Nelson Mandela died on December 5, 2013. Out of courtesy for his memory (and the movement that he represented), we decided to hold any posts of #SMH (that’s Shake My Head) moments (basically occasions when you simply ask yourself “why?”), until after the South African leader was buried. So we collected a ton of odd (including flat out racist and objectionable) media that circulated on social media and by journalists in the last few days since his passing. I live in the Netherlands, so a ton of the most egregious examples come from there.
Mandela’s death coincided with the celebration of Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) in the Netherlands and Belgium. As we’ve blogged here before, Sinterklaas contains blackface (read here and here) and a sizable section of the Dutch population and its diaspora defend their right to blackface. In probably the most racist reference to Mandela (well we did not check South African right-wing sites for prophecies of “the Night of the Long Knives”), the photoshopped image of Madiba in Zwarte Piet attire with red lips and the caption “R.I.P Anti-Apartheid Piet Nelson Mandela,” circulated on Twitter in the Dutch Twittersphere. Some Dutch people thought it was funny.
An editor or journalist at Dutch tabloid newspaper ‘De Telegraaf’ for some unknown reason thought it was ‘funny’ to make a connection between Zwarte Piet and Mandela by writing that not only abroad, but “also in the Netherlands people reacted to the death of Nelson Mandela who died on Sinterklaas evening (with Zwarte Piet).” You can see a screenshot of the article (in Dutch) here. After a backlash on social media, the editor in chief issued a sort of apology saying that De Telegraaf made “a tasteless connection between the death of Mandela and the end of Sinterklaas.”
Still in the Netherlands, some people thought the death of the former statesman was the right moment to hang a banner on the Mandela Bridge in Utrecht saying: Moordenaarsbrug (translated as Killer’s Bridge in English). According to regional media those responsible are a right-wing extremist group bothered by the positive way Dutch national media are portraying Mandela and say he’s was a criminal and a terrorist.
Then there were those who tried to cash in on his association with Mandela. One such person is the last leader of the apartheid regime F.W. de Klerk, who has been quoted in, or interviewed by about every news program around the globe like he is some kind of moral authority on Mandela or the struggle against Apartheid. We can be quick about De Klerk: he was part of an undemocratic racist regime that committed gross human rights violations and many of these crimes have gone unpunished in the name of “reconciliation.” De Klerk was anything but a friend to Mandela. Read what Mandela thought of de Klerk. As recent as last year (in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour) he still made excuses for Apartheid. But here he was, all over BBC and CNN.
Then there are political leaders like former U.S. president Bill Clinton, who tweeted his condolences, only to be reminded he did nothing to have Nelson Mandela removed from the US terrorist watch list while he was president. Ironically it was George W Bush who got Mandela removed from the list in 2008.
Then there’s the tweet that decided Mandela had to die, because actor Paul Walker did.
Yes, FIFA President Sepp Blatter (Mandela’s “friend”) had to make this list. During the FIFA 2014 World Cup draw in Brazil – not even 24 hours after Mandela’s death was announced – Blatter called for one minute of silence to pay homage to Mandela. Barely 10 seconds into the the minute of silence, Blatter disrespected his own command with some awkward statement about humanity and Mandela. Someone on YouTube had the good sense to post a video with a clock of that awkward moment.
Then there are the journalists who went in search of the “rainbow nation,” basically posting shots of whites and black South Africans embracing. (The rainbow nation is a metaphor, favored by some, that emphasizes South Africa’s multiracial diversity as a cop out to address its glaring racial inequalities and its unresolved violent past.) In some instances the same white people pop up in multiple media shot by different photographers. (Like the young white man hugging an older black woman in front of Mandela’s house.) This tweet by BBC journalist @Kelvinbrown of a meaningless photo of a black girl sitting on a white man’s shoulders says it all. It was according to Brown “a sign of the ‘rainbow nation’”.
Apart from taking photos every time a white person embraced a random black person, foreign media had a tendency to interview mostly white South Africans about Mandela. (A fellow guest on the American network MSNBC wanted to know from Sean Jacobs why there so few black South Africans being interviewed about Mandela on some networks.) In one instance, the BBC cut away from the official memorial service in Soweto to interview Mandela’s bodyguard. But no interview is as crazy as that of Gary Player talking to ESPN’s “Mike and Mike in the Morning” (two white men talking excitably about sports, mainly baseball and American football). Gary Player goes on about how Mandela is a special kind of black leader bla bla and how he kissed Mandela’s feet etcetera. Just listen to the ESPN interview. This of course is Gary Player who in the 1960s, when Mandela was on Robben Island, said he was an ambassador for South Africa’s Apartheid government and that winning the British Open was impressive as a South African considering ‘we have only three million people.’
Finally, there’s this: During Sunday’s funeral, embattled President Jacob Zuma (sex and corruption scandals and who was booed by crowds at a memorial for Mandela earlier in the week) led the crowd in singing the song “Thina Sizwe.” Sung like a dirge in churches and at funerals by black people, the song laments the large-scale land theft by whites and the state during colonialism and Apartheid. There’s nothing wrong with the song. A lot of people agreed Zuma did a good job at the funeral, including his critics (including those who supported the booing in Soweto on Tuesday). In this clip of CNN’s live broadcast of the funeral, CNN’s Isha Sesay shows how much she knows about South Africa when she declares the song “controversial.” What is worse that Kehla Shubane, the South African commentator who is providing context to CNN at the time (and who was also imprisoned on Robben Island), didn’t correct her. He agrees about its “controversy” because whites are upset; basically they’re upset at the truth. Political researcher Ann Eveleth sums up the whole thing on Facebook: “Here’s how it probably happened: CNN knows that there was ‘a song’ sung in a local language that caused a stir some time ago, so now, upon hearing another song sung in a local language while also hearing booing of the president, of course the only conclusion is that this song is the site of controversy. 1+2=3, therefore 2+3=4 …” But at least YouTube commenters set her straight.