Mandela and This White American Kid:
On February 11, 1990, the white Rude Pundit was sitting at his then-girlfriend's family's house in New Orleans. He was at a kitchen counter, watching TV. Seated next to him, the white girlfriend's father, a fat white fascist, was watching, too. The girlfriend and her white mother were standing and watching. We were all focused on CNN, which was showing the release of black Nelson Mandela from prison after 27 years. The Rude Pundit was immensely moved by the sight. The fat white fascist said, "That man is a commie and a terrorist, and he should be in jail for the rest of his life."
As the Rude Pundit was inhaling for his response, the girlfriend, knowing what was coming, grabbed her mother and said, "We should go to the back of the house." They left, and the Rude Pundit launched into a loud, extended attack on the fat white fascist. In his early 20s and with even less of a filter than he has now, you did not fuck with the Rude Pundit when it came to South Africa.
You can read elsewhere about Mandela's extraordinary life, his importance to the struggle of people oppressed by racism worldwide, and more. You can read tributes and encomiums endlessly. But one aspect of the Mandela story, which is really the story of the fight against and eventual end of apartheid in South Africa, is personal to the Rude Pundit: his imprisonment and his cause became a rallying point for college students in the 1980s, especially as President Ronald Reagan spoke as an apologist for the white government.
In 1985, the Rude Pundit and a friend - whom he'll call "Toby" because that's his name - put together a presentation on South Africa and Mandela for a large organization of fellow students at our university. Mandela inspired many of us to look outward, sometimes for the first time in our lives, to the injustices in other countries, faraway countries. We were part of the divestment movement, which called for our colleges and universities to get rid of their investments in companies that did business with South Africa. (And let's give credit where it's due: Stevie Wonder invoking Mandela while accepting an Oscar in February 1985 brought the plight of black South Africans to a much wider audience. His music was banned from South Africa's radio stations for several years after.)
We who joined in the anti-apartheid protests were fully aware that, in Mandela, we were supporting someone who was for the overthrow of his government and who refused to renounce violence as a way to get there. We knew we were supporting someone who was accused of being a communist and in bed with the dreaded Soviet Union. We also knew that without some kind of seismic shift in South Africa, the place was gonna explode, and America's failure to lead with the necessary moral authority was going to be one reason it happened.
This wasn't a small movement. The divestment push happened in schools all around the country. At Columbia University in New York, students chained the doors of one of the main buildings shut and held rallies on the front steps. At Rutgers, Cornell, Berkeley, and elsewhere, protests took place and buildings were occupied and demands were issued. In June 1986, there was an anti-apartheid march in New York City that ended with a rally in Central Park with tens of thousands of participants. And one of the major demands of those all over the globe seeking an end to apartheid was the release of Nelson Mandela from Victor Verster Prison.
The Rude Pundit and Toby gave talks to different groups and classes, encouraging students to get involved. We don't know what effect we had in particular, but, try as many on the right did, the surge in youth intensity on freedom for South Africa could not be dismissed as merely trendy or shallow. The culture was getting behind it, with musicians and actors joining in with liberal politicians. There were definite results. Overriding Reagan's veto, Congress finally acted on the matter in 1986 by imposing sanctions on South Africa after failing to do so in 1985. You can bet that the divestment movement and college awakening had something to do with the nation discovering its moral bearings.
Nelson Mandela inspired us to fight for something that was so obviously, unequivocally right. He inspired the Rude Pundit to think globally, as they say now. And his release and his election to the presidency in South Africa proved to us that it is possible to unify and actually overcome evil in this world.