Modern history is replete with success stories of nonviolent activists leading the charge against colonization and or racial segregation in their country. Such icons include household names like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. Through their various heroics, singularized by a striking refusal to resort to violence, they have indeed deservedly reached national and international prominence.
Without, questioning the impact of their action and the potency of nonviolent strategy as a tool for resistance against economic and political exploitation, I argue against the romanticization, epicization or basic glamorization in the portrayals of freedom fighters labeled « peaceful » such as former South African president Nelson Mandela in media, documentaries, historical accounts and the public sphere in general.
Indeed, Mandela has seen whole portions of his personal history discreetly fall into oblivion. The public knows the smiling elderly man, beaming with unconditional love, but do they know Mandela the tough lawyer, the boxer and the military trained terrorist together with the complicated ways in which, for instance, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) he championed at the end of the apartheid system might have actually been the only alternative to the civil war legal retribution for the perpetrators would very likely have plunged the country into.
As Mandela indicates in his biography, he had become wary of the limits of the use of nonviolence in a so close knit and overpowering system of domination and exploitation such as South Africa’s that he decided to explore other means of action including the use of explosives in actions of sabotage. Mandela, hence became an active member of the military wing of the ANC Umkhonto we Sizwe, which means the “Spear of the Nation”. He underwent military training outside the country but his career in sabotage and terrorism was cut short by his arrest and trial.
Such important facts, even though they do not stick to the image generally projected, must never be obliterated for the sake of producing the conventional and stereotypical biographical narrative of the freedom fighter.