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University of Nevada Journalism Prof. Emeritus and longtime Sparks Tribune columnist Jake Highton passed away of a heart attack on 7 Aug. 2017. More information as it develops. May the great teacher rest in peace from work well done and a life well-lived.

Mandela’s magnificent struggle
by Jake Highton
Expanded from the 12-19-2013 Sparks Tribune

Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.
President Mandela inaugural address

Nelson Mandela was not a saint. No one is except saints created by the Catholic Church. Nor should Mandela be idolized as many South Africans do.

As a human being he naturally had faults. But he was heroic in the everlasting struggle for freedom. His towering accomplishment: spearheading the battle by the African National Congress against apartheid and ending five decades of brutal repression of the black majority of South Africans.

Apartheid, apartness in Afrikaans, was a system of racial gerrymandering that stripped blacks of citizenship and relegated them to reservation-style “homelands” and townships.

Mandela, who died recently, was so beloved in South Africa that he could have been elected president for life. Yet he willing walked away from power after one five-year term.

He spent 27 years in prison for being a rebel with an enormous cause. Amazingly, he never became embittered, never became anti-white. While in prison he developed his qualities of great conciliator, great compromiser, great listener and great unifier.

He often wore elegant, bright, loose shirts of African cloth. Some called it vanity. But his dress showed immense pride in being a black South African. At the opening of his treason trial in Livonia, he appeared in the courtroom wearing a traditional leopard-skin cape to emphasis that he was an African entering a white man’s domain.

At that trial he spoke for four hours with this peroration: “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all people will live together in harmony and with equal opportunity.”

He admitted he had organized a liberation army and engaged in sabotage. He admitted he was commander of the underground Spear of the Nation. But he said nonviolence was useless against the apartheid regime.

His charm was irresistible even to white guards. He showed his class when his visiting lawyer was introduced to his “guard of honor” of eight men. He called each by name, astonishing the guards.

He invited his white jailer as a VIP guest at his inauguration as president in 1994 and invited his prosecutor at the Livonia trial to lunch--a prosecutor who had been zealous in demanding the death penalty for him.

It took a truly noble soul to honor his jailer and show respect to his prosecutor on such a proud occasion for him and black South Africans.

Prison was like a university for Mandela. There he learned Afrikaans, the language of the dominant whites, and urged fellow inmates to do likewise. There the inmates discussed a range of ideas from Marxism to circumcision. There he honed skills as a leader, negotiator and proselytizer.

He was born Rolihlahla Mandela in 1918. The given name means troublemaker, which turned out to be quite appropriate. While studying law at Fort Hare University, he was expelled in 1940 after taking part in a protest over poor-quality food.

Mandela didn’t work his “miracle” alone. Oliver Tambo, his law firm and ANC partner, was instrumental in the struggle. So was Mandela’s wife, Winnie.
Worldwide drives to divest funds from companies that did business with South Africa helped the cause. By the 1980s most countries had imposed such economic sanctions.

A grassroots effort by Americans and Brits supported those sanctions. But their governments did not. President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, two of Mandela’s major detractors, backed the racist regime.

They called his ANC a terrorist group seeking to overthrow South Africa’s legitimate government. The CIA had its dirty fingers in South Africa, helping police find and jail Mandela.

Mandela, who kept a portrait of Lenin above his desk, joined the South African Communist Party, more out of convenience than commitment. Russia and China were important sources of money. Moreover, he espoused liberation figures like Qaddafi and Arafat.

And, a point that howling American anti-communists forget, the South African communists were the only political group that welcomed blacks, whites, Indians and mixed-race as members. This factor led Mandela to reject the idea of black nationalism, insisting that multi-racialism remain the core of the ANC.

Mandela, familiarly known to South Africans as Madiba, became the “conscience of his nation.” His authority and political shrewdness were exemplary, his life a moral drama.

What Mark Antony asked about Julius Caesar could be asked about Mandela: “When comes such another?”

Jake Highton is an emeritus journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Fliers urged to shun United
by Jake Highton
From the 10-10-2013 Sparks Tribune

The best laid schemes o’ mice and men
Gang aft agley.
— To a Mouse by Robert Burns

Warning to folks flying in and out of Reno: avoid United Airlines.    

This may not be possible since United has a quasi-monopoly on flights to and from Reno. (Reno is one of those smaller cities “you can’t get to from here,” as wags phrase it.) But be on notice: United delays and cancelled flights are constant.

One of my daughters living in Sparks puts it starkly: “We hate United Airlines. They are horrible! We have had such bad experiences with them. Other friends and family have also.”

Another daughter, a flight attendant for 30 years, says: “People dislike United Airlines so much there is a Web site called ‘’ (United.untied).”

My wife’s family and friends have similar dreadful things to say about UA.

Her friend’s husband took the scheduled mid-afternoon Reno flight to San Francisco. It was so late he had to run for his connection with a heavy bag of tools he carries as an engineer and inventor in Hong Kong. He missed the connecting overseas flight.

Subscribers to newspapers usually don’t want to read about personal problems of their columnists. But the problem my wife and I had goes beyond personal woes: United made us miss our connection in San Francisco for an overseas flight to London. It could happen to you.

Our recent debacle produced the longest, most tension-riddled and most frustrating day of my life.

Our United flight from Reno was scheduled to leave at 2:30 p.m. Delay, delay, delay despite sunny skies. One excuse after another.

Then we were told our departure was set for 4:39 p.m. We never left the ground until 5:03 p.m. Nervously, we kept looking at our watches.

Finally arriving in San Francisco, we had 20 minutes to make a mad dash of one mile from the domestic terminal to the international terminal—with two security checks. We did not make it. UA failed to ask the overseas plane to wait briefly for our arrival as an attendant promised she would.

The overseas plane was booked solid for the next night. Our vacation was shattered.

I’ll skip details of the rest of the nightmare: hours getting to a hotel, finding the dining room closed when we got there. Then we learned that my wife’s luggage was missing. We lost irretrievable rent money paid in advance and a second fee to change British pounds back to dollars.

We vowed never to fly United Airlines again.

Obit tells truth

De mortuis nil nisi bonum ("speak no ill of the dead") is a Latin expression that is invariably observed in local newspaper obituaries. But this decorum was shattered by a paid obit recently in the Reno Gazette-Journal: a family advertisement applauded the death of the family’s mother.

To my knowledge this is unprecedented. People may dislike or even hate one or both of their parents but they do not go public with such feelings.

Indeed, the usual obit paid for by the family is cloying, full of sentiments picturing the beloved deceased now sleeping “on Abraham’s bosom” (Shakespeare) or maybe “walking with Jesus in heaven.” But the RGJ obit was scalding in its denunciation.


• “She neglected and abused us when we were small.”
• “As adults she stalked and hounded anyone we dared love.”
• “Everyone she met, adult or child, felt her cruelty, vulgarity and hatred of the gentle and kind human spirit.”
• “She exposed us to her evil and violent life.”

So the obit writer justly celebrated her death: “We will now live in peace knowing that the nightmare has finally ended. Abusing children is unforgiveable and should not be tolerated in a humane society.”

In conclusion, the obit called for “a national movement dedicated to war against child abuse.”

A letter writer to the RGJ observed: “Whoever complained and thought it an awful obituary has never been abused.”

Another letter said: “The agreeable response to her death notice is admirable. It is right to highlight the evil that some parents commit. I commend the bravery in writing the truth.”

The real America

In yet another shooting rampage, this one recently in the Navy yard in Washington, D.C., a berserk Navy veteran killed 13 and wounded seven others.

Dr. Janis Orlowski, chief operating officer of MedStar Hospital Center, while deploring the multiple shootings, claimed that “this is not really America.”

But it is.

The U.S. gun culture is so deeply rooted that society will not tolerate the mildest control of and access to weapons.

Jake Highton is a longtime journalism professor and professor emeritus of journalism at the University of Nevada-Reno. He is the author of Nevada Newspaper Days — A History of Journalism in the Silver State (Heritage West Books, 1990) and of numerous books republishing his commentaries from various venues.

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