Human failings

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In the – shall we say – overwhelming response to the death of Nelson Mandela I would highly commend The Scotsman for its piece (7 December) by my old acquaintance, Fred Bridgland, ­reminding us that – in ­Nietzsche’s words – Mandela was “human, all too human”.

On Jura in the 1980s I made the acquaintance of the remarkable John Mercer who had travelled undercover in Mauritania for the Anti-Slavery Society, as it was then called.

His Slavery in Mauritania Today (1982) gave an account of the persistence of chattel slavery in that country.

Later I made friends with a wildlife researcher who had worked in Mauritania and who confirmed what I had read.

A decade of visits (the last one was in 2003) to Mauritania’s neighbour Mali – wonderful, friendly, peaceful Mali, as it was then – again confirmed the dreadful state of human rights there.

The abolition of apartheid was a fine victory; but has it made the bien-pensants of the West neglect other human-rights horrors in Africa – some intractable, but others soluble?

Could this be because, as the contemporary French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut implies in his seminal La Défaite de la pensée (Defeat of the Mind), we are quick to criticise bad behaviour by whites against other peoples, but slow to reproach non-whites for bad behaviour to other non-whites?

From acquaintance with eight sub-Saharan countries over two score years, including living for long periods in several, I would have ranked apartheid South Africa as maybe five or a six on a “nastiness” scale of zero to ten.

So in the enthusiasm over Mandela, let’s not forget the suffering of so many other countries in his continent.

Sinclair C Dunnett

Culduthel Road