Sunday, December 15, 2013


Nelson Mandela in prison
By Freddy Wangabo MweneNgabo
Executive Director, ECAAIR
339 York Street, Unit B08
Fredericton, Canada
Postal Code, E3B 3P5
Tel: +1(506) 259-4440

13 December 2013

Today, we celebrate the life of President Nelson Madiba Mandela. The world has lost a true leader, Africa has lost a true son and South Africa has lost a father. The sacrifices made by Mr. Mandela for his nation South Africa are great examples and a source of inspiration for all the young and old across nations. For those of us from countries under occupation and brutality such as my homeland Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) we truly have a lot to learn from Mandela.

Mr. Mandela was an anti-apartheid revolutionary born on 18 July 1918 and who died on 5 December 2013.  He was married to Everlyn Ntoko Mase whom he divorced in 1957; Winnie Madikizela whom he divorced in 1996 and his current wife Graca Machel (married in 1998) the window of the former Mozambican President Samoral Michel. Mr. Mandela is the father of 8 children.

In 1962 he was arrested, convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the state, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Mr. Mandela served over 27 years in prison, initially on Robben Island, and after Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison.  He was released in 1990, thanks to local escalating civil strife and international pressure on the government of the moderate apartheid President Frederik W. de Klerk with whom Mr. Mandela shared the Nobel Peace Prize later in 1993. In 1994, Mr. Mandela became South Africa's first black president serving only a 4 years term ending in 1999.

I can’t imagine what Mr. Mandela had to go through spending 27 years in jail and servitude for the sake of his nation. As a former political prisoner myself in my home country (“the very very Democratic” Republic of Congo-DRC), I can identify with the torture and trauma he must have had to endure over the years. 

There are a lot of inspirational sacrifices made by Mr. Mandela which can serve as learning examples for all nations and ages and I find particularly fascinating his abilities to unify South Africa with a vision of a Rainbow nation, and his desire to forgive and reconcile not only ensured harmony and peace but also served to heal the wounded ones.     

 Mr. Mandela has also been very brave and vocal in defending other oppressed nations. His voice to free Palestine from the oppressive hand of Israel came at a time when he desperately needed the support of the pro-Israel western powers. This move was seen as provocative, politically unconventional, and socially and economically unacceptable by western nations especially by the United States and their western allies. In addition, in 1990 and 1991, Mr. Mandela consecutively visited Presidents Muammar Qaddafi of Libya and Fidel Castro of the communist nation of Cuba. Although Cuba and the United States of America have got a lot in common and there are many reasons and gains for shaping their diplomatic relations with each other, it can be argued that the Cuban-USA relations have been at times bitter, hypocritical, dangerous and combative. Therefore at the time it was a very bold and principled stand for any leader to visit Cuba least of all Mr. Mandela. As a result some people viewed Mr. Mandela as a traitor while others viewed him as a terrorist.

Until 2008, Nelson Mandela was on the U.S. terrorist Watch List and was designated a terrorist for challenging apartheid and his fight for equality and freedom of his people. It was therefore an interesting twist of fate to hear Mr. Barack Hussein Obama, the U.S. President praising the good work of Mr. Mandela during his speech at the Nelson Mandela Memorial Service in South Africa this week and would no doubt have brought a smile of satisfaction to Mandela’s face.

On a personal level I remember, in Fredericton, New Brunswick-Canada; at the time I was deciding to observe a hunger strike against injustices in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) being told by my boss that I would be put on the list of terrorists and never be allowed to travel. It is therefore gratifying and inspirational to me personally to learn from Nelson Mandela’s life and example.


Nevertheless I still find it striking seeing how Mandela’s story is now being fictionalized to make one universal truth.  Although I regard Mr. Mandela as a true South African freedom fighter and a peace maker at the same time I know that like any leader he had his failures and weaknesses including some of his deliberate political omissions and unusual silence over injustices, wars and genocide in other parts of the world.

 Mr. Mandela’s deliberate political omissions and silence over injustices in some of these instances can be seen as siding with the oppressors and examples can be drawn from the Rwandan Genocide.

 On April 6, 1994, when Rwandans started brutal killings of each other; the world stood idly by and watched the slaughtering. Lasting over 100 days (3 ½ months), the Rwanda genocide left approximately 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead.  Mr. Mandela, though he had power and influence as an African statesman did not do enough to either prevent or stop this genocide in Rwanda at the time. Mr. Mandela’s silence and lack of actions were similar to that of his trusted friends Mr. Bill Clinton at that time President of the USA, Mr. Tony Blair at that time Prime Minister of the UK and Mr. Koffi Annan at that time United Nations General Secretary. Although these four leaders have accepted guilt over the Rwandan genocide for their lack of actions during the genocide they have in compensation set a goal to support and maintain their groomed friend, Paul Kagame President of Rwanda, in power in spite of the high human cost he has been involved in throughout the whole the Great Lakes Region of Africa.    
The other indisputable truth about Mr. Mandela’s silence can be drawn from my homeland, the Democratic republic of Congo (DRC).

Since 1998 to date, the DRC has been devastated by war sometimes referred to as the "African world war" killing between 5.4 and 8 million people, with over 2, 5 million internally displaced, 2 million forced to cross the boarders as refugees, thousands of children coerced by fighting militia groups and 48 women raped every hour at least for the reported cases. The war in Democratic Republic of Congo is also known as the world's deadliest since the World War II.  
While some people may argue that Mr. Mandela was not vocal on the Rwandan genocide and did not take actions to either prevent or end it, because he was newly in power then and he had to be cautious; the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was completely different.

The war crimes, the genocide and the multiple invasions of Democratic Republic of Congo as documented by numerous reports including those by the United Nations have all taken place with Mr. Mandela very well positioned to intervene and make a lasting legacy for the poor Congolese people.

Considering that Mr. Mandela left presidency in 1999, with his profile and respect among nations at a height; more than anybody else on earth Mr. Mandela had nothing to lose and indeed had a moral responsibility to defend peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Given the magnitude of atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo it will be very hard to argue that Mr. Mandela knew about injustice in Palestine and not the injustice and genocide that was going on in my country the Democratic Republic of Congo. His silence therefore in the face of the Democratic Republic of Congo situation was all the more baffling and at odds with his global stance and profile. It was also all the more striking when we as Congolese remember contributions Mobutu and the Congolese in general had made towards the ANC’s fight against apartheid long before it became fashionable to be identified with the cause. I remember president Mobutu’s speech of 1973 at the United Nations General Assembly being the first of its kind in exposing and condemning the apartheid regime of South Africa. In that same speech Mobutu condemned and broke diplomatic relations with Israel for allowing a state visit to Israel by the foreign affairs minister of South Africa Dr. Pieter Mulder.   

I may confidently assert that Mr. Mandela’s silence and failures to speak up against the proxy wars, invasions, mass killings and genocide that were perpetrated against Congolese has significantly contributed to my peoples suffering in the Democratic Republic of Congo and has led most Congolese to view him as having identified, joined and stood with our oppressors against us.

Being from the Greats Lakes Region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo in particular and being involved in many struggles to free my nation; while Mr. Mandela presents to me a challenge to forgive and reconcile communities, I can also say that Mr. Mandela had his failures and weaknesses and like many leaders, his mistakes came at a greater cost to some poor people and nations. The story of his legacy therefore cannot simply be narrated in a one sided reality that is “Black and white”.

I can empathize with the people of South Africa in their recognition of Mr. Mandela as their hero and share in their moment of grief for his passing on and I certainly respect and adore his courage to free his nation, but as a Congolese of conscience I would struggle to see him in quite the same way as my hero or the father of African liberty like he is being portrayed to be by western nations and media.

Finally, I believe Mandela’s role in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s conflicts is relevant to us as Canadians in view of our material and resource contributions towards maintaining MONUSCO, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, our stance for global peace and even more importantly our extensive corporate investments in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I believe it behooves all Canadians to be well informed and maintain a balanced view of issues affecting my country the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

About the Author:

Freddy Wangabo MweneNgabo is a renowned human rights activist from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) currently living in exile in Canada since 2009. Before coming to Canada he has been jailed several times in the DRC because of his work for human rights.

Last year, in Canada, he observed a 48-days hunger strike to influence the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper to either boycott or take a leadership role through the 2012 Francophone Summit in Kinshasa if the government there cannot conduct its business by respecting democratic principles and stopping atrocities against civilians.  

With regard to the above article, Freddy Wangabo MweneNgabo particularly finds it striking how Mandela’s story is knowingly being written as a fiction to make one universal truth. 

Although Mr. Freddy Wangabo MweneNgabo regards Mr. Mandela as a true South African freedom fighter and a true peace maker, at the same time, he is aware of Mandela’s failures and weaknesses including some of his deliberate political omissions and unusual silence over injustices, wars and genocide in other parts of the world.

Should you have any question, concern or would like to discuss this article with him, please feel free to contact him at

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At July 1, 2016 at 2:13 PM , Blogger busking trail said...

Mandala was a controversial figure. This is something the average Westerner doesn't know. Mandela was alivated to some cult status - like Che Guevara. The kids who wear his face on t-shirts don't care who he realy was etc.


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