In doing this whole hero thing I regularly find myself frustrated by misuses of the word. I’d love to be able to narrow the usage of the word. It would be a nice result of the work to reduce (or eliminate) sports reporters’ claims that the player who scored the winning goal is a hero. If that happened, I could die happily, knowing I’d made a positive change on the world.
But I’d be even happier if I could prevent people using the word to describe someone like Robert Mugabe.
Mugabe is the president of Zimbabwe, having essentially elected himself in elections since 1980. This year he was defeated despite his intimidation tactics and blatant rigging. He refused to accept that and killed scores of people before demanding a run-off election. He won because he was the only candidate on the ballot.
While in power he has overseen the flooding of his economy with currency that has resulted in 100,000% annual inflation, violently cracked down on homosexuality, gave white farms to African war veterans who often tortured and killed the farmers, and ordered the massacre of 20,000 of his opponents of Ndebele descent.
The reason Mugabe is able to continue this kind of behaviour is that he was an important figure in overthrowing white colonialism in Zimbabwe. Rhodesia no longer exists in part because of the actions of Mugabe. CNN points out that this role, over 25 years ago, is a large reason that African leaders support (through words or inaction) this reign of terror. He is considered a hero. The Monitor Online from Uganda shows this attitude well. They see it as a West versus Africa issue and that Mugabe is only considered a villain by the whites who used to own the land. There’s no mention of massacres, bigotry, or violence against those who oppose him. The Monitor also leads us to the second hero of this post by comparing Mugabe’s pro-African efforts to those of another man who fought against colonialism.
Nelson Mandela is labeled the world’s most revered political leader by the Guardian newspaper. He fought against oppression by risking his life for the people he represented and then forgave his oppressors when they released him from imprisonment. While he began his political life with non-violence, over a decade without success led him to use violent protest. That is one of many contradictions in the man – an African through and through, but a scholar of Western society and celebrity. But we forgive imperfections in our heroes. It can make them more real, more easily understood.
This past week, Mandela was removed from the U.S. terror watch list. It means he is able to enter the United States freely. When Mandela was fighting for equal rights in South Africa, he was considered a communist terrorist by the Reagan administration who supported the nation due to their pro-Western attitude. One might ask why it took so long for this to occur, but this post is already getting too long.
Mandela took personal risks to improve the lives of those around him. He showed courage with caring, achievement with humility, perseverance with tolerance. These are simply not attributes evident in Robert Mugabe and thus descriptions of him as a hero or comparisons to Mandela are simply laughable. If only they were simply funny.