there he was simply always superior because of this strategic skill I just mentioned and basically got the other side to follow him, to follow his will . But of course: this instrumentalization continues to this day. He will now be laid out again in a state funeral and then the ANC will of course try again to claim this entire legacy of Mandela for itself, which Mandela would never have wanted herself.
This year: It was the political scientist and Nelson Mandela biographer Stephan Bierling. Thank you, Mr Bierling.
Bierling: With pleasure, Ms. Heuer.
This year: Nice day.
Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandradio does not adopt statements made by its interlocutors in interviews and discussions.
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