Saturday, December 7, 2013

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela 1918 - 2013

Nelson Mandela died this week at the age of 95. Mandela deserves enormous credit for South Africa's peaceful transition from Apartheid to Democracy.  He believed that the cycle of violence can be broken only by forgiveness.  Only this way can we achieve peace.  He forgave his jailers after spending nearly 30 years behind bars in South Africa's apartheid regime.  Mandela won the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize.  He also learned to loved rugby.

These things are known to all, but Commander Kelly has a somewhat different perspective on Nelson Mandela.

Mandela was born into a royal family in Africa.  Both his parents were illiterate, but they wanted their son to receive a western style education.   It was a teacher that gave him the name "Nelson" after his baptism into the Methodist faith.

"Nelson" was, of course, a reference to Lord Horatio Nelson -- the greatest naval commander of all time.  It was Nelson's decisive victory at the battle of Trafalgar against the Franco-Spanish fleet that gave the Royal navy world wide naval supremacy for more than a century.  Wise laws are useless if unenforced and it was the Royal Navy that enforced the Slave Trade Act of 1807, just two years after Trafalgar (see...Horatio Nelson Champion of Liberty http://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/horatio-nelson-champion-of-liberty.html.

Nelson's column, Trafalgar Square, London
Bronze Relief made from melted French canons
If you visit Nelson's column in London and regard the bronze relief featuring the death of Nelson.  Please note the African sailor on the left holding a musket.  Lord Nelson has just been fatally shot.  The African sailor is looking up into the rigging in the direction of the perfidious French soldiers that have killed his admiral.

There were 22 Americans on board HMS Victory at the battle of Trafalgar, also one Jamaican, 4 West Indian and one African.  It was a rainbow crew that triumphed that day.

Consider also the year of Mandela's birth - 1918.  A momentous year that marked the end of the Great war.  This year also marks the near apogee of the British Empire into which Mandela was born.  In 1918 the Royal Navy was one of the most powerful institutions on earth.  In 1918 the Royal Navy alone among the world's navies had aircraft carriers. (see...http://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/fleet-air-arm-museum.html).

1918 was only about 16 years after the conclusion of the Second Boer war which raged from 1899 to 1902.  The last years of Queen Victoria's reign were marked by a rebellion against British rule by the Afrikaans of South Africa.  The Boers were excellent hunters and marksmen who knew their homeland and used hit and run tactics inflicting many casualties on the British.

The rebellion was eventually put down with all the tools in the Imperial arsenal.  Troops were brought from the far corners of the Empire.  Maxim guns were employed foreshadowing the horrors of WWI trench warfare.

The Boer war represented a great stain on Britain's Imperial honor as it marked the invention of the concentration camp.  Many Boer civilians including women and children (over 22,000 under 16 years of age) would perish in these hideous camps due to disease and starvation.  In addition over 14,000 Black Africans died in the camps as well.  Many Americans were sympathetic to the Boer cause and volunteered to join their fight against the British.

It was the bitterness of the Boer defeat in this war that helped mould the Afrikaan character, developing a stubbornness that Mandela would encounter in dealing with the Apartheid regime years later.  South Africa would fight alongside the British in two World Wars in the 20th century but would pursue its own path apart from the Commonwealth after 1945.

Mandela spent 18 years on Robben Island imprisoned by the Apartheid regime.  For many years he was forced to break rocks in the sun.  He chose to study the Afrikaan language.

Who does Mandela remind us of...?

There was another man who had been born into a noble family with lofty expectations in a different corner of the British Empire.  There was another man who, years before, had spent time as a prisoner of the Boers.  He, however, had the good fortune to escape.  This man too was a great statesman who won a Nobel prize, though his was for literature.  This man too had a direct connection to and love for the Royal Navy.  He persevered against extreme adversity.  He even allied himself briefly with Communist dictators whose views he deplored. This man too fought for human freedom and triumphed.  After attaining victory, he too preached the necessity for magnanimity.  His name was...Winston Spencer Churchill.








2 comments:

bvj said...

Interesting. Thank you!

Ravina Badi said...

A different perspective, after prison, Algeria was the 1st country he visited. He was and he is forever our friend

Great men never die.