In paying tribute to Nelson Mandela the corporate media and Hollywood should not conceal his mistakes or glorify him as a flawless personality whose character is without blemish. His role in the liberation struggle should be acknowledged just like many before him, his contemporaries and those who came after him but it should not be exaggerated.
Many articles were penned by this writer on Nelson Mandela even before he became President of South Africa, including two book reviews on Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela and Young Mandela by David James Smith. This writer’s point of departure will be a reflection of Mandela’s years as a young person as revealed by PAC founding President Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe, especially because Mandela passed away on the birthday of Sobukwe. The question is whether Mandela was the way the media, especially the Western media, portrays him? Was he really the African people’s saviour?
During an interview conducted by Gail Gerhard in August 1970 after his release from Robben Island, Sobukwe described Mandela as a very arrogant man who lacked common touch. Sobukwe said, “I remember him at one meeting around the time of the Defiance Campaign. People had gone there still undecided if they were going to participate. Mandela got up and said very promptly, ‘All those with us, come forward; all others get out. And most people got out. They were put off by his manners. Mandela was strong among the leaders, although we always recognized Tambo as superior in intelligence. Mandela had a way of attacking people very viciously if they disagreed with him, and were a smaller person than himself. He could reduce them to a shriveling mass then he would pat them on the head and draw them to him, and thereafter they would be his men, always deferring to him, looking up to him. If he came across any man who wouldn’t look up and defer to him and acknowledge his superiority (e.g. myself implied) then he wouldn’t have anything to do with that person. Mandela could always attract weak people; but he could never go on with another strong person. In any relationship he had to dominate. But he was an engaging person. He could always crack a joke, make you laugh; he always had a story to tell. But I was never friendly with him… Philosophically, Mandela has always been an opportunist, going from one theory to the next, taking out what seemed most likely to be impressive to other people, most likely to boost his prestige”.
This arrogance was also mentioned by Doc Bikitsha in an article in the Sowetan newspaper whilst paying tribute to Walter Sisulu. Bikitsha said Sisulu was warm and welcoming when they visited ANC offices but Mandela was aloof and arrogant. This writer met Mr. and Mrs. Sisulu in Victoria, Canada in the early 1990’s and they both exuded warmth and humility.
Could Mandela’s arrogance be what drove him to arrogate to himself the right to negotiate a bad deal on our behalf? Is this the arrogance that drove him to think he could exclude the Pan Africanist Congress and Black Consciousness Movement from deciding the future of South Africa? He was not as intelligent a leader as Tambo and should have deferred to Oliver Tambo. Sobukwe says Mandela didn’t get along well with Tambo. Sobukwe was not the only one who acknowledged that Tambo was intelligent. Joe Matthews said it in Parliament when paying tribute to Walter Sisulu.
Mandela probably attacked viciously those who disagreed with his secret negotiations with Apartheid leaders. It has been said that one of those who disagreed with him was Govan Mbeki. It was not for the first time that Govan Mbeki openly disagreed with Mandela. In 1962, when Mandela had skipped the country and came back, Govan Mbeki took him on and asked him why he came back after he had skipped the country. Mandela didn’t get along well with the elder Mbeki. As Sobukwe said, “if he came across any man who wouldn’t look up and defer to him and acknowledge his superiority then he wouldn’t have anything to do with that person. Mandela could always attract weak people; but he could never go on with another strong person. Philosophically, Mandela has always been an opportunist, going from one theory to the next, taking out what seemed most likely to be impressive to other people, most likely to boost his prestige.” This explains why Mandela abandoned socialism in favour of free market capitalism which destroyed the hopes and aspirations of the African people. He wanted to impress the imperialists to boost his own prestige in what has been described by P Greanville at www.greanvillepost.com, as a “Faustian bargain with the global status quo”. Greanville continued to say that his “embrace of free market capitalism was a wound and a mistake his nation is still paying for.”
Another writer, Stephen Lendman, in the article titled “Mandela’s Disturbing Legacy” published at www.greanvillepost.com, said Mandela “exacerbated longstanding economic unfairness. He deserves condemnation, not praise…. Liberation was supposed to be economic, social and political. White worker wages were manifold more than black ones. White mine workers earned 10 times more than blacks. Post-apartheid promised change never materialized. Mandela embraced the worst of free market orthodoxy….” He concluded by saying “his bigger than life persona is undeserved. So are eulogies praising his accomplishments. They reflect figments of historical revisionism.”
Finally, the third writer, Bill Van Auken, in the article titled “Why imperialism mourns Mandela” published at www.greanvillepost.com, said “the death of Nelson Mandela at the age of 95 has touched off a worldwide exercise in official mourning that is virtually without precedent…..Capitalist governments and the corporate-controlled media the world over, however, have rushed to offer condolences for their own reasons. These include heads of states that supported South Africa’s apartheid rule and aided in the capture and imprisonment of Mandela as a “terrorist” half a century ago. Barack Obama, who presides over the horrors of Guantanamo and a US prison system that holds over 1.5 million behind bars, issued a statement in which he declared himself “one of the countless millions who drew inspiration” from the man who spent 27 years on Robben Island (Mandela spent only 18 years on Robben Island. He found PAC leaders such as Jeff Masemola already there and left them there). British Prime Minister David Cameron, the standard-bearer of the right-wing Tory Party, ordered the flag flown at half-mast outside 10 Downing Street and proclaimed Mandela “a towering figure in our time, a legend in life and now in death—a true global hero.”
Auken continued, “Billionaires like Michael Bloomberg, who ordered flags in New York City lowered, and Bill Gates felt compelled to issue their own statements. What is it that the capitalist oligarchs in country after country really mourn in the death of Mandela? It is clearly not his will to resist an oppressive system—that is something they are all prepared to punish with imprisonment or drone missile assassination. Rather, the answer is to be found in the present social and political crisis gripping South Africa, as well as the historic role played by Mandela in preserving capitalist interests in the country under the most explosive conditions.”
By Sam Ditshego
The writer is a Senior Researcher at the Pan Africanist Research Institute (PARI).