Mandela and the power of protest

Last updated 08:03 12/12/2013
john minto

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Rosemary McLeod

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OPINION: Just as the shops are twinkling in red and green and you could choke on all the glitter; when that wretched man in the red jumpsuit is turning up everywhere, looking half-cut; there is Nelson Mandela's funeral.

That may be the closest most people will get to a religious observance at this time of year, when thoughts go out to cash registers and bling, and the reason for the season is long-forgotten. If there are still saints in the world, though, Mandela was one of them.

He didn't have to be fed to lions by the Romans, or tortured in ingenious and ghastly ways by an Inquisition, but 27 years in a South African jail would measure up as a great trial of faith just the same. To emerge from that talking reconciliation rather than revenge takes a rare person, and a better man than many, or for all I know, most white South Africans deserved.

It would be pleasant to think just causes like his will always win through, but it would be good if they didn't take geological time about it. There are also too many examples of nasty world leaders who've died peacefully in their beds to have any faith in such a thought. We were lucky to see one great example in our lifetime, and I think even the most obtuse of us know it. So maybe it's worthwhile to spend a lifetime, as he did, believing in justice, however much evidence he saw to the contrary.

I wish John Minto could have been in the Kiwi team that flew to South Africa for the funeral, if only because he's a believer, and having him tag along would have been a massive act of local reconciliation. But I'd like to think Minto would rather not tag along with politicians whose beliefs are often compromised and who seldom seem capable of any idealism.

Minto may be the rent-a-protester we all recognise, but thank goodness we have irritants like him agitating against injustice, and somehow holding on to the simple belief that the world can be a better place. So when we praise Mandela, as we must, it wouldn't be a bad idea to acknowledge the protest movements constantly at work, rubbing against the grain of public opinion. They may even be right for all we know.

I'm thinking this week of the police raids in Tuhoe country in 2007, which will always be seen as a shameful episode in our national story, tainted with racism. It's a safe bet that we'll never live to see a raid of that kind in wealthy, white Remuera, where inequality of wealth is celebrated. The people there are savvy and can afford sharp lawyers.

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It cost taxpayers an estimated $6 million to finally end up with a handful of alleged breaches of gun laws and not one sustainable charge of terrorism, though that was the main reason why 300 police, armed offenders squad officers and special tactics people terrified a remote Maori community that already had historical grievances against the Crown.

I don't know what Tuhoe activist Tame Iti was up to in the Ureweras, but I expect history will see him, whatever the case, as an agitator whose cause was just. There are still people among us who thought politics and sport didn't mix, and that protesters against the 1981 Springbok Tour were malicious nuisances wanting to spoil others' joy in a bit of footy. Well, they were wrong, and the many New Zealanders who thought otherwise were right, and so it may well turn out to be in a world where it's easier not to bother.

We don't bother, maybe, because it's easier not to feel uncomfortable, or we just plain don't want to be involved. Maybe, too, we don't much like being yelled at through loudhailers by the Mintos of the world, who grab the moral high ground on each and every issue going. I don't love being preached at myself. But it can't hurt, surely, to listen.

- © Fairfax NZ News


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