Peaceful protest did not end apartheid: it took revolutionaries. And it shouldn’t be difficult to choose between a system of racial supremacy and a person who helped overthrow it
Heroes are curious things. Ours have roots in the ancient Graeco-Roman sense of the concept, which places a premium on military victory. What’s problematic is how many of our heroes embody an inherent level of violence, as is unsurprisingly the case with people whose main accomplishments arise from war. We are tolerant about people who regarded the working classes as an abomination (Wellington), the transatlantic slave trade as a good idea (Nelson) or Indians as repulsive (Churchill), because we think the ends – defeating Napoleon or Hitler – justified the means.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, as the press coverage of her death this week shows, is not entitled to the same rose-tinted eulogy as our white British men. She is “controversial” and a “bully”. One newspaper columnist was boldly willing to abandon his usual restraint in not writing ill of the dead specially for this “odious, toxic individual”.