Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, 1918-2013

11 Dec

Introduction by Roger Annis

(Reprinted from A Socialist In Canada)

Nelson Mandela upon his release from prison, Feb 11, 1990, with then-wife Winnie

Dec 10, 2013–Today is the day of mass commemoration in South Africa of Nelson Mandela, a great, inspirational figure of modern times. He died on December 5 at the age of 95. Below is a selection of articles that analyzes his life and the evolution of politics in South Africa during and after his tenure as president of the country.

Mandela was the revolutionary leader of the mass struggle against the racist system in South Africa known as Apartheid. He served 27 years in prison for leading the struggle against Apartheid, including co-launching an armed struggle in 1961. He was arrested in 1962 and imprisoned until an international campaign of solidarity won his release in 1990. He was elected president of South Africa in 1994. He retired from politics in 1999 but continued to speak out on issues. He opposed the U.S. war on Iraq in 2003 and spoke out in defense of the victims of Africa’s deadly epidemic of HIV/AIDS.

Most of the big capitalist governments of the world supported the Apartheid system that came into place in the early 1900s and was further institutionalized in 1948. Leaders of those governments are today attending the memorial event in Johannesburg, including the drone president of the United States, Barack Obama. Mandela and the ANC political party he led were proscribed as “terrorist” by the U.S. government during the presidency of Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s. That proscription remained in place until 2008, including during the terms of two Black secretaries of state–Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice.

One of the world leaders attending and speaking today in Johannesburg is Raul Castro, president of Cuba. His country played a decisive role in the overthrow of Apartheid through its military assistance to Angola and Namibia during the 1970s and 1980s. The three countries defeated a military invasion by Apartheid South Africa’s armed forces beginning in 1976 that sought to recolonize Angola, recently liberated from colonial rule by Portugal, and retain Namibia as a South African colony. In recognition of Cuba’s role in bringing about the fall of Apartheid, Cuba was the first country that Mandela visited following his release from prison.

Five other world leaders are speaking today at the mass memorial–from the United States, Brazil, India, China and Namibia.

The article selection below begins with the full text of a commentary by John Minto, published today in New Zealand’s leading daily. Minto is a veteran of the anti-Apartheid movement in New Zealand. That country was a key battleground in one of the fronts of the international fight against Apartheid–boycotts of sporting exchanges. Progressive New Zealanders fought for a boycott of all rugby, cricket and other exchanges with Apartheid South Africa. Protests, including pitched battles in the streets, were waged in New Zealand beginning in 1969, as in many other countries where people supported the liberation movement of the South African people.

* * *

A great man but not a great president –
We should celebrate Mandela’s struggle against apartheid but not overlook the serious failings of his reign.

By John Minto, published in the New Zealand Herald, Dec 10, 2013

When an iconic figure dies, the accolades come thick and fast from a wide range of people who see the wider goodness in a person beyond any day to day political squabbles.

In the case of Nelson Mandela, the accolades are strong for someone seen as a towering figure of the 20th century. United States President Barack Obama, for example, called him “influential, courageous and profoundly good” and it’s easy to make a case to justify each of those adjectives and more.

Mandela was a great man. He was inspirational to South Africa’s black majority as they struggled under the racist oppression of apartheid and he was inspirational also to a generation of people outside South Africa fighting to make a better world. He seemed to embody the best of human qualities after his release from prison in 1990 and as he was elected first President of a post-apartheid South Africa in 1994.

However, while he was the most prominent and successful leader of the anti-apartheid struggle and spent almost three decades in prison as a result, when we look at his legacy as South Africa’s post-apartheid leader we must acknowledge serious failings.

The South Africa Mandela has left is one where all people enjoy civil and political rights, vitally important elements for democracy, but without significant economic change which would have made life better for the majority of South Africans. There are many more black millionaires in South Africa living lives of luxury but the majority remain in the same abject poverty they faced under the old white regime.

Within the senior leadership of the ANC, life has been a dreamlike route from struggle to luxury, from poverty to unimaginable wealth. Heroes of the anti-apartheid era in the 1970s and 80s like Cyril Ramaphosa and Tokyo Sexwale have become embedded as a new black elite – as distant and dismissive of the poor as Vorster, Verwoerd or de Klerk. Their reaction to the Marikana mining massacre was not much different to the old white regime’s reaction to the Sharpville massacre.

The change in the new ANC leaders was so profound that in the early days of Mandela’s presidency, Bishop Desmond Tutu wondered aloud if the ANC had stopped the gravy train just long enough to jump on.

In Mandela’s new South Africa, oppression based on race morphed into discrimination based on social class and life went on as “normal”. Racist apartheid laws such as the Group Areas Act (which dictated where different races were required to live) were abolished but this made little difference for most. It was all very well now being able to legally live in a formerly whites-only neighbourhood but the vast majority couldn’t afford to move anyway.

So the colour of the faces at the top changed but in most ways life is as hard for the poor, the majority of whom are black, under the ANC as it was under the old apartheid regime.

Several defences of Mandela’s time as President have been put up but none are strong.

We are told he faced the enormous task of healing a deeply divided country after decades of apartheid and his priority was reconciliation rather than redistribution of wealth and opportunity.

The “reconciliation” provided by Mandela was to concede any changes to private property rights or challenge to the corporate elite who continue to run South Africa’s economy today as they did for decades before his presidency. This is why so many western leaders such as our own Prime Minister John Key are such enthusiastic admirers of Robben Island’s most famous resident. He allowed wealth to continue to move from the poor to the rich.

Another defence is that he was a good man let down by a greedy cabal of ANC leaders around him who had made common cause with the previous white leadership and the old economic order to enrich themselves.

This has more credibility because while Mandela was the towering figurehead in the new South Africa, the key leaders behind him such as Thabo Mbeki and Cyril Ramaphosa had already been “turned” from the ANC’s ideals as spelt out in the 1956 “Freedom Charter” to the personal opportunities for great wealth and political power in a “free market” economy.

It was also more difficult for Mandela to bring big economic changes because he came to power when the major Western economies, including New Zealand, had been forced into neo-liberal policies where the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and wealthy global elites ran the economic system. If the new South Africa was to survive, Mandela was told, it needed to play the game by the rules of those who ran the global economy.

However, even if one accepts that the ANC needed to make some accommodations to be able to ensure funding for investment, this did not mean their leaders taking advantage of their political power to personally enrich themselves while leaving their people languishing in poverty.

No one expected things to get better overnight. No one expected miracles. But the people of South Africa deserved at least the hope for change.

Mandela did not raise objections to this deeply corrupt ANC leadership. Even after he left the presidency he was happy to be trotted out at election time to encourage support for the ANC and refused to criticise the excesses of his former freedom-fighting friends and colleagues.

The only reporter I saw take him to task over this was renowned Australian journalist John Pilger, who questioned Mandela about the growing gap between rich and poor and the failure of the ANC to meet even its own modest goals to improve social and economic conditions for South Africa’s black majority. Mandela quickly became irritated and defensive. It was clear nothing was going to change.

So alongside his great strengths, I think Mandela’s greatest failing was his loyalty to his former ANC comrades, even when the evidence of massive corruption was obvious. Mandela simply wasn’t up to the task of dealing with it – even within his own family.

In his latter years, Mandela has provided a figleaf of respectability for this corrupt political organisation. Now that figleaf is gone, the country will become much more fractious as new struggles for genuine democracy, decent health, good schooling and livable homes gain momentum.

Mandela brought South Africa out of the apartheid era of racial oppression. We should celebrate the life of this leader of the anti-apartheid struggle, but we should never be blinded to his failings. He never claimed to walk on water and no one should pretend he did.

John Minto was a leading anti-apartheid activist in New Zealand and is vice-chair of the Mana Movement.


‘To truthfully honour Mandela, we must renew the freedom struggle of the working class and rural poor’
By the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, published in Links, International Journal of Socialist Renewal, Dec 8, 2013

The future of South Africa
It’s been difficult to watch the new South Africa fail to make significant improvements to the living conditions of the country’s very poor, Black majority. The peoples’ expectations have run up against the harsh, unforgiving international capitalist order in which South Africa’s liberation goals have become ensnared.
By Mike Treen, The Daily Blog (New Zealand), Dec 9, 2013
Mike Treen is a founder and director of the Unite union in New Zealand.

Mandela: never forget how the free world’s leaders learned to change their tune
Among those eulogising Mandela are people who once damned him as a terrorist and supported apartheid
By Chris McGreal, The Observer, Dec 8, 2013
Chris McGreal is a former South Africa correspondent who won the 2002 James Cameron prize for coverage of African affairs

Nelson Mandela’s years in power: Was he pushed or did he jump?
Patrick Bond is the Director of the Center for Civil Society and Professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. Bond is the author and editor of the recently released books, Politics of Climate Justice and Durban’s Climate Gamble.

Mandela led fight against Apartheid, but not against extreme inequality
Interview with Patrick Bond (text and voice), The Real News, Dec 5, 2013

Nelson Mandela, David Astor and the Observer: the struggle against apartheid
In 1962, Mandela visited the Observer‘s London office and said: ‘I thank you for all your paper has done for our people’
By Jeremy Lewis, The Observer, Dec 8, 2013

Veterans of Britain’s anti-apartheid movement remember how they rebuilt themselves around Mandela
After facing opposition for years, the campaign changed with the emergence of a younger generation and a live BBC concert
By Daniel Boffey, policy editor, The Observer, Dec 8, 2013

Mandela was the revolutionary leader of the mass struggle against the racist system in South Africa known as Apartheid. He served 27 years in prison for leading the struggle against Apartheid, including co-launching an armed struggle in 1961. He was arrested in 1962 and imprisoned until an international campaign of solidarity won his release in 1990. He was elected president of South Africa in 1994. He retired from politics in 1999 but continued to speak out on issues. He opposed the U.S. war on Iraq in 2003 and spoke out in defense of the victims of Africa’s deadly epidemic of HIV/AIDS.

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