CPA Remembers



Raymond T. Smith Eulogy

By Anthony Smith

My father, Raymond Smith, who died October 1st in Santa Cruz, California, was a major figure in post-war social anthropology. His work, and his life, focused on kinship in the Caribbean and the US. His gift and his good fortune was to be a friend and supporter of the first generation of West Indian scholars to reach maturity as independence became a reality. Our family friends in Jamaica included Derek Gordon, Donald Robotham, Eddie Braithwaite, George Beckford, Pat Anderson, Herman and Hermione MacKenzie, Roy Augier, Lloyd Best, Elsa Goveia, MG Smith and Lloyd Braithwaite. Together they put the social sciences on the map at the University of the West Indies in the 1960s.

Along with a seemingly endless capacity for hard work, serendipity played a part in getting our father into that group. The eldest of three brothers and the son of a police detective, Raymond was the first in his family to go to university. As an RAF cadet in Oldham preparing to enter the world of electrical engineering that would have been a promising career for him, an officer put him up for a Cambridge University scholarship, which he duly won. Social Anthropology was a spur of the moment choice on arrival but, having interrupted his studies to join the RAF, it led to him being assigned at the end of the war to a team charged with finding the wreckage of crashed RAF aircraft in Germany, France and Belgium, since it was assumed that he would be qualified to use forensic anthropological skills, of which he actually possessed none, to identify the remains of the aircrews.

He returned to his studies in Cambridge and continued flying with the Cambridge Air Squadron until 1952 when he resigned his commission as a Flight Lieutenant. Meyer Fortes, Talcott Parsons, Jack Goody and Colin Rosser were the colleagues from that period that he mentioned most. The major turning point in his life was his field work in British Guiana – it was there that he met Flora, who became his wife of 61 years, and began his long engagement with the politics and sociology of a region shaped by the legacy of hundreds of years of colonial culture and behaviours. One of his earliest books, British Guiana, was written for the foreign policy think tank, Chatham House, and combined an account of the country’s social history with an analysis of its racial politics, which are depressingly familiar 60 years later. He counted both Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham as friends in the early 1950s in the period before they became political enemies.

The bulk of Raymond Smith’s work followed this pattern of using his field work as a window into contemporary politics. As he put it, “The anthropological study of kinship has always been a direct path to the understanding of political issues….Kinship is the anchor of racial and class differences.” Following periods at the University of California (Berkeley), the University of Ghana and McGill University, Raymond was appointed to the University of Chicago. Building on research there, he argued that debates over welfare policy in the US in the 1980s mixed pre-Victorian beliefs that public assistance to the poor encouraged dependence and immorality with a deep racism that was immune to evidence that such assistance could be effective. Similar assumptions applied to the structure of individual families. His view was that the non-standard pattern in many Caribbean and African American families was not a dysfunctional distortion but a viable system in its own right.

Raymond might have felt even more deeply about a second line of argument that he made, namely that race and ethnicity were not the natural fault line that they had become in many societies. Certainly in his personal life and friendships, distinctions on the basis of race or ethnicity did not exist but he was deeply conscious of the extent to which race and ethnicity are a key issue in the politics of countries around the world. The Caribbean, made up almost entirely of immigrants, was a fascinating subject, but the impact of more visceral ethnic conflicts in the Balkans, many African countries, Sri Lanka and indeed in the United States were never far from his mind.

Although always a private man, the friendship of colleagues was important to him throughout his life. At the University of Chicago, David Schneider, Marshall Sahlins, Manning Nash, Barney Cohn, John and Jean Comaroff, George Stocking and Rolph Trouillot and many more, were at the forefront of social anthropology in the US and he loved being part of that institution. Among his students was Doreen Gordon, the daughter of Derek, who had died tragically young. During his long Chairmanship of the department its international reputation was consolidated and it moved to its present site. And along with his friend and colleague Ray Fogelson, Raymond was an early patron of Chicago’s nascent craft beer movement. Raymond was generous in his contributions to good causes and political campaigns, and donated his Caribbean papers to the University of Florida.

After his retirement from the University of Chicago, Raymond and Flora moved to California and, in recent years, his devoted care of Flora was his main focus. He is survived by Flora, his children Fenela (his daughter with his first wife (Madeleine Giles), Colin and Anthony, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Raymond T Smith, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, born Oldham 12 January 1925 and died Santa Cruz California 1 October 2015

Major publications include:

The Negro Family in British Guiana: Family Structure and Social Status in the Villages (with a Foreword by Meyer Fortes).  London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Limited.   Reprinted by Routledge January 1998, ISBN 0415175763.

The Matrifocal Family: Power, Pluralism Politics. Routledge, 1996.

“Race, Class and Gender in the Transition to Freedom,” in F. McGlyn & S. Drescher, eds., The Meaning of Freedom: Economics, Politics and Culture after Slavery. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992, pp. 257-290.

Kinship and Class in the West Indies: A Genealogical Study of Jamaica and Guyana. Cambridge University Press, 1988.

“Kinship and Class in Chicago,” in L. Mullings, ed., Cities of the United States: Studies in Urban Anthropology. Columbia University Press, 1987, pp. 292-313.

“Hierarchy and the Dual Marriage System in West Indian Society,” in J. Collier & S.J. Yanagisako, eds., Gender and Kinship: Essays Toward a United Analysis. Stanford University Press, 1987, pp. 163-196.

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The (R)evolutionary Vision and Contagious Optimism of Grace Lee Boggs
Barbara Ransby
Portside


Grace Lee Boggs died yesterday at the age of 100 and the world is better for the century that she walked it with us. As a writer, insurgent intellectual, revolutionary organizer, mentor, community builder and friend to many, Grace will be dearly missed.

When I was a teenager in Detroit and a wannabe revolutionary in the 1970s I heard the names Grace and Jimmy Boggs all the time. I knew they were beloved and respected in Detroit's Black activist community, and I just assumed they were both Black. I was surprised to finally meet Grace and discover she was Chinese-American. I had to recalibrate my notions about the Black struggle, "my people" and race itself.

Long after many of Detroit's young black revolutionaries left Detroit and the revolution, Grace stayed. She was so immersed in the life and struggles of Detroit's predominately Black communities that she said her FBI file described her as "probably Afro-Chinese." Alongside her partner in life and politics, former auto-worker and black activist and leader, Jimmy Boggs (who died in 1993), Grace fought the good fight over five decades, writing books, building organizations, organizing campaigns, and teaching by example that "revolution" is a protracted process-not a single event or a spate of protests. She saw the Black struggle as the cutting-edge struggle of her lifetime, intricately linked to many others, and she was humbled to be a part of it.

Grace was also a catalyst for bringing people together. The Boggs Center, which she founded, was a creative space for artists, the young participants in the now-famous "Detroit Summer" projects and various fans and visitors who migrated there to pay their respects to Grace. Those visitors included celebrities and scholars from the late Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, to Danny Glover, historian Robin D.G. Kelley, and Chicago activists Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn.

But there were also lesser-known filmmakers, hip-hop artists, labor organizers, students and politicians that showed up at Grace's door over the decades, drawn by the power of her reputation and her track record for getting things done. Her beloved chosen family in Detroit included her longtime friend and comrade, Shea Howell, whose devotion to Grace was unmatched; Rich Feldman; former Black Panther and organizer, Ron Scott; the activist and artist, Ill; dream hampton; the poet and tireless organizer Tawana Petty and many more surrounded her with so much love and nurturing support that I am sure she never felt alone.

Many people will remember Grace as gentle, kind and generous. She was all those things. But I want her to also be remembered as a rigorous intellectual and a fierce thinker and analyst. She took ideas seriously. She wrote or co-wrote numerous books, articles and position papers; she lectured and talked about complex theories of culture, community and change. She was trained as a philosopher. As a Marxist, she worked alongside the brilliant Trinidadian intellectual C.L.R. James in various Trotskyist organizations before eventually splitting, as so many such groups did and still do, over ideological differences.

Most importantly, she was not a part of an elite intelligentsia. She lived in a modest little house on an even more modest income. She never held a tenured university job. She believed that ordinary people, not academics, had the power to understand their lives and to change the world with that understanding.

Jimmy Boggs was her intellectual hero. She once wrote of her time working with C.L.R. James, "Whether or not you were an intellectual, you felt that when you participated in a demonstration or asked probing questions about life or society, you were helping to create important ideas." This was the root of her radical epistemology, borrowed from Boggs and James and Antonio Gramsci.

During her century of life, love and work, Grace lived what she believed and served as an example and inspiration for many of us. Even when you did not always agree with her, you had to love her. She always had that beautiful smile on her face and you knew that her love for humanity was so strong and deep that it was a generative force for creating change.

She often wore a t-shirt that read "(r)evolution." It suggested that we are all evolving as people as we fight, build and envision revolution. Grace was a visionary and a doer. She could look at a trash-strewn field and imagine a garden. And then, she would work to transform it. She could look at Detroit's broken down buildings and imagine new possibilities.

And she could look at all of us, her friends, comrades and fellow travelers of various stripes, flawed and fragmented, and she could imagine us as a whole. She could meet a scruffy little kid with no skills, no hope and no place to go, and imagine that he or she would become a poet, a revolutionary or brilliant scientist. This was the lens through which Grace saw the world and her optimism was contagious.

In 2010 at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, a gathering of thousands of progressives from around the country, Grace was center stage in a plenary conversation with Immanuel Wallerstein. At 95, she was sharp, lucid and on point. She would often joke and say, "I've lost some of my hearing and a little bit of a lot of other things, but I still have all my marbles." She certainly did.

Grace Lee Boggs made every year and every moment count. The best tribute we can pay to our dear Grace is to "grow our souls," as she once wrote, and keep her optimistic and generous spirit close to our hearts in all the work we do and in all the battles we fight. Barbara Ransby

[Barbara Ransby is a professor of history at the University of Illinois-Chicago, the author of Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision and a founder of the activist group Ella's Daughters.]
 
[Reprinted with permission from In These Times. All rights reserved.]

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Nelson Mandela: In Memoriam



Farewell
By Leiws Gordon
(Spanish translation below) 

I, along with millions, perhaps even billions, lit a candle on the 5th of December 2013 in memory of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Madiba orTata, as he is also affectionately known in the Xhosa language of his Native Land, Azania, known through its colonial and now post-apartheid name, South Africa.

The candlelight has many meanings in many societies. As light, it signifies disclosing a path for his new journey. For the living, it shines upon us a form of continued connection, disclosing to us something on which to reflect. And for the deeply religious, as something that must be left to its own course, it reminds us, as in the Mourner’s Kaddish of Judaism, that all is ultimately left in G-d’s hands.

Mandela appropriately died as he had lived. His life was a paradox of peace and violence, fighting hate through courage and love. He died in a healthy way, facing illness with characteristic courage with the unusual status of a former executive official of an African country whose moral stature has made him a perpetual leader. While facing violence and suffering throughout his life, he died in what is the right metaphor for what he cultivated: peace.

There will be many adjectives mentioned to offer a glimpse of what this great man represented. Perhaps no two will exceed those of courage and dignity.

His 27 years as a political prisoner on the infamous Robben Island could have been avoided if he had not insisted on an unconditional release. His stature, the struggle he embodied, and the rallying cry of his mission, stood as a reminder to those who look at Africans and, in bad faith, attempt to think otherwise: the forces of colonialism, misanthropy, and racism were always wrong, as they continue to be. Mandela stood up and dared declare, “We are human beings.”

Many refused to listen, but the tides of history were against apartheid, the system of segregation created by the South African independent government from 1948 till 1994, a set of institutions, we should remember, modeled after the United States. The struggle took many forms, ranging from civil protest, insurrection, and an eventual economic stratagem of divestment that crippled the economy of that racist regime. But it also brought the world together across generations, as youth in London, England, joined in through the power of music with the 1984 hit single, simply formulated, “Free Nelson Mandela,” written by Jerry Dammers and performed by The Special A.K.A. It became an anthem of the anti-apartheid struggle, and it offered, in the end, what many people continue to want behind most struggles of liberation: a Messiah.

The anti-apartheid struggle had many fallen revolutionaries such as Steven Bantu Biko (the leading theoretician of Black Consciousness) and Chris Hani (leader of the South African Communist Party). The former was murdered in 1977; the latter, in 1993. There is much that unfolded from 1994, when Mandela became president, of which Biko and Hani would not have approved. Mandela has now joined them as an ancestor, but his place in historical memory brings an additional word to focus, one more palatable to the political world that transpired under his watch, and is perhaps a dangerous pitfall of paradox, as we see in one such as Barack Obama, who perhaps could not have been but for Mandela’s precedence: Moral leadership.

Yes, South Africa was an imitation of the United States, and then the child became the father as the U.S. recently echoed South Africa in Obama’s presidential elections, for no issue addresses the moral failings of both countries more than their racist past and present. And there, also, is the irony: saving these countries required the embodiment of their greatest fear—namely, black representation. Yet, such a figure could not emerge as black representation, which meant an additional paradox, as we see in today’s South Africa and United States: Messiahs are by definition exceptions, not rules. The prizes alone could not be the model of an everyday man or woman:

Nobel Peace Prize, Bharat Ratna, Time's Person of the Year, Sakharov Prize, Presidential Medal of Freedom, Congressional Gold Medal, Arthur Ashe Courage Award, Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, Gandhi Peace Prize, Philadelphia Liberty Medal, Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding, Lenin Peace Prize, Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal, Nishan-e-Pakistan, Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights, Ambassador of Conscience Award, International Simón Bolívar Prize, United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights, Order of the Nile, World Citizenship Award, U Thant Peace Award, Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize, Isitwalandwe Medal, Indira Gandhi Award for International Justice and Harmony, Freedom of the City of Aberdeen, Bruno Kreisky Award, UNESCO Peace Prize, Carter–Menil Human Rights Prize, Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award, Giuseppe Motta Medal, Ludovic-Trarieux International Human Rights Prize, J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding, W E B DuBois International Medal, Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation, Harvard Business School Statesman of the Year Award.

Obama’s list isn’t very different, and it includes mountains that now bear his name.

But again, the exception is by definition not the rule. One could love Mandela and Obama, while continuing to hate black people. While the symbolic life of the highest offices has changed, the mundane life of most people of all races remains the same.

One of the travesties of the assault on humanity that marked the modern world is that the most moral of men could oversee the cruelest of regimes. Yet, we would be remiss to insist on the ridiculous. Should these great men therefore have tried to be immoral ones? What could we say about a world that has made being ethical, which is even greater than moral, a more certain way of seeming like a fool? Moral people aren’t always ethical ones. The former follow the rules; they always try to do what’s right. But ethical people at times appear immoral. They are often courageous people who suffer much from a world that may smite them down for their obvious imperfection, marked by courage, of breaking rules.

The world wants Messiahs. But G-d keeps sending us human beings. We are fortunate, however, that some of them turn out to be a little more than even they had imagined.

I’ve written much on Frantz Fanon, the famed revolutionary psychiatrist and philosopher of liberation who died on the 6th of December 1961. Mandela was 7 years his senior and surpassed him a day short of 42 years.  Fanon faced violence but died of pneumonia due to complications from leukemia. Although seemingly random, it’s odd that these two great men died from what comes down to infections of their lungs. Our lungs, however, enable us to breathe, and mythic consciousness reminds us of the breath of life. The deeds of these great men were like the breath of life into the nations for which they fought. And as they, too, have passed away, their children and nation face the scary reminder: no one lives forever.

Mandela’s wisdom was to serve one term as President of South Africa.  The political philosophical reason was classically Fanonian: Aware of the Moses problem, where those who lead the way to the Promised Land are also those most capable of endangering it, he decided to set by example an alternative path from what happened in many other postcolonial states, where after getting rid of the colonizers, the liberators became the biggest obstacles to genuine freedom.

Yet, I think this great man also had an additional consideration in mind. Mandela understood that he was an idea. Whatever he was in the flesh, what he stood for in the imagination was so much more. While inspirational, this was also dangerous because political life requires possibility. If the bar is set too high, there is nothing others could possibly achieve. What higher standard could there be than becoming a god?

Mandela’s decision to serve one term was, like much of his life, also a paradox. By stepping to the side, by leaving room for others, he ironically set an even higher standard: humility, whose love is forbearance, and democratic faith. He set a standard of human possibility.

So, as I watch the flame flicker and eventually die out, I say, in appreciation shared by so many:

Thank you, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, for in your deeds inspiring so many of us to aim so high while at the same time reminding us that you were above all a human being, with so many of the limitations that embodies, which makes hope, love, and possibility so precious.

Farewell, Madiba. Farewell.

Adiós
Por Lewis Gordon
(Traducción del documento anterior "Farewell" por Alejandro de Oto)

Junto con millones, quizá miles de millones, enciendo una vela el cinco de diciembre de 2013 en memoria de  Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, 
Madiba o Tata, como cariñosamente se lo nombra en la lengua Xhosa de su tierra natal, Azania, conocida ahora a través de su nombre colonial y del postapartheid, Sudáfrica.

La luz de la vela tiene muchos significados en distintas sociedades. En tanto luz, ella significa revelar un sendero para el nuevo viaje. Para los vivos, brilla sobre nosotros una forma de conexión continua, revelándonos algo en lo que reflejarnos. Y para los profundamente religiosos, como algo que debe dejarse a su propio curso, nos recuerda, como en la oración del luto del Judaísmo, el Kaddish, que todo queda en última instancia en manos de Dios.

Mandela apropiadamente murió como vivió. Su vida fue una paradoja de paz y violencia, luchando contra el odio por medio del coraje y el amor. El murió de un modo saludable, enfrentando la enfermedad con el coraje característico y con el estatus inusual de ser un ex funcionario de un país africano cuya estatura moral lo convirtió en un líder perpetuo. A la par que enfrentó la violencia y el sufrimiento durante toda su vida, murió de la forma que lo señala la metáfora de aquello que cultivó: en paz.

Podrá haber muchos adjetivos para dar una visión de lo que este gran hombre representó. Quizá no haya sino dos tan precisos como coraje y dignidad.

Sus 27 años de prisionero político en la infame Robben Island podrían haberse evitado si no hubiera insistido en una liberación incondicional. Su estatura, la lucha que corporizó, y el grito de guerra de su misión, se levantó como recordatorio frente a aquellos que ven a los africanos y, con mala fe, intentan pensar de otro modo: las fuerzas del colonialismo, la misantropía y el racismo siempre estuvieron equivocados y continúan estándolo. Mandela se puso de pie y se atrevió a declarar: "Somos seres humanos."

Muchos rehusaron escucharlo, pero las mareas de la historia fueron contra el apartheid, el sistema de segregación creado por el gobierno independiente de Sudáfrica que estuvo vigente desde 1948 hasta 1994, un conjunto de instituciones, deberíamos recordar, modeladas tras los Estados Unidos. La lucha tomó muchas formas, desde la protesta civil, la insurrección y un eventual estratagema económica de desinversión que paralizó la economía del régimen racista.  Pero eso también juntó a todo el mundo y sumó la experiencia de varias generaciones, como la juventud en Londres, donde se unió el poder de la música,  con el sencillo de 1984  "Free Nelson Mandela", escrita por Jerry Dammers e interpretada por The Special AKA. La canción se convirtió en un himno de la lucha contra el apartheid y ofreció, al final, lo que muchas personas siguen queriendo detrás de la mayoría de las luchas de liberación: un Mesías.

La lucha contra el apartheid tuvo muchos revolucionarios caídos como Steven Bantu Biko (el principal teórico de la Conciencia Negra) y Chris Hani (líder del Partido Comunista de Sudáfrica). El primero fue asesinado en 1977 y el segundo en 1993. Pasaron muchas cosas a partir de 1994, cuando Mandela se convirtió en presidente, muchas de los cuales ni Biko ni Hani hubieran aprobado. Mandela ahora se les ha unido como un antepasado, pero su lugar en la memoria histórica trae una palabra adicional, una más aceptable para el mundo político que ocurrió bajo su mandato, y es quizás una trampa peligrosa de la paradoja, como lo vemos  en alguien como Barack Obama, que tal vez no hubiera ocurrido sino por el precedente de Mandela: el liderazgo moral.

Sí, Sudáfrica era una imitación de los Estados Unidos, y entonces el niño se convirtió en el padre cuando los EE.UU. se hicieron eco recientemente de África del Sur en las elecciones presidenciales de Obama, sin otro tema que las fallas morales de los dos países más que sus pasados y presentes racistas. Y allí, también, está la ironía: salvar estos países requiere encarnar el más grande los miedos- es decir, la representación negra. Sin embargo, esa figura no podía emerger como representación negra, lo que significó una paradoja adicional, tal como lo vemos hoy en el sur de África y en Estados Unidos: los Mesías son excepciones por definición, no son la regla. Si miramos los premios recibidos por Mandela, ellos ya indican que no podría ser el modelo de un hombre o  de una mujer común:

Premio Nobel de la Paz, Bharat Ratna, Time's Person of the Year, Sakharov Prize, Presidential Medal of Freedom, Congressional Gold Medal, Arthur Ashe Courage Award, Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, Gandhi Peace Prize, Philadelphia Liberty Medal, Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding, Lenin Peace Prize, Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal, Nishan-e-Pakistan, Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights, Ambassador of Conscience Award, Premio Internacional Simón Bolívar, Premio de las Naciones Unidas en el campo de los Derechos Humanos, Order of the Nile, World Citizenship Award, U Thant Peace Award, Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize, Isitwalandwe Medal, Indira Gandhi Award for International Justice and Harmony, Freedom of the City of Aberdeen, Bruno Kreisky Award,
UNESCO Peace Prize, Carter–Menil Human Rights Prize, Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award, Giuseppe Motta Medal, Ludovic-Trarieux International Human Rights Prize, J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding, W E B DuBois International Medal, Premio Príncipe de Asturias por la Cooperación Internacional, Harvard Business School Statesman of the Year Award.

La lista de Obama no es muy diferente e incluye montañas que llevan su nombre. Pero de nuevo, la excepción confirma la regla. Uno podría amar a Mandela y a Obama, mientras continúa odiando a la gente negra. Mientras que la vida simbólica en las altas esferas ha cambiado, la vida mundana de muchas personas de todas las razas permanece igual.

Una de las parodias del asalto a la humanidad que marcó el mundo moderno es que el más moral de los hombres podría supervisar al más cruel de los regímenes.

Sin embargo, seríamos negligentes al insistir en lo ridículo ¿Deberían por lo tanto estos grandes hombres haber tratado de ser inmorales? ¿Qué podríamos decir de un mundo que ha hecho que ser ético, que es incluso mayor que moral, sea la forma más segura de parecer un tonto?

Las personas morales no siempre son éticas. Los primeros siguen las reglas; ellos tratan de hacer siempre lo correcto, pero las personas éticas a veces aparecen como inmorales. Son con frecuencia personas valientes que sufren por un mundo que las puede herir por su obvia imperfección, marcadas por el coraje, el de romper las reglas.

El mundo quiere Mesías. Pero Dios nos envía seres humanos. Somos afortunados, sin embargo, que algunos sean algo más de lo que aún ellos mismos imaginan.

He escrito mucho sobre Frantz Fanon, el famoso psiquiatra y filósofo revolucionario de la liberación que murió el seis de diciembre de 1961. Mandela era 7 años mayor y lo sobrevivió un corto día de 42 años. Fanon enfrentó la violencia pero murió de neumonía debido a las complicaciones de una leucemia. Aunque aparentemente es el azar, es raro que estos dos grandes hombres murieran a causa de infecciones pulmonares. Nuestro pulmones, capaces de respirar,  y la conciencia mítica nos recuerdan el aliento de la vida. Las obras de estos grandes hombres fueron como el aliento de la vida en las naciones en las cuales lucharon. Y como ellos, ellas también desaparecieron; sus hijos y naciones enfrentan ahora un terrible recordatorio: nadie vive para siempre.

La sabiduría de Mandela fue ser una sola vez Presidente de Sudáfrica. La razón filosófica y política fue clásicamente fanoniana: consciente de los problemas de Moisés, donde aquellos que dirigen el rumbo hacia a la tierra prometida son al mismo tiempo los más capaces de ponerla en peligro, Mandela decidió mostrar con el ejemplo una alternativa a lo que había sucedido en otros estados poscoloniales, donde luego de la expulsión de los colonizadores, los liberadores devinieron en el mayor obstáculo para una libertad genuina. Sin embargo, creo que este gran hombre también tenía una consideración adicional en mente. Mandela comprendió que él mismo era una idea. Aunque él estaba en la carne, lo que representaba en la imaginación era mucho más. A la par que resultaba inspirador, esto también era peligroso porque la vida política requiere posibilidad. Si la barra es demasiado alta, ningún otro podría alcanzarla ¿Qué estándar más alto habría que devenir un dios?

La decisión de Mandela de ser sólo una vez presidente, como mucho en su vida, fue una paradoja. Al quedarse en el camino, dejando lugar para otros, irónicamente puso un estándar aún más alto: humildad, cuyo amor es la paciencia y la fe democrática. Estableció así un estándar de la posibilidad humana.

De ese modo, a medida que veo el parpadeo de la llama, y cuando finalmente se apague, digo, en una apreciación compartida por muchos: Gracias, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, porque tus obras inspiran a muchos de nosotros para apuntar alto, mientras que al mismo tiempo nos recuerdan que eras, por encima de todo, un ser humano, con las limitaciones que ello encarna, lo que hace de la esperanza, del amor y la posibilidad algo tan preciosos.

Adiós, Madiba. Adiós.

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En homenaje a Mandela. Con humildad.
Por Alejandro de Oto

En el año 2000 tuve la enorme suerte de estar en Sudáfrica por un tiempo. El viaje fue principalmente por Cape Town y la Provincia del Cabo. Recuerdo que a pocos años del fin del apartheid todo estaba fresco en la memoria. Hablé con cuanta persona pude y en una pequeña libreta anotaba las frases que, imaginé entonces, serían mis registros para el futuro acerca de un tiempo de transición del que era un breve pero privilegiado observador. Dos frases que reflejaban el humor de entonces y una situación me impresionaron. Un joven blanco, en cuyo bed and breakfast me alojaba, cuando le pregunté cómo era vivir en Sudáfrica me respondió: "Es un tiempo difícil, antes fuimos forzados a vivir separados". Recuerdo que imaginé muchas traducciones irónicas de esa frase pero luego entendí que en él era un sentimiento sincero. Una segunda situación ocurrió en la casa de una pareja, blancos ambos, la mujer argentina, que habían adoptado un niño negro. No se trataba de gente atravesada por ninguna posición política progresista por lo que aparecían, constantemente, palabras que se escuchan, por ejemplo, en mesas de clase media argentina, "la ciudad es un desastre, no hay orden, la inseguridad, etc." Sin embargo, ambos estaban profundamente concernidos con la vida de su pequeño hijo para que no perdiera sus vínculos con la cultura y lengua Xhosa (la lengua natal de Mandela), al tiempo que el niño hablaba ya, inglés, español y afrikaans. No pude sino imaginar un futuro espléndido para él. La tercera frase o situación la anoté en ocasión de una charla ocasional de turista en una pizzería en el V&A Waterfront de Cape Town. Allí un joven sudafricano, estudiante del politécnico, de origen malayo, al escuchar mi raro acento detectó que era argentino y como es propio de esas situaciones hablamos durante media hora de Maradona. En un momento le pregunté, ya en confianza, si había blancos pobres en Sudáfrica y me respondió con un tono irónico que es propio de los supervivientes: "si los hay deben ser estúpidos". En ese viaje, además de ir a la universidad, visité los lugares indicados por las guías de turismo. De todos los sitios el que más profundo impacto me produjo fue Robben Island. 

Escuché durante toda mi vida a argentinos alabar el orden del apartheid sin ningún tapujo. Cuando vi la prisión terrible, con su estética de campo de concentración nazi y con vista a la hermosa Cape Town, comprendí un poco más de cuán perverso puede ser un régimen. Coincidió mi viaje a la isla, en un ferry, con Ahmed Kathrada, compañero de militancia de Mandela. Una frase sobre la estupidez y la pequeñez de mente del apartheid escrita por él se vende en un poster en el V&A Waterfront (aún lo conservo en mi oficina). La Sudáfrica de ese año, tal como creo lo muestran sutilmente las frases y situaciones que narré antes, se experimentaba en sus calles, era vibrante, llena de energía y todo parecía y merecía ser puesto bajo consideración. Nadie podía distraerse de los procesos de cambio. Recuerdo que cuando me subí al avión en Johannesburg para regresar a Argentina (apenas siete horas de vuelo) no pude contener las emociones que había vivido en esas semanas y le dije a una oficial de aduanas que tenían un gran país, un gran lugar para vivir. Lo dije pensando en las situaciones que narré aquí y en muchas otras que tienen que ver con lo pequeño de la vida, con lo cotidiano, que es donde casi siempre se juega nuestra existencia.

Ocho años después, ya lejos del viaje a Sudáfrica, y con la memoria de aquél tiempo un poco diluida, de este lado del mar, en medio de los Andes, en otro mundo, estaba en Bolivia. Allí, por un efecto que no deja de sorprenderme de los procesos históricos cuando se vuelven capilares, experimenté la misma sensación por segunda vez, justo cuando las fuerzas más oscuras de los poderes fácticos le decían "indio de mierda" a Evo. Ahí comprendí que lo que ayudan a cambiar personas como Mandela es precisamente la vida, en sus ritmos más cotidianos y en sus proyecciones más extensas.

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