You know me. Pretty much a patriotic South African. Proud of our history. And deeply affected by Madiba – Nelson Mandela. I think the guy did an incredible job starting us off on the right track. Oh, we had a few other great leaders as well. But Madiba was our big daddy. Our Patriot. The John Adams of South Africa. The man who fought so hard to bring freedom to our little country down South. Just like John Adams and the other Patriots did over here in the US. (Oh yes, just like with the US, most of our subsequent leaders have been less “patriotic”, loved, reputable and effective as leaders than those original Founding Fathers.) So, I read with interest the recent flood of opinions regarding Nelson Mandela needing a special waiver to enter the US because he is still classified as a terrorist. As a South African I will refrain from commenting on whether he is a terrorist or not. That should be obvious. I will also refrain from blaming President Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney for this as that would be easy, but also opportunistic and a cheap shot. The fact is that President Mandela’s good friend President Bill Clinton had 8 years to undo this injustice. As did his partner Senator Clinton. I am more concerned with the policy behind this terror list and the message it sends to other “liberation” organizations and individuals across the world.

Nelson Mandela, and the African National Congress that he belonged to, were put on the list because the US government supported the Apartheid regime’s classification of the ANC as a terrorist organization. This indicated support of the Apartheid regime by the US government – both Republicans and Democrats. Again, I will refrain from discussing the Apartheid regime. I think we can all agree that it was a regime based on one of the most unjust and oppressive political systems in modern history. Really, take it from me and the people who suffered and died at the hands of that regime, they were not a nice bunch of guys to be associated with. Trust me, your mother will be most disappointed if you hung out with them.

On the other hand, the ANC was a peaceful organization for most of its history. It was established in 1912 in direct reaction to being excluded from having any political rights under the Union constitution of 1910. They remained an organization who believed in peaceful protest against the oppressive governments that gave no political rights to black South Africans. They did not even revert to violence when widows of black soldiers who died fighting in WWII received no pension whatsoever. It was only after 69 people were shot, mostly schoolchildren shot in the back, on 21 March 1960 in Sharpeville that the ANC got banned for calling a national stay-away campaign. Note, still no violence called for by the ANC – just a stay-away. It was only after more murdering by the Apartheid government and the arrest of more than 2,000 people that the ANC took up the armed struggle against the Apartheid government – while they were banned from South Africa. Their “military wing”, Umkhonto we Sizwe(Spear of the Nation), was only established in 1961. They officially took up arms when exiled. They took up arms when their people got murdered, arrested and taxed to death and they were banned from being in South Africa to represent the oppressed in even a peaceful way. Remember this bit – people being taxed, not represented in government, no ownership, murdered and arrested left, right and centre AND their “party” being banned even though they are promoting peaceful resistance.

In short, the ANC was a peaceful organization for 48 years before they took up arms. And only after they got banned and people were murdered in public did they take up arms. And they continued this armed struggle against the Apartheid regime for the next 30 years. So yes, they were peaceful for much longer than what they were in the armed struggle. But still the US and many other Western governments declared them a terrorist organization. And before you get on your high horse – they only started taking in money and support from the old USSR when all those Western governments refused to provide them with any support against the Apartheid regime. Many, many years after they got banned and classified as a terrorist organization. A case of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend…”

Let me put this in language and context you might get. A bit closer to home. Imagine you live in the US. Peacefully. Oh, there is a colonial power in charge, but you don’t care much for them. But then they start shooting your people when they protest against the unjust laws and taxes these colonial powers instituted against your people. And, of course, you don’t have full representation – only token representation. So after many years of continued oppression you say “enough is enough” and you stand up and have a big old war for independence. And you take support from anyone – even those who also have oppressive systems in place in their own country. Let’s say like asking the French monarchy for support even though they did not give their own people the rights you were fighting for and who were an oppressiveregime to their own people. Oh, wait – that happened here right? Imagine that, those Patriots who stood up against the British rule would have been branded a terrorist group if the current US application of the term terrorist was used by the colonial master back then. See, the ANC was like the Patriots back when you fought for your independence… And I for one will defend John Adams and anyone else who dare call them terrorists. They were freedom fighters on the side of the good and the brave. On the side of the oppressed. They were the good guys. They were the brave guys. Full stop. Not terrorists.

But the problem they would face today is that there is no clear guidelines on what will constitute a terrorist organization in the eyes of the US government.

So, does the US classify organizations based on their opposition to legitimate governments? No. As the case in South Africa highlights, the US government supported an oppressive regime and not those seeking democracy. It did the same in Angola and in Mozambique. It supported the warlords in both those countries who fought the legitimate governments. Governments who continued to win the popular democratic votes in elections from before, during and after the wars that ravished these countries. And, of course, the US supported the Taliban, Saddam Hussein and many Latin American dictators who were as oppressive as these African and Middle Eastern dictators. Yes, it was during the Cold War, but it still… The US build their partnership in the same way the ANC did – not being picky, but just picking anyone who will fight against the injustice they believe their own people will or are facing. Both picked dirty friends. And neither of them can claim that the other one had “worse” friends than the other. You willing to make a call on whether you would prefer the Taliban or a Communist? Not an easy choice is it? A bit like a pan and a fire choice I think. Hello pot, cheers kettle.

But it still leaves the question open – does the US classify organizations as terrorist if they take up arms against any type of government then? No. The US government is not averse to supporting organizations who take up arms. As mentioned before, they supported violent groups in Mozambique and Angola. And they have continued to do so – who can forget the call to arms of Iraqi’s during the first Gulf War? And the direct or indirect support for those who take up arms against oppressive regimes.

So what is a terrorist in the eyes of the US government? Who knows? And that has been the problem with declassifying Nelson Mandela as terrorist. We have no clear guidelines. How can we declassify someone when we don’t know the classification in the first place? It’s a bit like just building a road and seeing where it takes us. Or a railroad. And remember the big railroad bubble of 1893? This road is just waiting to blow up in our face and create panic.

At the very least we need to know what a terrorist is. I don’t mean some global definition we can all agree on. I am not that naive. All I can ask is for the US to have a clear definition. But there isn’t. Do yourself a favour – try and find a clear definition anywhere in the US laws. Too vague and too many loopholes. How can we win a war against terrorism if we can’t even define who or what is a terrorist? So far we have been more or less lucky. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban were relatively easy calls. Sadam not so easy. And the more we go into this “War Against Terrorism” the more fuzzy it will become. I would really like Nelson Mandela to not be classified as a terrorist. And I really don’t want us to start a war against the next John Adams and his group of Patriots. He was a Patriot. And so was Mandela. Let’s not shoot at anything that moves. Not every shadow is a threat. Let’s know who we fight. Because how else would we know when we have won?

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I never noticed it before. It has been there for a while. This picture of Martin Luther King Jr on our fridge door. You know, that space that kids occupy. I hardly look at the fridge door – just open it to grab something to munch on or a cold one. But there it was. Amongst all the fridge magnets and numbers and pictures of the kids. I guess it didn’t stand out because it was white on white. Yes, we have a white fridge. The reason why it stopped me was because it looked a lot like my dad. And you know about the relationship between me and my dad.

So it stopped me in my tracks a bit. Who would draw a picture of my dad? No one around liked him or knew him well enough to do that. Is he haunting me? But then I saw the heading – Luther King Jr. I moved the African dancing figure magnet out the way and saw the whole name – Martin Luther King Jr. And yes, he was white.

I knew who drew this and couldn’t help but smile. It was my oldest daughter – my 10 year-old. She did it during the last holiday celebrating his life. And I knew she didn’t forget to color in his face. Or decided against it because she didn’t want to shade it in and lose the details. No. She did it because that is just the way she sees the world. I thought about it for a minute and chuckled. I knew where she came from with this. And I love her for that. Let’s go back to when she was just a little girl of 6 months – back in South Africa.

I read to her every single night. One story after the other. And she loved it. Lying there and listening to my voice tell her about the world of princesses and princes. Of wolves and pigs. And that last one did not refer to the cops. I tried to vary it by making up my own stories. But my wife said I had to stick to the original versions. No way can I place Snow White as a junkie in the street of Cape Town and the seven dwarfs the seven “bergies“. (Got to be South African to understand – dwarfs in Afrikaans is “dwergies” and that rhymes with “bergies” who are specific homeless characters from my region. And they have character!) No, I had to stick to the original version. And I got sick and tired of telling my little girl lies (apologies to my wife).

So I decided to read her Nelson Mandela’s story – Long Walk To Freedom. His autobiography about his life from when he was little to when he got out of jail. It was something I wanted to read and thought she would like it. It wasn’t as if she understood what I said when I read Cinderella either. Hey, I didn’t get it so how would she? So I started on Long Walk To Freedom and got my first bit of indoctrination of her ready. And she loved it. Because she could hear in my voice that I enjoyed it and that mattered to her. Always did to her. You know, the caring for others bit.

She grew up in a house where no form of any racism was allowed. That was one of the main reason my dad got banned from our house. I just never knew how to talk about race in South Africa. Not when it was still such a raw issue in my homeland. So we just never spoke about it. Oh of course we spoke to her about Apartheid and how Nelson Mandela fought against this corrupt system and got thrown in jail for his beliefs. But we somehow managed to not talk about race – never spoke about someone being black or white. It helped that our friends were from all over and came in all different shapes, sizes, sexual preferences and color. And her best friend was a little “black” girl called Imani. But there is a reason why I say “black”. Imani was black, but her natural mother was white. The dad was black but we never knew him. So in her little eyes it was the most natural thing in the world. Not knowing color or race. Imani was her friend and she had a nice mom who was friends of mom and dad. That’s it. The color of someones skin never made sense to her. At least not when talking about someone or trying to describe them. Why would it? Why would you want to describe someone as black or white when they are just your friend and have so many other reasons why they are your friend. Being black or white did not count when it came to picking friends so no need to talk about it. And then she went to school.

I was dreading it. At some stage she was going to be exposed to the issue of someone being black or white. I just didn’t know how to prepare her for this. She was so little. I didn’t want to influence her. I wanted her to learn about this world and come to me when she wanted to know more. She was always wise beyond her age. Her school was a nice mix so I was happy. A good school that reflected South Africa more or less – kids and teachers. And then, one day, it came. The “my black friend” reference…

I picked her up at school and, as always, I asked her what she did, was it nice, what did she have for lunch, etc. And without thinking she said that she played with her black friend and they had so much fun. I could feel the blood drain from my face. Who the hell told her to call someone black? But I prepared for this. And started asking her about this “black” friend of hers. I was going to get to the bottom of this and find out who taught her this… this… this bloody reference that had no place in defining your friends.

And when she told me the story about her “black” friend? I just packed up laughing. Stopped the car and gave her a big kiss and a hug. She had no idea why. But it was just so typical her. Her “black” friend wasn’t black at all. Not even close.

Her “black” friend was a white as Snow White. That was odd. So I asked her why she was her “black” friend. And the answer? “Because of her hair, silly dad. Her her is black daddy.” That’s when I stopped the car and gave her the hug and kiss.

You see, she heard someone talk about black and white people. And the only way this made sense to her was the color of their hair. She loved hair. And that made sense. Someone who is “black” had black hair and someone who was “white” had white hair. And she had a few “brown” friends and even a few “red” friends. Thank God she never met the punks in London back in the 80’s. She would have “purple” friends and “blue” friends and any friend you can think of. Still hold – those old ladies with the purple hair, but I guess they are too old to be her friend.

I felt proud of her. So proud of her. I knew she will be okay. And she taught me something I always hoped was true. You are not born a racist. You are made a racist. Shed a tear for those little kids with the hatred in their eyes who call people names. Those people grow up to make more racists. It’s a vicious circle. But they start off as just kids.

Martin Luther King Jr is white. And I couldn’t be prouder. I think he would be proud. I know she will continue to live his dream.

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