Hear Nelson Mandela discuss support of Palestine in 1990 interview

Palestinian boys in Gaza attend a cande light memorial for Nelson Mandela, 8 December.

Ashraf Amra APA images

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Nelson Mandela in New York, 1990

Ted Koppel: In the middle of his day, an extraordinary town meeting — part of which you may have seen, but for those who missed it, here’s a sampler.

Nelson Mandela: We identify with the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] because just like ourselves, they are fighting for the right of self-determination.

TK: Mandela displayed a sense of humor.

Audience member: … or should I put it more succinctly, will your economy be based on the Marxist system, socialism or capitalism, or both?

NM: I knew that that was the question you wanted to ask.

TK: He responded to his critics at home.

NM: … Koos van der Merwe, who’s a leading member of the Conservative party. Have a listen to what he has to say.

Koos van der Merwe: Nelson, you’re not going to nationalize the assets of the white people. I have worked for my banks, my mines, my businesses and my farms. You are not going to take it. Stop your violence, stop your nonsense.

NM: All I have said to Koos van der Merwe is to say I am happy to know you. I hope that one day we shall have the opportunity to discuss the affairs of our country.

Gatsha Buthelezi: There’s nothing that prevents you even in the United States from picking up the telephone and say hello and talk to me as we were doing ever since you left jail.

NM: For me, to wash our dirty linen in a foreign country … I am hesitant to do that even though here I have the feeling that I am among comrades in arms.

TK: He faced his critics here head-on.

Ken Adelman: Those of us who share your struggle for human rights and against apartheid have been somewhat disappointed by the models of human rights that you have held up since being released from jail. You’ve met over the last six months three times with Yasser Arafat.

NM: Yasser Arafat, Colonel Gaddafi, Fidel Castro support our struggle to the hilt.

Henry Siegman: I think I would be dishonest if I did not express profound disappointment with the answer that Mr. Mandela gave to the previous question because it suggests a certain degree of amorality.

TK: Above all, Nelson Mandela stated his positions forcefully.

Why are you so insistent upon maintaining sanctions, at a time when it can be argued that the South African government has made more concessions, your release being only one of them, than it has ever made in the past forty years?

NM: I should know better about this matter, Mr. Koppel, than you.

TK: And now, in the Nightline segment of our broadcast, there is much more to come.

Mr. Mandela, we have just heard a number of the things you said in the hour between 10 o’clock and 11 o’clock this evening. Some controversial things, not the kinds of things necessarily that a very political man says. If you were very political, you might have been more concerned about not alienating some people in this country who have it, within their hands, within their power, either to continue sanctions against South Africa, or to raise those sanctions, to lift them. Why were you not a little more political? Perhaps we’re too accustomed to politicians in this country.

NM: I do not understand what you mean. Perhaps if you clarify what you mean, I may be in a position to comment.

TK: What I’m saying is that in this country, for example, there has been for many years a close alliance between the Jewish population and the Black population, in the civil rights struggle. There is likely to be a rather negative reaction to some of the things that you have said. That reaction could very well cause people to call up their congressman, their senators, and say, go ahead, lift the sanctions. Why not, because, after all, President DeKlerk is doing a great deal against apartheid. Only today, in fact, his number two man said that the government perceives itself in South Africa as being part of the anti-apartheid struggle.

NM: Hah! [Audience laughs]

One of the problems we are facing in the world today are people who do not look at problems objectively but from the point of view of their own interests. That makes things difficult, because once a person is not objective, it is extremely difficult to reach an agreement.

One of the best examples of this is to think that because Arafat is conducting a struggle against the state of Israel, that we must therefore condemn him. We can’t do that. It is just not possible for any organization or individual of integrity to do anything of the sort.

TK: If I could intervene with one point. I don’t want to leave the impression that this is only going to be a Jewish-Black issue. There are a great many Cuban Americans in this country who will be just as offended by some of the comments you’ve made about Fidel Castro and Cuba.

NM: No. Mr. Koppel, I don’t agree with you. I am saying that it would be a grave mistake for us to consider our attitude toward Yasser Arafat on the basis of the interests of the Jewish community. We sympathize with the struggles of the Jewish people and their persecution, right down the years. In fact, we have been very much influenced by the lack of racialism amongst the Jewish communities.

In our own country, in the political trials that have taken place, when few lawyers were prepared to defend us, it has been the Jewish lawyers who have come forward to defend us. I myself was … I’m a lawyer by profession. And I was trained to become a lawyer by a Jewish firm at a time when few firms in our country were prepared to take Blacks. And as I have said, we have many members of the Jewish community in our struggle, and they have occupied very top positions, but that does not mean to say that the enemies of Israel are our enemies.

We refuse to take that position. You can call it being political, or a moral question, but for anybody who changes their principles depending on [with] whom he is dealing, that is not a man who can lead a nation.


Apparently, Mr. Koppel, you have not listened to my argument. If you had done so, then you had not been serious in examining it. I have replied to one of our friends here that I have refused to be drawn into the differences that exist between various communities inside the USA. You have not commented that I am going to offend anybody by refusing to involve myself in the internal affairs of the USA.

Why are you so keen that I should involve myself in the internal affairs of Cuba and Libya?

TK: No.

NM: I expect you to be consistent. I don’t know if I have paralyzed you.


End transcript.

Nelson Mandela’s passing: “A huge loss for Palestine”

Thank you to South Africa’s CII Broadcasting and host of Sabahul Khair, Ebrahim Gangat, for this audio segment.

Haidar Eid: It is eight in the morning right now and I heard the news at 6 o’clock in the morning. It’s the first item of the news in all local radios of Palestine, especially in Gaza. You know how much people of Palestine admired Nelson Mandela, and they take his life and the struggle of the ANC [African National Congress] … and the people of South africa as an example that we in Palestine should follow.

It’s a huge loss, Ebrahim. It’s a very very huge loss for us here in Palestine. Because he represented everything that we are fighting for here in Palestine. This day really reminds me of the day when the great leader of Egypt, Gemal Abdul Nasser, passed away on the 28th of September 1970, after being attacked by Israel, the US and the west, when he fought to liberate Palestine. It also reminds me of the demise of Hugo Chavez. In other words, it reminds us here in Palestine of the demise of the great leaders of the 20th century.

But Nelson Mandela in particular — his passing and his demise has a special meaning because of the comparisons we in Palestine draw between apartheid South Africa and Israel — the institutionalized racial discrimination in both country, by Israel and in apartheid South Africa, which ensured in South Africa the supremacy of a group of white settlers over the Blacks and indigenous population and other races.

Here in Palestine, Zionism ensures the supremacy of a group of settlers over the Palestinian Arabs. And when we compare the applications of the apartheid policy, it is difficult to identify any differences between white rule in South Africa and its Israeli counterpart in Palestine, in terms of the segregation and designation of certain areas to Israeli Jews and others to Arabs, the delineation of certain laws and privileges to Jews and a discriminatory set of laws that apply only to Palestinians.

And this is exactly what Nelson Mandela fought against, spent 27 years in jail, 18 of which were on Robben Island, and he ultimately was released in 1990 when the international community stopped dealing with apartheid South Africa — boycotted apartheid South Africa, divested from it and imposed sanctions against it. And when people went to the polling stations in 1994, people voted for Nelson Mandela as the first Black president of multi-racial South Africans, but they also voted against apartheid. And this is what we are fighting for in Palestine.

Ebrahim Gangat: Yes. And when we go back into the history of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, we obviously heard of the way in which Nelson Mandela at that time was seeking some help and clearly and fondly remembered the way the Palestinians came across and many in Arab countries came to give him help. Dr. Eid, what do you remember about Nelson Mandela and ANC — in that time, in our struggle in trying to conquer apartheid, was there help available for him at that time? He never forgot Palestine ever in all his life. He spoke fondly about it.

HE: Absolutely, absolutely. I really agree with that. He was a real inspiration and he remains to be an inspiration for us and for our struggle here in Palestine. Because honestly, as I said to you, like in South Africa, Israel’s brand of apartheid is mixed with settler-colonialism exactly as it was in the US and Australia. Settler-colonialism in Israel and South Africa has always involved ethnic cleansing or even genocide of the indigenous people. And this is what Nelson Mandela fought against.

When evaluated along the lines I have just mentioned, the term apartheid applies to Israel’s policy in Palestine and in particular in the Gaza Strip, where I live. So every single thing Nelson Mandela represents, and every single crime committed by apartheid against the indigenous people of South Africa and everything that Nelson Mandela fought against is something that we learn from, Ebrahim.

Now, he visited Gaza in 1996 or 1998, I can’t remember, but every single person in Gaza took to the streets in order to welcome Nelson Mandela. The Palestinians of the Gaza Strip are isolated from the rest of the population in historical Palestine, and are isolated from the entire world — exactly like South Africans in the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s.

And this is why, when we talk about Nelson Mandela, it’s not only Nelson Mandela the super-human being as someone called him here in Palestine, but we are talking about what Nelson Mandela represented. And he represented humanity at its best. Humanity that goes beyond the lines of race, that goes beyond the lines of ethnicity, gender et cetera et cetera.

And this is our struggle in Palestine. We are fighting in order to reach that point which you have already reached in South Africa under the leadership of Nelson Mandela and his comrades. We want to have a democratic Palestine, a Palestine for every single citizen regardless of religion, regardless of race, regardless of ethnicity. And this is why Nelson Mandela saw the similarities between Zionism and apartheid, and he told us, he told every single Palestinian who visited him — he even told Israelis when he visited Israel — that one day will come when all the people of Palestine will live equally, exactly like the people of South Africa.

End transcript.

Ali Abunimah: EI is “Independent, credible and fearless”

Ali Abunimah: It’s actually been a record year in terms of our readership, our readership — the numbers of actual human beings who read the website — has grown by two-thirds, and that was on top of 80 percent in 2011. So, we have millions of people coming to The Electronic Intifada every year, and I’m really proud of the coverage that our writers, reporters, photographers, video-makers, audio makers have made, and that includes of course the work that you’ve done, Nora, but our original reporting and photo stories of the reality everywhere in Palestine — particularly in Gaza, which is neglected by world media.

We’ve had some amazing reporting all year from Rami Almeghari and Joe Catron, we’ve had exclusive stories that went absolutely viral and made it into world media, about how Israeli soldiers are using social media to spread violence and hatred, and our exclusives forced the Israeli army to respond. So our reporting really has an impact.

I’m really proud of the reporting we’ve done, some of the exclusives, for example, by Max Blumenthal on Teach for America, I thought that was an amazing piece because it showed the connections between people who are trying to force privatization on public schools in this country, and groups that are trying to get a pro-Israel agenda into American classrooms.

There’s just so much. We are the go-to place for arts coverage — we have interviews with people like director Annemarie Jacir, visual artist John Halaka. Where can you get this breadth of political coverage, reporting, human interest features and, of course, one of the things I love the most is The Electronic Intifada podcast.

Nora Barrows-Friedman Ali, how is EI funded, and who supports The Electronic Intifada’s work?

AA: Our readers. And that’s the amazing thing. That the vast majority of our funding comes from individual readers, often giving small donations. We like larger ones, we won’t say no to those, but you don’t have to give a big amount of money to be part of this. Really, everybody makes a difference. And I think that’s why we’re different, and people can count on us to be independent, to be credible, to be fearless. We do not succumb to the kind of pressure that mainstream media do. And the reason for that is because we’re funded by our readers.

So it’s a little bit like public radio, or independent radio, but without the pressure that makes big public media also too afraid to talk about Palestine. So it’s our readers — and that’s why every year at this time of year we do a fundraiser, we send out letters to our friends who’ve been really loyal supporters for many years, but we also try to reach new people who are coming to The Electronic Intifada and who feel that this coverage is important to them, and say ok, well, help us to make it happen.

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NBF: What does The Electronic Intifada have in store for 2014?

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End transcript.


Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).