Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Meaning of Nelson Mandela for a Just World Order

Nelson Mandela's passing on December 5, 2013 caused me and millions of others to pause and reflect on the meaning of his life for our time. He fought for five decades to dismantle the unjust system of apartheid in his homeland of South Africa. Apartheid meant a black man (or woman) was unable to own property outside certain (low value) designated areas. Africans were not allowed to obtain certain jobs, no matter how qualified. They were forced to carry passbooks giving them permission to merely be present in white areas. Any white person could challenge them to present evidence that they were permitted in the area. They could be detained without charge and deported to so-called "African homelands". Last but not least, they were not allowed to vote or hold public office.

The day Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as President of South Africa was indeed a great day in the history of his country and dismantled at one stroke the legal structure of apartheid. However, the world at large continues to practice similar evils on a far larger scale today. The majority of citizens of  developing nations are not allowed to work or travel in developed nations just like the African residents of Apartheid South Africa's "homelands". The differences in wages between different parts of the world exceed those in Apartheid South Africa. Furthermore, the developed nations dominate the world economy, just as the white apartheid government dominated the economy of the so-called homelands before 1990. While the basis of today's apartheid is not explicitly racial, it is noteworthy that the citizens of developed nations are overwhelmingly white. The mostly non-white citizens of the developing nations are confined to their territories just like the serfs of the Middle Ages were confined to their lords' estates.

A grotesquely unjust system such as today's global order cannot last. While we can disagree about the best path toward a more just world order where everyone has genuinely equal rights, we cannot disagree about the goal: The dismantling of the current system of Global Apartheid and its replacement with a system where every human being throughout enjoys equal rights, the rule of law and roughly equal pay for equal work must be an absolute priority now and in the future.