Amid Celebration, Subtle Reminders Of Mandela’s Controversial Legacy

Dec 13, 2013

The statue of Nelson Mandela outside the site of the South African Embassy, Washington, D.C.
Credit Ted Eytan / Flickr Creative Commons

It's been just over a week since former South African President Nelson Mandela passed away at the age of 95. A memorial service Tuesday drew leaders from across the globe, and the inspirational statesman will be buried Sunday in a private ceremony in his beloved boyhood village of Qunu.

Joshua Landis, the Director of the University of Oklahoma's Center for Middle East Studies, says within two weeks of Mandela's release from a 27-year prison term in 1990, he traveled to the Middle East to embrace Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"He said 'We live under a unique form of colonialism in South Africa as well as in Israel, and our freedom is incomplete without your freedom.'," Landis says. "There was a firestorm of protest that came up afterwards, but it reminds us of how things change in politics, and how later on Arafat was embraced. There was a peace deal, and he went from being a terrorist to a statesman."

Suzette Grillot, the Dean of the University of Oklahoma's College of International Studies, says Mandela was particularly outspoken about the fact that Israel supported South Africa throughout the apartheid regime.

"[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and [President] Shimon Peres did not go the funeral. [There was] no Israeli representation at the memorial service," Grillot says. "So there's a celebration of him, but this is a stark reminder in some ways of the fact that there is this standoff between freedom and what some might call injustice in certain parts of the world."

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