Time to end adulation of Mandela?

Some of the world’s leading personalities from politics and showbusiness are gathering in London to celebrate the 90th birthday of South Africa’s former President Nelson Mandela at a big outdoor concert.

However, all this is happening at a time when Zimbabwe finds itself at a crossroads with a run-off election taking place despite reservations by the opposition and the international community.


This week Mr Mandela broke his silence over the situation in Zimbabwe, describing it as “a tragic failure of leadership”.

But there have been widespread comments in the British press saying the former South African President has said too little, too late about the incumbent President Robert Mugabe and should therefore no longer be revered as a saint or worshipped as a hero.

Letters to leading UK newspapers have included comments like this one from a reader in London:

“We in Britain? Oh, we’re still addicted to the Rainbow Nation fantasy. We play pop music and celebrate Saint Nelson Mandela, again. It really is pathetic.”

And some newspaper columnists have had strong words for Mr Mandela.

Peter Hitchens who is a British commentator said:

“Mr Mandela needs to be decanonised. He is an important politician who did many good things but he is not a saint and has serious failings. The adulation of Nelson Mandela gets in the way of a proper understanding of South Africa.”


We will be speaking to Mr Hitchens in our programme Newshour.

Do you think the hero worship of Mr Mandela should stop or are these commentators being unfair?





24 Responses to “Time to end adulation of Mandela?”

  1. 1 Julie P
    June 27, 2008 at 18:16

    History is going judge Mandela, not a bunch of gossiping journalists because they believe Mandela did not speak out quick enough. Maybe, and I say, maybe Mandela will be judged with having the not continuing the relevence and influence he once had.

  2. 2 Julie P
    June 27, 2008 at 18:25

    History is going to be the judge of Mandela, not a bunch of speculating journalists. Maybe it would be better to claim that Mandela has lost some or a lot, depending on your viewpoint, on his continuing relevence and power in African geopolitics.

    In my opinion Mandela’s gotten up there in age and if he is anything like what I saw of Gerald Ford a year before his death, every day Mandela draws breath is a good day.

  3. 3 Dennis :)
    June 27, 2008 at 19:03

    Hi…Nelson Mandela, has been thru a whole lot in his life…We should not be being “harsh” on him..

    He made some mistakes regarding Zimbabwe…

    Onondaga Community College
    Syracuse, New York
    United States of America

  4. 4 kpellyhezekiah
    June 27, 2008 at 21:05

    Please, guys in the UK, US and all the ‘western europian’ deemocracies who think we are still in the 1950 I’d kindly like to remind you here and now that we are in 2008. The vast distance between the two years best summarises how far africa has grown but like the foundation of 300 storey building, nobody actually notices the toil and cost of the foundation. We only wake up to see the speed of storeys as they appear and admire it. We in africa certainly know who our hero’s are no matter how some of your press there try to manipulate issues we are not amused. Nelson Mandela will FOREVER be and ICON of africa!!!!!! Don’t you guys have any sense of decency, respect, decorum and above all the common sense to see clearly that the great statesman has played his part very successfully to prevent a civil war in south africa and kept the country together? Please, for goodness sake if we(all the leaders in the world including britain and the us) who are now in power (because of our division on the land reform issue in zimbabwe and which mugabe is exploiting to his advantage because he knows that on that score he is right ) are not able to convince the man to step down, how can we expect a retired political leader to be able to pull this off? SHAME! on all the cowards who have failed in their quest to prop up a puppet personality to regenate on the land reform issue in zimbabwe and are seeking to shift the focus of their failure unto anything available. They don’t even have the moral decency to admit their own failure but are now trying to add salt to injury by trying to run down the hard earn reputation of the great statesman, mandela. Let the whole western world know that the day zimbabwe will get a leader who will publicly declare his commitment to the land reforms but would call on old mugabe to step down even mugabe himself will bow out honorably to that person. Didn’t mugabe say in clear unequivocal language that it is the land reforms that is inspiring him to stay on and that the day it is finished he will step down? So why don’t we all tell him that ‘alright oldman you are right in that direction but you will admit yourself that you are tired so why don’t we find a young man like good old king David did in the bible and hand over to him to continue with this just course?’ Then spend the rest of your last days in the sideline like mandela advising the new generation on how best to proceed in this great struggle to bring africa to a developed continent? Do we need Mandela to say this for us? Then I think the western media and political leadership don’t deserve the respect and admiration that is being accorded to it now!! Please, stay clear off mandela. You in the western media cannot from now on dictate to africa on issues like this. Mandela is one of the modern icons of human pesonality and NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING can change that. God bless us

  5. 5 Bryan
    June 27, 2008 at 21:58

    When an objective history of this era is finally written, it will be seen that Mandela was part statesman, part tribalist. Yes, he showed great forgiveness on his release from prison, but he also did nothing to stop the bloody tribal strife between the ANC and the Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party, which threatened to tear South Africa apart. And a word from him in prison would have stopped the horrific ‘necklace’ murders of political opponents.

    From the Truth and Reconciliation Commission:

    “[1985] Mandela and other political prisoners are offered release in January if they renounce violence. Most refuse.

    “Councillor Benjamin Kinikini is necklaced and four of his young relatives killed by a crowd on 23 March [1985]. This is the first widely publicised necklace killing in the country. The SAP records 406 such necklace killings and 395 deaths by burning between September 1984 and December 1989; a third of these take place in the former Eastern Cape and Border regions.

    “[1985] A second National Consultative (Kabwe) Conference of the ANC is held in Zambia in June, marking a turning point in the ANC s approach to the struggle in South Africa. The distinction between hard and soft targets starts to be blurred and a desire to take the struggle to the white areas is expressed.”


    The political killings of whites by blacks continues unabated to this day in South Africa, especially the killing of white farmers by black gangs as part of a concerted effort to drive the whites from the land. The numbers of these murders far exceed those of white Zimbabwean farmers. This is terrorism based on race and driven by political motives. And the ANC government is doing little or nothing to stop it.

    Those who speak of “the miracle of the peaceful transition to democracy” in South Africa should take note of the above facts.

    Mandela leaves a mixed legacy and we should not romanticise the man.

  6. 6 selena
    June 27, 2008 at 22:15


    “Mandela leaves a mixed legacy and we should not romanticise the man.”

    This is getting scary! I am in full agreement with you again. 😉

  7. 7 Bryan
    June 27, 2008 at 22:17

    Must be something in the air.

  8. 8 Nelson
    June 27, 2008 at 22:47

    We dont need the western media to idolise or denomize our NELSON MANDELA. He is an icon in africa and he will always be seen as such. Of course like any other human beings he has his frailities. The unruly british media should keep their comments to themselves or look for better means to sell their papers. Where were they when he was imprisoned for over 20 years, what did they do to bring him out?

  9. June 28, 2008 at 03:07

    A communist who hates :whitey.”

  10. 10 steve b - uk
    June 28, 2008 at 07:09



    I do not think there is ‘adulation’ of Nelson Mandela ( of David Beckham, perhaps ). I just think the world recognises a very great man when the see one ( ain’t many around ).

  11. 11 Mark
    June 28, 2008 at 08:24

    I think I’ve had just about enough of Tony Blair. He seems to stick his nose into everything and always talks like he’s some kind of expert. Now that he’s solved all of Britain’s problems, made the EU the best place in the world to do business, brought peace to the Middle East, he’s an expert who will solve climate change. Whatever chances we had to stop runaway global warming, what’s left after the damage Al Gore did, Blair will finish off any hope tht is left. Tony, take a holiday…for about the next twenty or thirty years. With all you’ve accomplished in your life… you’ve earned it.

  12. 12 Pangolin- California
    June 28, 2008 at 09:00

    Nelson Mandela stands with the very small company of Jimmy Carter and the Dalai Lama that have stood unflinchingly for peace and justice.

    The demands that Mandela engage on the Zimbabwe issue are without foundation. The man has earned a very well deserved rest if he chooses. Africa should raise up another just young man rather than clinging to the shoulders of this very old one.

  13. 13 Mohammed Ali
    June 28, 2008 at 09:07

    Whethe we idolise or iconise Nelson Mandela or not, he will remain an idol and icon in the world for billions of people.

  14. June 28, 2008 at 09:37

    I am a non believer of the hero worshipping cult however, to reinterpret somebody’s legacy in the event of what is going on in Zimbabwe, is a serious problem. It appears to me that the mediam enshrined mandela to a god status, for what he did. it’s now they realise he’s just a man among us. please leave this frail old man to rest from all unending chaos. we all have the power to change things!

  15. 15 Bryan
    June 28, 2008 at 12:23

    Pangolin- California June 28, 2008 at 9:00 am,

    “Jimmy Carter stood unflinchingly for peace and justice.”

    I’m not sure when that was, but he doesn’t stand for justice for all, and certainly not for Israelis these days with his typical repetition, ad nauseum, of Israel as an “apartheid state” and his legitimising of Hamas. In fact, Israel is one of the countries least similar to “apartheid” South Africa. That fact is clear to anyone who knows a bit about the country. But Carter is only interested in demonising Israel and he knows all the pop key words to use to do it.

    Yet you think of him as some kind of moral giant, a man of great stature?

    Nelson Mandela is also not that fond of Israel. He was invited to the 80th birthday celebrations of Shimon Peres, now Israel’s president. He was due to attend but suddenly cancelled. I guess he was advised that it wouldn’t do at all to confer legitimacy on an Israeli, even though Peres was then part of the left wing opposition Labour Party.

    Now regarding the Dalai Lama…..

  16. 16 Isaiah Thomas
    June 28, 2008 at 13:05

    Hi this is Isaiah Thomas from Kenya.

    And this is beginning to sound like a freaking religion. Let Mandela be quoted like any other person if he has anything to say.

  17. 17 Pangolin- California
    June 28, 2008 at 20:48

    @ Bryan- What would an Israeli advocate have to tell us about justice that we could not learn from the concrete walls, the bulldozers, the military fetish and the watchtowers. If it looks like a prison, smells like a prison and acts like a prison people might think that Israel is an inside-out prison. When our enemies built concrete curtain-walls we made a big stink about it. Why exempt those who pretend to friendship?

    People know that Jimmy Carter is an advocate for peace precisely because he unflinchingly advocates honestly for peace and justice for all sides. Judging by the economic results, the energy policy failure, the homeless in the US that started with Reagan and the ongoing wars in the Middle East it appears Jimmy Carter was right on all points.

  18. 18 Bryan
    June 29, 2008 at 08:43

    What would an Israeli advocate have to say about justice? He would point out that the wall/fence has been very effective in reducing Palestinian terror attacks on Israeli civilians. And also that every country on earth has the right to protect its borders. He would point out that Israel does not have the death penalty and that prisons are necessary to protect the public from terrorists and other criminals and that the treatment of prisoners is on a par with the best of the civilized world.

    True statesmen rise above the petty party politics of left and right, anti- and pro-whatever. Carter leans so far to the left he’s practically falling over. He’s a partisan, petty has-been politician and certainly not worthy of the pedestal on which people place him.

  19. June 29, 2008 at 09:40

    Hi! This is jonk from kenya.
    I want to add voice to many praises given to mandela by the western media.
    Mandela is an icon of the whole world and no one in this era of mugabe’s, bush and ahmednijan can beat his record.
    The only task Africa is delegating him is to pressure regime change in zimbabwe for mugabe who has turned HARARE STATE HOUSE HIS RETAIRMENT HOME.
    Congrats madiba for your 90th birthday and for life well lived.

  20. 20 Joe Polly
    June 29, 2008 at 11:36

    It’s definitely time to end the adulation. The ‘party’s’ long over. Look at the state of South Africa today and it should be obvious Aids,mass poverty,gang violence and except for the ANC in government little to no evidence that apart from a few individuals like Zuma and Ramphosa that the black majority has any executive power in society. He certainly played his part in progress but as the saying goes ‘one swallow a summer does not make’.

  21. June 29, 2008 at 20:15

    Pangolin: Please do not compare Nelson Mandela with the Dalai Lama. It is unrealistic, to say the least.

    Mandela was a fine politician, with a brilliant sense of what was needed to bring the ANC to power in South Africa. On the road to that achievement, many, many lives, both black and white, were carelessly wiped out in ANC training camps throughout Africa, as well as in South Africa.

    Politically astute is not the same as spiritual. Give Mandela his due, but no more. Certainly, in my view, he does not deserve adulation.

    If you want to compare an African hero with HH Dalai Lama, there is a good man called Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Now that’s the real thing, not the political opportunist Madiba.

  22. 22 blacklion
    June 30, 2008 at 17:35

    Ah ha…I can see the old Rhodie brigade are out in full force!

    FYI, it was the Western media who canonized Mandela and anointed him king of Africa, not Africans. So why are you complaining now?. You wanted a forgiving black man – well, you certainly got one. Just that he not only forgave Pieter Botha but also Mugabe:)

    Why are you now calling him opportunist? When Mandela humiliated the black victims of apartheid by going to tea with Betty Voerwoerd, was it not the same Western media who lionized him for his forgiving spirit to reconcile with the widow of the architect of apartheid? When Mandela wore the Springbok t-shirt despite the notorious history of rugby in South Africa, was it not the Western media who hailed him as the greatest African ever in history? So why are you complaining now?

    There are very many in Africa who questioned the terms of the deal Mandela and the ANC negotiated with the Nats. Well, the chickens are certainly coming home to roost.

    The Western media are bashing a tired, 90 year old man simply because he did not say quick enough what they most eagerly wanted to hear about Rhodesia…oops! My bad ‘Zimbabwe’…

    Now Archbishop Tutu is being canonized by the same Western media. He of the Anglican church which has perhaps 3-4,00 black members in all of South Africa is now the greatest African, the moral spokesman of all Africans. Continue. You’ll all be disappointed again.

  23. 23 Dr E Ross
    October 23, 2008 at 16:35

    Nelson Mandela is, like any other person, a man with flaws. Surely, he has brought a lot of good to South Africa, and, indeed, to the world. There is no denying that. He cannot be held responsible for other people’s misdeeds.
    He was in power for a few years, already elderly at the time.
    At the time of his release, the South African Rand (ZAR) was R2.50 to the $; now, it is nearly R12.00 to the dollar. Just shows how hypocritial the world really is: it does not value the South African Rand as much under Mandela and his government, as they did for the Apartheid Government! If the world really loves Mandela, it should see the that the South African currency is now seen as having more value.
    Effectively, the world is saying that the Apartheid Government was – at least, in monetary terms – better than what we have now.

  24. 24 Dr E Ross
    April 29, 2009 at 04:54

    Could someone please research the alleged rumour that Mr Mandela had uttered something like “we pledge to kill them, the whites”?” surely, it cannot be true … Remember, this is just a question, about, what could well be a rumour … thanks.

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