Niagara Gazette

December 20, 2013

HAMILTON: Obama, Mandela and Martin: icons or ideals?

By Ken Hamilton
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Aside from the relatively few European and Asian dignitaries that assembled for Mandela’s memorial services at the FNB soccer stadium in his traditional Soweto home township in Johannesburg, Africa’s fourth largest and its richest city, where were the white and Asian working class people of the Union of South Africa (the other USA) that should have been there mourning Mandela’s passing?

A great deal of thought ought to be given to the following important and eye-opening observation. It may be of the utmost importance to the future of the USA — both USAs! According to media cameras and my friend, white, and expatriate South African Tracy McLaverty, “... they were not there!”

When I asked McLaverty ‘why not’, he tersely said, “Because, Ken; they were scared to be there. It is still dangerous for them to mix amongst the races.”

McLaverty went on to praise what Mandela had started, and his hopes are that one day it can be brought to perfection.

Now that the icon of a united South Africa has passed away, has the idea of one also gone with him?

Are the people of the Union of South Africa loving the icon of Mandela, but not loving his racial harmony idea?

As most of you know, after a 27-year jail term in the once apartheid-torn country of the Union of South Africa, freedom fighter Mandela was freed and eventually became that nation’s president. One of his iconic ideals was to successfully bring his 80 percent black, 9 percent white, 9 percent mixed-race and 2.5 percent Asian and racially-torn nation together to heal it.

While at the presidential cabinet level, Mandela was somewhat successful; but one has to question his success at so doing among the democratic and diverse society that is supposedly responsible to elect a government that will reflect their goals and values; a government that is looking out for the success, safety and future prosperity of them all.

Maybe the majority of South Africans did partially get it right, but only in that after the iconic and idyllic Mandela left office, they elected a government that seemingly share their apparent goals and values of racial strife, but falls far short of reaching for their success, safety and future prosperity. This was indicated by the crowd during the memorial service where they gave the latest South African President Jacob Zuma some roaring rounds of booing, but will likely reelect a government that will give him a second term.

Ironically, those same black-majority South Africans that jeered Zuma, also cheered the ‘iconic’ black President Barack Obama. They seemingly failed to understand that minority African-Americans in Obama’s own United States of America (our USA) continue to face similar sets of problems that black South Africans face: poverty, crime and poor educational systems — though certainly not to the degree that south Africans face them.

Though our nation’s “ideal” of equality, success, safety and future prosperity is vested in our idyllic Constitution, the ideals of that constitution are seemingly being slowly eroded by a series of iconic presidents, both on the left and right; and to the point that I sometimes worry about America’s future. This worry is due to our predilection for wanting great icons rather than our continuous pursuit of great and sustainable ideals and ideas.

Will the cross-equator USAs one day find themselves in a position of relative equality, where South Africans will move into the direction of Americans, and Americans move into the direction of South Africans, and neither be as successful as either could be?

I hope not, and I hope for the success of both USAs, as does McLaverty. But if significant numbers of the people of both countries continue to simply be satisfied with the existence of great men and women as icons, and fail to embrace the ideas and ideals that such people like Mandela, or even Martin Luther King, held dear, then I worry about the world in which such nations will find themselves.

Don’t you?

Contact Ken Hamilton at

Contact Ken Hamilton at