The ‘Great Leader’ Mandela

by Karin Roodt

This week South Africa, and seemingly the entire planet, celebrated Nelson Mandela’s birthday.  Around Mandela a personality cult has been built that exceeds that of a Stalin, a Mao, a Kim Jong Il and a Hitler. In a global survey it was found that Mandela was a more famous brand than Coca-Cola.

The Soviet author A.O. Avdienko wrote the following:

“Thank you, Stalin. Thank you because I am joyful. Thank you because I am well. No matter how old I become, I shall never forget how we received Stalin two days ago. centuries will pass, and the generations still to come will regard us as the happiest of mortals, as the most fortunate of men, because we lived in the century of centuries, because we were privileged to see Stalin, our inspired leader. Yes, and we regard ourselves as the happiest of mortals because we are the
contemporaries of a man who never had an equal in world history.

“The men of all ages will call on thy name, which is strong, beautiful, wise and marvelous. Thy name is engraven on every factory, every machine, every place on the earth, and in the hearts of all men.

“Every time I have found myself in his presence I have been subjugated by his strength, his charm, his grandeur. I have experienced a great desire to sing, to cry out, to shout with joy and happiness. And now see me–me!–on the same platform where the Great Stalin stood a year ago. In what country, in what part of the world could such a thing happen.

“I write books. I am an author. All thanks to thee, O great educator, Stalin. I love a young woman with a renewed love and shall perpetuate myself in my children–all thanks to thee, great educator, Stalin. I shall be eternally happy and joyous, all thanks to thee, great educator, Stalin. Everything belongs to thee, chief of our great country. And when the woman I love presents me with a child the first word it shall utter will be : Stalin.”

The consecration of Stalin as a kind of divine human, was supposed to overcome the ethnic and geographic divisions within the Soviet Union. The entire exercise was seen as necessary, as building unity and consensus in those days perhaps posed the biggest challenge to the Soviet government.

The end result was a cult of the “Great Leader”, a deliberate project to focus dedication and loyalty on the omnipotent leader, whose persona had to show the way in creating the ideal socialist man or woman out of the diverse ethnic groups that found themselves within the same territory.

The parallels with South Africa are obvious: a country of eleven official languages, tribes, races and religions grappling with the oft-repeated governmental wish of “nation building”.

Stalin was not the only “Big Leader” in history. Hitler and Mao were two other well-known examples of successful personalities that attained cult status, incarnating immense power. The tentacles and violations that resulted from such power, are also known today, unfortunately.

Political analysts believe that China’s present success is partially due to the dismantling or deconstruction of the Maoist personality cult which led to the Cultural Revolution.

In April 2003 a train in North Korea caught fire, with the fire spreading to nearby buildings. Several people died because they had tried to rescue portraits of their “Great Leader”, Kim Jong Il, from the flames. A few dubious pictures of the puffy dictator were saved while people, not photos, were consumed by the fire.

The familiar soap opera of the “Great Leader” greets every North Korean opening his daily newspaper over breakfast. If he is having breakfast at all, that is. For North Korean communism causes food shortages, like elsewhere.

To those who believe in slavery and the subjugation of people, cults of personality may make perfect sense. To the propagandists creating and maintaining such cults, so much more so. It is sometimes amusing to contemplate their ridiculousness, if it were not so tragic that people’s souls are stripped of all meaning.

In Togo and Turkmenistan there exists a similar devotion to the “Big Leader”. The Western media like to laugh at such grotesque celebrities, but strangely they do not practise introspection when it comes to their own “Great Leader”, Nelson Mandela.

He is presented as without blemish, without sin, the ideal man, the personification of the only political ideal worth aspiring to; he typically displays all the qualities of the “Great Leader”.

World leaders, the most influential among the influential, fell over each other in the Western media this week to confess their devotion to the Xhosa, to sing the praises of his political ideals and purity.

Worrying, to say the least. Never in history has a personality cult led to anything worthwhile. The smiling “Great Leader” has always brought death and destruction, as well as the worst misery and slavery.

Translated from the Afrikaans by Dan Roodt.