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Friday, July 11th, 2003

Johannesburg, South Africa

Pygmy in Africa

"Misunderestimating" Mandela

George Bush, President of the United States, has come and gone. He will forever be remembered as the first head of state to visit to South Africa and not meet with Nobel Peace Prize winner, Nelson Mandela, the widely popular former President and hero of the anti-apartheid struggle.

This unprecedented snub is understandable, I suppose: their difference in stature is legendary. What would they have to talk about? Bush is an intellectual pygmy in Mandela's vision, a leader who "cannot think properly."

After 28 years in prison, Nelson Mandela is a free man and he speaks his mind freely. Not surprisingly, the "world's most powerful leader" preferred to meet with sycophants and toadies rather the world's most famous statesman. He was too petty, too puffed up with his own importance, to forgive Mandela — a man widely regarded as the moral conscience of the world — for daring to criticize him for bypassing the United Nations and going to war with Iraq.

It is obvious that Bush's African visit is a diversion, a carpetbagging response to the unfolding political and military quagmire in Iraq. He knows nothing about Africa ("Africa is a nation that suffers from incredible disease") or, for that matter, the rest of the world ("This foreign policy stuff is a little frustrating").

Bush and his ilk have no respect or appreciation for this venerable African statesman: remember how his Vice President, Dick Cheney, voted against a United States resolution calling for the release of Nelson Mandela in 1986?

It is a pity, because they could learn a lot from Mandela: despite all Mandela's genuine achievements, he is humble ("I am [no more than] a loyal and obedient servant of the ANC"), he is tolerant ("Tolerance is forged when people look beyond their own desires"), and he respects everyone ("My prison experience has taught me to respect even the most ordinary people").

Mandela's spirit of forgiveness is widely credited with bringing about a peaceful transition from white to black rule. Without Mandela's personal commitment to reconciliation, his moral authority, integrity, and intense compassion, South Africa's transition to democracy would not have gone so smoothly. Contrast this with George "Bring 'em on!" Bush's belligerent "shoot now, ask questions later" policies in Afghanistan and Iraq...

"One of the most difficult things is not to change society, but to change yourself," says Mandela, echoing Bhagavad Gita [2:47]: "All your energy should be devoted to regulating yourself and not the outside world."

Mandela further notes: "There are qualities in each one of us that form the basis of our spiritual life and we can change ourselves by observing our reactions to the unfolding of life."

We all know what Nelson Mandela stands for: the dignity of all human beings. The only thing Bush has ever stood for is another round of drinks.

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