Nelson Mandela and the Daily Mail, from hatred to hypocrisy


This video about South Africa is called Nelson Mandela “I Am Prepared to Die” speech (with subtitles/transcript).

By Solomon Hughes in Britain:

The Daily Mail‘s hatred of Mandela

Friday 13th December 2013

Today the Mail is singing Madiba‘s praises, but it wasn’t always so keen on this towering figure of resistance. SOLOMON HUGHES takes a look

Most British news reports on Nelson Mandela‘s death note the number of streets and buildings named after the ANC leader in Britain, showing how much British people cared about the great man.

They don’t say how hard the Tories and their friends opposed the Mandela name.

Now David Cameron says Mandela was a hero. But when it mattered, when he was imprisoned by apartheid’s jailers, the Tories were enraged by Labour councils supporting Mandela.

The Tories’ big ally in their anti-Mandela campaign was the Daily Mail.

The Mail complained this week that Mandela’s memorial ceremony was “a shambolic disgrace to his name.” But it hated his name when he was imprisoned.

London was the international HQ of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and Britain was a vital base of the ANC.

Britain saw big public protests and heroic underground support for Mandela and his fellow fighters.

Naming streets and buildings after Mandela was a small part of this. It encouraged the campaigners and spread his name – to the disgust of the Mail and the Tories.

A search of the Mail archives about Mandela throws up story after story denouncing the Mandela renamings.

In August 1986 both the Mail and the Tories were enraged that Labour-led Coventry Council wanted to name its new archive building after Mandela instead of poet Philip Larkin.

The Mail quoted Tory spokesman Stan Hodson saying: “Mandela has a record of being a terrorist. He has nothing to do with Coventry. What will naming a public building after him do for our tourist industry?”

This was part of a long campaign in the Mail against naming streets and buildings after Mandela.

In September ’82 it had a page three splash on “How the left turned Lark Rise into Soweto Close” following Cardiff Council‘s decision to name roads in a new housing estate after South African heroes.

A shocked Mail reported: “The quiet cul-de-sacs will be labelled Mandela Avenue, Biko Close.”

Laing Homes, building the new private estate, was outraged, complaining: “How can we possibly sell people homes when they hear the names of the roads they are in?

“We are in the business of selling homes, not playing politics. People want to live in friendly sounding streets, not places named after foreign political leaders.”

Inevitably the deputy leader of the council’s Tory group Gwilym M Jones said: “We will be opposing the names.”

In 1983 the Mail carried several stories about Camden Council’s decision to rename one of its roads “Mandela Street.”

Camden proposed the change because the Anti-Apartheid Movement actually had its headquarters in the road.

But the Mail was enraged that “the left-wingers on Camden Council” wanted to name the road “after the jailed black African nationalist.”

The Mail said residents were “furious” at the name change and in “revolt” against the Mandela name.

It claimed that everyone on the street with the exception of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the Central Electricity Generating Board signed a petition against renaming their street after Mandela. If so there must be some very embarrassed residents in Camden right now.

In November ’84 the Mail reported that “left-wing” Harlow Council had renamed a road “Mandela Street,” finding an unnamed local to denounce it as “utterly confusing.”

It didn’t stop at street names. In November ’86 Manchester Council put Nelson Mandela on its Xmas cards.

The Mail‘s headline – “The left gives Santa the sack” – suggests it was not keen.

Manchester Tory MP Winston Churchill – grandson of the more famous Churchill – told the Mail this “tasteless propaganda is profoundly disturbing.”

The Mail‘s campaign was crystallised by Paul Johnson, who was given a whole page to denounce the “Crazy street warfare of the left” in July ’85.

Johnson was still angry with Cardiff councillors wanting street names to “commemorate revolutionary leaders such as South African blacks Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko.”

Johnson said the street names were “deliberately provocative gestures,” adding that calling a road “Mandela” was done by the “fanatics who run Labour’s local government regimes” who “never miss an opportunity to set people at each others throats. It is part of the Marxist doctrine of class warfare.”

Johnson wasn’t just worried about support for revolutionary leaders and “South African blacks.”

Give in on Mandela and “where would it end?”

The Mail‘s columnist argued that “women’s lib, increasingly powerful in the Labour Party, would stick its oar in and thousands of streets would be named after harpies and harridans.” Worse, “homosexuals, another Labour pressure group, would demand their quota. We would have scores of Oscar Streets and Wilde Roads.”

So for the Mail, supporting Mandela was as bad as supporting gay people or women.

This disgusting reactionary cocktail might look like something only Johnson – a ridiculous right-wing buffoon – would mix.

But his views were reflected in the high levels of Tory government.

When Michael Howard began drawing up his famously bigoted Section 28 against treating gay people as equals, he originally wanted to use the same law against councils supporting Mandela.

Just like Johnson, he seemed to think Labour councils naming streets after Mandela and being gay-friendly was all part of one plot.

Papers I got under freedom of information show that Section 28 wasn’t just proposed to stop councils “promoting homosexuality” and banning “the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship” in schools.

The law originally aimed to stop any kind of “left-wing political activity” by local councils.

Howard’s civil servants wanted the law to be a “proscription of a number of activities undertaken by local authorities in areas peripheral to their functions.

“These include the promotion of homosexuality but also other activities such as anti-apartheid and anti-nuclear activities.”

Howard agreed. Seeing councils being gay-friendly was part of “all the peripheral political activity of left-wing councils” and he was considering “proscribing some other activities by local authorities, such as anti-apartheid, anti-police and anti-nuclear activities.”

Hurray for the Blackshirts, Daily Mail 1934 fascist propaganda

The Daily Mail has a long history of far Right sympathies, as this 1934 article by its owner, Viscount Rothermere, in support of the Blackshirts of British nazi leader Sir Oswald Mosley, shows.

Nelson Mandela’s death resulted in an outpouring of tributes and veneration such as no other political or world figure could inspire, perhaps with the exception of Muhammad Ali. Like Mandela, Ali stood up against racial and social injustice as a young man and thereby transcended the confines of his background to become an international icon: here.

Nelson Mandela has been laid to rest – but his legacy must not be; Gary Younge: here.

10 thoughts on “Nelson Mandela and the Daily Mail, from hatred to hypocrisy

  1. Congratulations, a well researched article, it shows Cameron up for what he is, interesting how the creeps, rise to power? how is this possible? the insider and the old school tie, are we for ever going to be victims of the depraved?

  2. Seumas Milne
    The Guardian, Wednesday 11 December 2013 21.00 GMT

    Mandela has been sanitised by hypocrites and apologists

    The ANC liberation hero has been reinvented as a Kumbaya figure in order to whitewash those who stood behind apartheid.

    We have now had a week of unrelenting beatification of Nelson Mandela by exactly the kind of people who stood behind his jailers under apartheid. Mandela was without question a towering historical figure and an outstanding hero of South Africa’s liberation struggle. So it would be tempting to imagine they had been won over by the scale of his achievement, courage and endurance.

    For some, that may be true. For many others, in the western world in particular, it reeks of the rankest hypocrisy. It is after all Mandela’s global moral authority, and the manifest depravity of the system he and the African National Congress brought to an end, that now makes the hostility of an earlier time impossible to defend.

    So history has had to be comprehensively rewritten, Mandela and the ANC appropriated and sanitised, and inconvenient facts minimised or ignored. The whitewashed narrative has been such a success that the former ANC leader has been reinvented and embraced as an all-purpose Kumbaya figure by politicians across the spectrum and ageing celebrities alike.

    But it’s a fiction that turns the world on its head and obscures the reality of global power then and now. In this fantasy, the racist apartheid tyranny was a weird aberration that came from nowhere, unconnected to the colonial system it grew out of or the world powers that kept it in place for decades.

    In real life, it wasn’t just Margaret Thatcher who branded Mandela a terrorist and resisted sanctions, or David Cameron who went on pro-apartheid lobby junkets. Almost the entire western establishment effectively backed the South African regime until the bitter end. Ronald Reagan described it as “essential to the free world”. The CIA gave South African security the tipoff that led to Mandela’s arrest and imprisonment for 27 years. Harold Wilson’s government was still selling arms to the racist regime in the 1960s, and Mandela wasn’t removed from the US terrorism watch list until 2008.

    Airbrushed out of the Mandela media story has been the man who launched a three-decade-long armed struggle after non-violent avenues had been closed; who declared in his 1964 speech from the dock that the only social system he was tied to was socialism; who was reported by the ANC-allied South African Communist party this week to have been a member of its central committee at the time of his arrest; and whose main international supporters for 30 years were the Soviet Union and Cuba.

    It has barely been mentioned in the past few days, but Mandela supported the ANC’s armed campaign of sabotage, bombings and attacks on police and military targets throughout his time in prison. Veterans of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the ANC’s armed wing, emphasise that the military campaign was always subordinate to the political struggle and that civilians were never targeted (though there were civilian casualties).

    But as Ronnie Kasrils, MK’s former intelligence chief, told me on Wednesday, Mandela continued to back it after his release in 1990 when Kasrils was running arms into South Africa to defend ANC supporters against violent attacks. And there’s no doubt that under today’s US and British law, he and other ANC leaders would have been jailed as terrorists for supporting such a campaign.

    One of the lessons of Mandela and the ANC’s real history is that the cold war wasn’t just about capitalism and communism – or freedom and dictatorship, as is now often claimed – but also about colonialism and national liberation, in which the west was unmistakably on the wrong side.

    South Africa wasn’t an anomaly. The brutal truth is that the US and its allies backed dictatorships from Argentina and Greece to Saudi Arabia, while Soviet support allowed peoples from Vietnam to Angola to win national independence. Cuban military action against South African and US-backed forces at Cuito Cuanavale in Angola in 1988 gave a vital impetus to the fall of the racist regime in Pretoria.

    That’s one reason why Mandela was a progressive nationalist, and Raul Castro, the Cuban president, spoke at Tuesday’s celebration of Mandela’s life in Soweto, not David Cameron. And why the man Barack Obama called the “last great liberator of the 20th century” was outspoken in his opposition to US and British wars of intervention and occupation, from Kosovo to Iraq – damning the US as a “threat to world peace”, guilty of “unspeakable atrocities”.

    Such statements have barely figured in media tributes to Mandela this week, of course. The enthusiasm with which Mandela has been embraced in the western world is not only about the racial reconciliation he led, which was a remarkable achievement, but the extent of the ANC’s accommodation with corporate South Africa and global finance, which has held back development and deepened inequality.

    There have been important social advances since the democratic transformation of the early 1990s, from water and power supply to housing and education. And in the global climate of the early 90s, it’s perhaps not surprising that the ANC bent to the neoliberal flood tide, putting its Freedom Charter calls for public ownership and redistribution of land on the back burner. But the price has been to entrench racial economic division, unemployment and corruption, while failing to attract the expected direct foreign investment.

    The baleful grip of neoliberal capitalism, and the growing pressure to break with it, is a challenge that goes far beyond South Africa, of course. But along with the struggle for social justice and national liberation, the right to resist tyranny and occupation, and profound opposition to racism and imperial power, that is part of the real legacy of Nelson Mandela.

    Twitter: @seumasmilne

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