Human rights activists as well as the legal community consider that supermax confinement constitutes torture under international law and cruel and unusual punishment under the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution mandates humane prisons and the Eighth Amendment prohibits against punishment that is “incompatible with ‘the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society” or “involve the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.”
I remember hearing those words last year when I traveled to Cape Town as part of an internship program. Upon learning that Mandela’s birthday would be occurring during my time here, I shared my excitement with a fellow grassroots activist here. Surely, there will be some sort of cool parade or public event where I can take pictures to send home, I thought, only to have my wide-eyed excitement shot down by these two words. How could he say something like that about Mandela? The Nelson Mandela. As an African-American child of pan-African parents, Mandela was one of the few revolutionaries who managed to outlive prison and assassination attempts in order to witness his beloved country become free for all with the downfall of apartheid. I mean seriously, even the twins Sandra gave birth to on The Cosby Show were named after Nelson Mandela and his wife, Winnie. Nelson Mandela even outlived Michael Jackson. Michael friggin’ Jackson! So how could this activist, who lives in modern-day South Africa and reaps the benefit of all that Nelson Mandela fought for, have the gall to say such vile words about our honorable elder?