The collaboration of Nelson Mandela and the Nationalist Party’s FW De Klerk catapulted South Africa to the fore of the international community as a ‘miracle’ peaceful transition to a constitutional democracy, and all the glories were heaped upon Mandela in person for his magnanimity and for acting as a ‘broad-minded’ statesman. Indeed, there is no other leader in Africa like him.
Hand in hand with De Klerk, the two sought support to deliver a ‘new’ South Africa, and they did. They were both given warm receptions at the White House and in the capitals of Europe. As a reward for this they were jointly rewarded with the Nobel Peace prize.
Mandela’s special attention was unprecedented, and he became the fixation of world media like moth attracted to light. He is a ‘black’ leader with superb liberation struggle credentials whose vision for change in South Africa was acceptable to the western world. Like Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, he was gradually phased out of prison, from where he led the compromised deal between the liberation movement and their oppressors. It surely takes a credible leader to dupe the masses and to sell out the liberation struggle. Kenya became the darling of the West under the leadership of KANU while the Land and Freedom Army combatants (known as the Mau-Mau) lie in unmarked shallow graves and the Kenyan people catch hell.
Mandela and De Klerk’s new SA is based on the concept of a rainbow nation. They both do not agree that South Africa is an African country – they subscribe to the theory of ‘exceptionalism’ for South Africa. Mandela stated his opposition to white domination and to ‘black domination’.
A bit of background to how they arrived at this point: The Broederbond and other Afrikaner think-tanks lost out on the development of South African nationality based on the prism of race, with the centrality of the Boers – as the ‘chosen’ people of God leading the savage natives – as the base for Afrikaner nationalism. In 1944, at the Volkskongres (translated, Congress of the People) of Federation of Afrikaner Cultural Unions, they endorsed a programme for natives to gradually enter into self-rule in their own Bantustans. The new Nationalist Party leadership, faced with mounting opposition to reforms, found a friend in the Congress of the People of 1955, which postulated the four nation theory of Whites, Coloureds, Indians, and Africans.
Mandela and De Klerk were the chief moderators of these two theories, and they merged and modernized them to suit the developments of a new world order after the fall of the Soviet Union. The rainbow nation concept was promoted by influential personalities and men of the cloth like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Beyers Naude, Allan Boesak and a host of others. Europe and the US endorse the change and supported its champions.
Opposed to the Congress of the People and its Kliptown Charter – and, we dare say, opposed to the inherent flaws within the ‘new’ order in South Africa – the Africanists stated the following:
“Against multi-racialism we have the following objection, that the history of South Africa has fostered group prejudices and antagonisms, and if we have to maintain the same exclusiveness, parading under the term of multi-racialism, we shall be transporting to the new Africa these very antagonisms and conflicts. Further, multi-racialism is in fact a pandering to European bigotry and arrogance. It is a method of safeguarding white interests, implying as it does, proportional representation irrespective of population figures. In that sense, it is a complete negation of democracy. To us the term ‘multi-racialism’ implies that there are such basic insuperable differences between the various national groups here that the best course is to keep them permanently distinctive in a kind of democratic apartheid. That to us is racialism multiplied, which probably is what the term connotes”.
Nelson Mandela’s imposing figure supercedes all other leadership personalities. Those taking the baton from him find it difficult to negotiate their way out of the corner of heavy compromises they inherited. Thabo Mbeki’s forays into Africa has seemingly collapsed with him, because his team mates in the ruling party have no real interest in the collective destiny of Africa.
The new political elite in South Africa add to this their colonial mentality and run their electoral campaigns with a silent skew towards the ethnic groups from whom they belong. The divisions from the colonial era remain.
Our friends and comrades in the ruling party should know by now that they are wallowing in vainglory. South Africa is already mortgaged to the Washington Consensus – and the local managers of the IMF and World Bank can only give promises of pie in the sky to the people. It will require a bold departure from the strictures of the legacy of Mandela and De Klerk – they are cast into a racial mould. They have made colonial conquest legitimate. The productive forces are skewed in favour of the white settler population, with an insignificant addition of the newly ‘rich’ black middle class.
Inequalities in the distribution of wealth and incomes in South Africa persist to date. Black leadership of government may provide stability and hope, but it is founded on a typical neo-colonial solution from the Kempton Park negotiations forum. The property rights clause in the interim and final constitution maintained the settler-colonial status quo on land ownership. The odious foreign debt inherited from the apartheid system is being paid out by the new government. And there are no reparations for the dispossessed. South Africa has become a bastion of imperialism and a gateway for neo-liberal Trojan horses of globalization in Africa.
Nelson Mandela is a cuddly teddy bear of comfort for the interests of the western world in Africa. He is an African compatriot and a shining light, and we are happy for him. But we must acknowledge that, like all human beings, he is not above reproach. It is not right to be praise singers of an icon with a questionable and chequered career path in the liberation struggle.
By Jaki Seroke