Tom Zirpoli: Hostility toward Mandela misplaced

It is difficult to imagine that some people are not able to see the accomplishments of Nelson Mandela, a man who brought democracy to South Africa and the end to apartheid, a system of government where a minority of white people ruled over a majority of black South African citizens.
Not surprisingly, the critics come mostly from the right wing of the Republican Party, some who continued to view Mandela as a terrorist. But if Mandela is a terrorist, then so are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and dozens of our founding fathers who fought against oppression and for our freedom.
Mandela is called the Father of South Africa because he was the first freely elected president of South Africa. He served from 1994 to 1999 and did not seek a second term. Mandela is not famous for what he did as South Africa's president, but for what he did during 27 years of imprisonment fighting for majority rights against a white-only government.
Mandela was a freedom fighter. He fought for majority rights, for democracy and for equal rights for all.
He waged his fight as a member of the African National Congress, an organization considered by many at one time, including our own government, a terrorist organization.
One person's freedom fighter is another person's terrorist.
There are also those who are just so racist that they can't bring themselves to honor a black man. South Carolina Sheriff Rick Clark, for example, refused a presidential order that the American flag be flown at half-staff in honor of Mandela. Clark, a member of the South Carolina tea party, posted on Facebook that he would refuse to honor the request because Mandela "was not an American."
Of course, President Barack Obama is not the first American president to order flags at half-staff to honor a non-American. President Ronald Reagan did for Anwar Sadat, president of Egypt (and a Muslim); President George W. Bush did for Pope John Paul II; President Bill Clinton did for Yitzhak Rabin, prime minister of Israel, and for King Hussein of Jordan. The list goes on. Clark, obviously, is ignorant of American history and the traditions of flying the American flag at half-staff.
Not all conservative Republicans are blind to Mandela's accomplishments. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich wrote on his Facebook page: "President Nelson Mandela was one of the greatest leaders of our lifetime. When he visited the Congress I was deeply impressed with the charisma and the calmness with which he could dominate a room. It was as if the rest of us grew smaller and he grew stronger and more dominant the longer the meeting continued."
The right-wingers of the Republican Party went crazy after Gingrich issued his statement. In response, Gingrich wrote, "I was surprised by the hostility and vehemence of some of the people who reacted to me saying a kind word about a unique historic figure. So let me say to those conservatives who don't want to honor Nelson Mandela, what would you have done?"
By the way, Reagan, who coined the term "freedom fighter," did not stand for freedom and liberty for the people of South Africa. Reagan vetoed an attempt by Congress to voice their opposition to South African's apartheid. But Congress, with a Republican majority, overturned Reagan's veto and moved to sanction the white-only South African government. Thirty-one brave Senate Republicans joined all 47 Democrats in the Senate to overturn Reagan's veto. Twenty-one Republican Senators voted to uphold Reagan's veto and, thus, against sanctions.
In the end, it was these sanctions that led to Mandela's freedom and, finally, true democracy for the people of South Africa.
Mandela didn't just talk about freedom; he sacrificed 27 years of his life so that others could be free.