Saturday, December 07, 2013
The Mixed Legacy Of Nelson Mandela
Former South African leader Nelson Mandela has passed away at the age of 95, from complications resulting from a lung infection.
Since he was essentially a secular saint, the hagiographies, the emotional tributes and the kicky sound bites will be in abundance. His place in history is assured, because like other secular saints, burning incense and making offerings at his altar is seen to confer virtue on the worshiper, especially if they're white.
Nelson Mandela was an important figure in contemporary history, no doubt. But who was Nelson Mandela really? What did he accomplish? What is his legacy?
That's a more complicated and nuanced story that you're unlikely to hear about much in the medias frenzy over the next week or so. Because it doesn't quite fit the script for a secular saint. And the complexity can be imagined when you learn that Mandela was the proud recipient of both the U.S. Medal of Freedom awarded to him by President Obama and the Order of Lenin, given to him by the Soviet Union, hardly a bastion of freedom or even simple human decency.
Certainly, he looked and sounded like a secular saint. A member of a family of Xhosa royalty, his tall, dignified bearing and his measured speech could almost have been cooked up by a Hollywood casting agent.
Nelson Mandela was born in Mvezo, a small village in the eastern part of South Africa's cape province. Coming from a prominent family , he received excellent schooling in South Africa's best schools so he could work as a councilor for the the Xhosa's Thembu royal house. He later attended University of Fort Hare, an elite black institution in Alice, Eastern Cape. There he first got his political indoctrination in anti-colonialism and his introduction to Marxism. Traveling to Johannesburg in 1941, he first ran into the African National Congress in the person of Walter Sisulu, then a member of the fledgling African National Congress (ANC) and the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA). In Johannesburg, Mandela was taken under the wing of Lazar Sidelsky, a Left wing Jewish lawyer sympathetic to the ANC and a partner in the law firm of Witkin, Sidelsky and Eidelman, who gave Nelson Mandela a job as a law clerk.
In those days,the ANC was essentially a non-violent social justice movement that lobbied for black rights and engaged in local politics. However, like many similar organizations in the West, it had been targeted by the Soviet Comintern and was already infiltrated by members of the CPSA as well as by actual Soviet agents.
While the evidence is mixed over whether Nelson Mandela ever joined the communist party, he frequently attended their meetings, and many of his closest associates, like Lionel 'Rusty' Bernstein, Joe Slovo, the long-time leader of the CPSA, his wife Ruth First, Gaur Redebe, Walter Sisulu and Nat Bregman definitely were, and some of them might have been actual Soviet agents. All of them were under 'party discipline just as American communists were, which meant that their marching orders came directly from the Comintern and the Kremlin, no deviations allowed. Many members of CPSA became part of the ANC and the CPSA is still a part of the ANC's political coalition today. Mandela's openly expressed admiration and later friendship for communist dictators, his views on nationalization of South Africa's major industries and government redistribution of wealth and his subsequently receiving the Order of Lenin from the Soviets shows that at best, he was a communist sympathizer.
After South Africa's 1948 general election, the Afrikaner-led Herenigde Nasionale Party took power, uniting with the Afrikaner Party to form the National Party. They implemented the system of racial segregation known as apartheid. Mandela and his supporters were able to depose the existing ANC President Alfred Bitini Xuma at that time, who favored non-violence in seeking black civil rights and was an open anti-Communist. As Mandela wrote later in his memoirs, "We had now guided the ANC to a more radical and revolutionary path."
In 1955, Mandela finally went fully over to the idea of using terrorism as as a political tool, or as he put it, the ANC "had no alternative to armed and violent resistance. " In this, he was greatly influenced by his open admiration of the tactics of Mao Tse Tung and Fidel Castro.
In fact, the first 'revolutionary' act of Mandela's was to send communist party apparatchnik and ANC member Walter Sisulu to the People's Republic of China to obtain weapons. The PRC turned Mandela down, officially because they felt the ANC was not prepared for Mao-style guerilla warfare, but perhaps more likely because they were already deeply involved in arming and training the Viet Minh in their attempt to overthrow the Diem government in South Vietnam and similar operations with groups like the Pathet Lao elsewhere in South East Asia. They also likely underestimated Mandela and the ANC's ability to win a war where resupply would be so difficult and no communist-controlled havens were nearby.
However, Mandela and the ANC began to collect whatever weapons and explosives they could get hold of and prepare for armed struggle on their own,while continuing to work on political agitation against the apartheid regime.
It was at this time that Mandela, inspired by Castro's guerilla groups like 26th of July Movement and the Viet Minh founded his own terrorist elite, Umkhonto we Sizwe ("Spear of the Nation", abbreviated as MK) with communists Walter Sisulu and Joe Slovo. The MK made their debut with 57 bombings on Dingane's Day (16 December) 1961, followed by further attacks on New Year's Eve.MK killed civilians and military alike, and two of their more famous operations were the Church Street bombing and the Magoo's Bar bombing, both of which targeted civilians and were designed for maximum carnage..
The MK and an ANC group run by Mandela's wife Winnie called the "Mandela United Football Club" were also responsible for the murder, torture and kidnapping of both whites and black political opponents and their families who opposed 'armed struggle'. Much of this came out through Mandela's own Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated crimes committed under apartheid by both the government and the ANC. The 1998 findings of that investigation were suppressed by President Mandela.
Winnie Mandela is credited with introducing the practice of using necklacing, forcing a gas or oil soaked tire over the head and shoulders to pin the arms of the victim and then lighting it on fire.Her quote? "With our matches and our necklaces we will liberate this country." She has never served a day in jail, and still sits on the ANC executive committee.
It's worth recalling that the ANC was officially named a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department and many other western nations. That designation wasn't rescinded officially by the State Department until 1990.
Mandela was arrested in August of 1962, charged this time with inciting strikes and violence and leaving the country illegally.The police subsequently uncovered paperwork in 1963 that documented MK's terrorist activities, some of which directly implicated Mandela.
These new charges were brought as well, and Nelson Mandela and two co-conspirators - all three of whom ultimately admitted being involved in terrorism - were sentenced to life imprisonment in June of 1964, for 23 specific acts of sabotage and attempting to overthrow the government.
Mandela was sent to Robben Island, where he would essentially rot for the next 18 years,until 1982. The personal courage he showed during this time is undeniable. He spent his time in an 8x7' concrete cell with a straw mat to sleep on, some of it in isolation. He endured physical abuse by his jailers and hard labor, first breaking rocks into gravel and then quarrying lime.
Through it all, he somehow kept his spirits up, helping to form classes with the other prisoners on various topics.
In 1982, Madela's circumstances changed, when he was moved to a much more pleasant jail, Pollsmoor Prison, where he stayed between 1982-1988. He was allowed relative freedom,indulged in gardening and was able to take classes to complete his LLB degree.
Outside Pollsmoor, things were changing.
While the Soviet gulags and the enslavement of Eastern Europe,the communist run killing fields in Cambodia, terrorism at home and abroad against Israel and Fidel Castro's concentration camps on the Isle of Pines scarcely merited any attention, South Africa's apartheid became a major cause celebre'. And with it, 'Free Mandela!' became a rallying cry.
Violence in South Africa escalated, both between whites and black and along tribal lines. The ANC 's portion included an attempted attack on South Africa's Koeberg nuclear power plant near Cape Town in 1982, which would have incurred horrendous casualties among both blacks and whites and an environmental catastrophe if it had been successful. It very nearly was.
The violence was also deliberately orchestrated by the ANC to sabotage reforms to apartheid that then President P.W. 'Pik' Botha was trying to initiate, which permitted some non-whites to vote and to elect their own parliaments to control education, health, and housing.
Believe it or not, it was Margaret Thatcher who first suggested to Botha that he free Mandela as a gesture towards peace and to reduce international tension. In February 1985 Botha did exactly that, offered Nelson Mandela a release from prison provided he "unconditionally rejected violence as a political weapon".
Mandela turned him down, partly out of the principle that he would not negotiate anything while the ANC was banned, but mostly because accepting Botha's offer would have ended Mandela's credibility with the more hardline factions of the ANC, a problem that would recur later. So the killing went on, with the ANC committing 231 terrorist attacks in 1986 and 235 in 1987.
South African Minister of Justice Kobie Coetsee made another try at negotiations, setting up talks between Mandela and the Botha government starting in May 1988. Mandela was again offered his freedom, the government agreed to the release of political prisoners and the ANC provided that they permanently renounce violence, break links with the Communist Party and agree to negotiate a fair political settlement. Mandela refused.
Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday in 1988 was made a sort of international jamboree, including a gala 'Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute' concert at London's Wembley Stadium. He was subsequently moved to Victor Verster Prison, another relatively comfortable facility where he spent time in the prison hospital recovering from tuberculosis.
In 1989, Botha suffered a stroke and F. W. de Klerk took over as president. De Klerk realized that apartheid was unsustainable and took what amounted to giant steps to make the transition in the face of strident opposition from his own party. He unconditionally released all ANC prisoners except Mandela, and after several talks with Mandela which both men considered friendly and productive, Mandela was finally released in 1990 and the ANC was legalized.
Nelson Mandela had gotten his unconditional surrender. And that he considered it as one is evident from the speech he made immediately after his release, at Cape Town's City Hall. He made it clear that the ANC's armed struggle was not over, and would continue "against the violence of apartheid." He said he hoped that the government would agree to negotiations, so that "there may no longer be the need for the armed struggle", but he was clear on insisting that his main focus was to bring peace to the black majority.
In view of that speech, what happened next is all the more surprising.
First,Mandela went on what amounted to a world tour,meeting and befriending, among others, his long time idol Fidel Castro, something many Cubans have neither forgotten nor forgiven, and justifiably so. He also befriended Yasser Arafat, whom he referred to as his 'brother'. Not totally a mystery, since both men were Soviet-trained.
Then he came back to South Africa and sat down with De Klerk and the National Party to negotiate the end of apartheid. He started out by offering a temporary ceasefire, something that outraged the ANC hardliners but reflected Mandela's sense of reality, that more bloodshed would only end in either an ANC defeat or at best, a partitioned nation.De Klerke in turn responded, lifting the state of emergency.
The violence continued, particularly black on black,but it lessened considerably. As Mandela and De Klerke intended, they now had a breather to work things out.
Negotiations at first went nowhere. De Klerk insisted on a federal system to protect minority rights,while Mandela and the ANC insisted on straight majority rule. De Klerk condemned the ANC's violence and wanted a firm pledge that it would stop, while Mandela called de Klerk "head of an illegitimate, discredited minority regime" and called for a UN peacekeeping force to be sent to South Africa to prevent "state terrorism".
Another wild card was the tribal issue, the battle between the largely Zulu Inkatha and the ANC.The Zulkus had absolutely no use for Mandela or the ANC, and probably killed more ANC 'soldiers' than South Africa's security forces did.
That eventually proved to be the breaking point. De Klerk agreed to Mandela's demand that the Inkatha would be disarmed and their cantons fenced off, essentially giving the ANC political control of South Africa. In exchange, Mandela agreed that white civil servant's jobs would be safeguarded, something that outraged his ANC followers. The two further agreed to a multiracial general election being held,and an interim constitution, guaranteeing separation of powers, creating a constitutional court, and a bill of rights.
The election, which was held in 1994 made Mandela president and ended apartheid. And in spite of sporadic violence, the transition of power to black rule was relatively peaceful,because both De Klerke And Mandela used every bit of their influence to push the agreement through,urge reconciliation and avoid what would have been a horrendous civil war.
That was Nelson Mandela's greatest accomplishment, and one duly recognized when Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerke shared the Nobel Peace prize. That and the fact that rather than become just another African Marxist dictator, he remained committed to the democratic process and took a number of steps to remain a symbol of reconciliation between white and black South Africans.
That also was the core of the other part of his legacy, which again, the media isn't likely to discuss amid all the hoopla.
Nelson Mandela recreated the ANC as a Marxist, terrorist organization when he took it over. And he subsequently purged it of most of the members who didn't see things his way. Through all of the struggle to end apartheid, that's pretty much what it remained. It was a house built on a rotten, flawed foundation. Many of Mandela's ANC followers expected a payoff for victory that they never got - domination over the white minority,the pick of the government jobs and white-owned property,and that redistribution of wealth Mandela had always talked about. Mandela may have still held those convictions, but he had changed his mind about implementing them on the scale his ANC followers expected. It might have been out of sheer expediency, because he realized that it was impractical and self-defeating or because he was willing to forgo it as the price for gaining power while avoiding a civil war. Or it might have been because the fall of his old pals in the Soviet Union or simply the wisdom age sometimes brings had taught him something. In any event, he was prepared to sacrifice the Marxist economic principles and the romance of 'armed struggle' in order to get what he wanted, and as a national icon he had the political capital to do it.
This sort of duplicity surfaced in many areas of Nelson Mandela's personal and political life. For instance, if you read his memoirs, published in 1995 after he became president, there are a number of positive mentions of Jews and Israel. Many of the ANC's early white supporters were Jews, as were most of Nelson Mandela's early friends and associates. In fact, as Mandela himself wrote, a key figure in helping Mandela understand guerilla warfare tactics was Arthur Goldreich, a South African Jew in the CPSA who fought with the Palmach during Israel’s War of Independence. When Mandela and his ANC associates were arrested in 1962, it was at their safe haven at Liliesleaf Farm owned by Goldreich, who was jailed as a result.
However, once Mandela took power and became a symbol of the Non-aligned movement, things changed. Mandela enjoyed a major love affair with anti-semitic dictators like Yasser Arafat and Moamar Khaddaffi, made a point of telling the world as early as 1990 that he did not consider the PLO a terrorist organization.He even visited Iran in 2000, laying a wreath on the grave of the Ayatollah Khomeini and lauding his successor, the Ayatollah Khamenei, saying "we are indebted to the Islamic Revolution”. Nor did he have a single negative word to say about the the first UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, which was so blatantly anti-Semitic that most western countries walked out, and even UN Commissioner Mary Robinson, no friend of Israel (and another questionable awardee of the Presidential Medal Of Freedom by President Obama), felt the need to distance herself from it. Ditto with the second one in Switzerland in 2009, which was even boycotted by the host country and where Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made his usual speech about Zionism of Racism and how the Holocaust never happened.Nor did he ever have anything to say about his ANC comrade Desmond Tutu's blatant Jew hatred.
Unfortunately for sufferers of Israel Derangement Syndrome, the major public expression of Mandela's 'anti-zionism' was actually an admitted forgery, written by a Palestinian 'activist' named Arjan el Fassed. Still there's no doubt that Nelson Mandela, who was happy to receive Jewish money and support when he needed it was also happy to hypocritically dump Israel and the Jews and ignore major human rights violators when it was convenient.
During Nelson Mandela's presidency, he concentrated on national reconciliation and convincing South Africa's whites to remain in the country to bolster the economy as his main tasks, and he was largely successful at that, at least at first. But it did not sit well with many of his old ANC comrades-in-arms,and again, he was always faced with trying to deal with the fallout from trying to balance the two.
It prevented him from successfully managing the economy, as he was torn between attempting to attract foreign investment by maintaining the status quo and his own leaning towards nationalizing most of it as most of his ANC followers wanted. He attempted to placate the ANC by increasing welfare payments, looking the other way as ANC figures helped themselves to graft and corruption,and by handcuffing the police to the point where crime in South Africa became such a major problem that almost one million of the whites left the country, further damaging the economy. De Klerk, who had stayed on as part of the government left the coalition at that point.
By 1997, Mandela, in ill health and frustrated finally had enough and allowed his ANC deputy Thabo Mbeki to take over most of the duties as president while he remained as a symbol until Mbeki formally was elected and took office in 1999. After that, Mandela pretty7 much stayed out of politics.
Nelson Mandela's true legacy is the nation of South Africa as it exists today.
South Africa was indeed a nation that embraced apartheid, a racist system of government. But it was also a prosperous nation with a western style economy, where jobs were so plentiful that whole nations like Botswana relied on expatriate worker's remittances for a significant part of their economy, famine and epidemics were non-existent, and the rule of law ensured at least a basic level of safety for most of its citizens and their property regardless of race, even if political liberty was largely confined to the country's white residents.
Today, the country admits to 25% unemployment, although the true figures are probably closer to 30%. Foreign investment is scarce. The Rand, formerly one of the world's more stable currencies has weakened considerably, with major price inflation on staples and cooking oil. Eighteen years after the end of apartheid, it's estimated that half of South Africa's children live in poverty.
Political corruption is rampant, and so is crime. South Africa has one of the highest murder rates in the world per capita, and carjackings and home invasions are epidemic. According to a 2012 Interpol study, a woman is more likely to be raped in South Africa than to learn to read, and a child is raped every three minutes.
Many observers actually see rape as becoming a part of South Africa's culture.
Even worse, since the police have now been totally integrated with former ANC members, distrust of them is widespread, especially since it's been revealed that almost 1,500 of them have had serious criminal convictions. Corruption is widespread and many South Africans now live in fear of both criminals and of their own police.As an example, at least 12 South African police in the Western Cape province were arrested on charges of rape in 2012, with the number of unreported rapes by uniformed police in the province extrapolated to be as much as 4 to 5 times higher because of the inherent danger in reporting the crime.
AIDs is also epidemic, with the South African government having done little or nothing to stem the disease.
And the trend in South Africa seems to be getting worse, not better. Thabo Mbeki had the same problems Mandela did with dealing with the issue of solving South Africa's problems while not alienating his ANC base, and he was much less committed to reconciliation and racial equality than Mandela. And current president, Jacob Zuma is far worse.
The current condition of South Africa is Nelson Mandela's true legacy, regardless of whatever good intentions he had or his personal courage. The nature of the house he built in South Africa today is a reflection of the rotten, corrupt and violent material he used to create it, no matter how he tried to change the basic nature of that material once he took power.
It remains to be seen if the of the changes he tried to make afterwards ever take root.So far, for all the hoopla, it appears that the rotten foundation Nelson Mandela used to build the South Africa of today is crumbling and reverting to its basic nature.