The late Nelson Mandela
The late Nelson Mandela

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).


  1. As it is said, ‘you have hit the horn of the cow’, Bra Sam. While Mandela has come out tops as a Black man in the resistance movement because the Anti-apartheid movement had used him as a rallying point to draw the interests of the international community to the plight of the masses, his countless flaws must not be swept under the carpet. He has reversed the gains of the liberation movement at the penultimate point of victory. It was his own doings. His secret deals delivered nothing but an appeasement of the settler colonial power structures, and the duped struggle leadership that traveled along with him pretends as if the man was forever self-righteous. They should know better. At some stage, Nomzamo Mandela stated that she would reveal the truth about this man’s doings. We are still waiting, Mme Winnie. The facts speak for themselves however – racist South Africa offered 13% to the bantustans as communal land under the master’s control, the new SA dispensation offered zero land to the dispossessed and instead made the colonial robbery of our birthright legitimate, all under Mandela’s watch. Sobukwe described the confidence trickster for what he is. He in turn said nothing positive about Sobukwe in his Long Walk to Freedom, ghost written by one of the editors of Time magazine. While we mourn his death and praise singers eulogize him, we must not forget the footprints of shame he has left as a leader. We Pan Africanists stood opposed to his sell out tendencies. And he knew this…

  2. Your anger and disdain is palpable Sam, perhaps viewed in the harsh light of our current political environment, justified. Without being prescriptive, lest I be accused of being like the Mandela you describe above, I feel it is inappropriate at this time. But you may counter by saying this platform is the right place to express such sentiments, and I would be found wanting on that front, but would still question your timing. Be that as it is, I have stated in my book the high regard I have always had for Sobukwe, extoling his virtues even as the ordinary human being that he was, even though many would rightly see him as extra-ordinary and I would agree. The thing that stood out to me about him was his steadfast integrity and unwavering principled position which shaped his quiet strong character and infectious personality. In a way he and Mandela exuded more or less the same charisma which to me is common in our African personality. I put it like this because when you have been tainted and changed by other influences from elsewhere, the “made in Africa” moniker cannot sit comfortably above your head. Back in my political student days, I used to warn against the “politics of the stomach” which we see a lot of evidence of today; certain people are eating, they are tired of waiting, they did not struggle to be poor! Meantime the gap between the rich and poor gets bigger by the day…

    I suppose I am challenging each and everyone of us to do something concrete about our anger, disdain and disaffection, just like Mandela’s life is challenging and forcing us in many ways and at different levels to act. Let us come out with cogent substantive ideas and plans to move us forward, to take us away from the conditions we complain so much about; let us stop being a nation of whingers and do something about changing the conditions of our lives if we feel so strongly and outraged about things! Remember everything is impossible if you do nothing! Where is the the strategy? Being angry with Mandela is not going to change or do anything to usher in the desired change, coming out with a plan and acting on it will herald the beginning of the change one desires. This brings me back to the timing thing I mentioned earlier. This is a time of mourning for a leader who had a huge impact and influence on our political discourse and landscape in South Africa; you point out some of those things above! However let us allow him the dignity of the occasion he justly deserves, then we can come back to deal with those issues you raise and others. Timing is important, and perhaps now is the time to be the person we have always wanted to be. Mayibuye!

    1. Any behavior that reflects disrespect is not acceptable in traditional and conservative African communities. Even the unintended act of misbehaving out of loss of control and emotional pain at the funeral of a loved one is looked upon as disdainful by some. So it is correct to point out restraint and good conduct during the mourning period. Anything could happen. But I believe you misread Ditshego’s article completely. As honest and good Africanists however it would be unfair not to point out the gaps and falsehoods where these are glaringly obvious. Mandela opposed what the Africanists stood for – all his life – after coming across the Charterist gravy train. When the emperor has no clothes, honest researchers and writers are called upon to tell the truth and be damned. They must not befuddle their readers with misinformed and misplaced judgments and overly restrained diplomacy. The writer stated his credibility from the outset that he had always taken a critical approach to Mandela long before he was released from prison. His tone in the article is therefore in line with this background. He also writes on a platform and to an audience that is converted to the idea of betrayal in the liberation struggle.

      In 1978 at Sobukwe’s funeral in Graaf Reinet, a group of militant youth objected to the presence of Buthelezi and a Rand Daily Mail journalist who had – without Sobukwe’s prior approval – arranged a meeting between Buthelezi and Prof at Greaterman’s departmental store in Johannesburg at a time when Buthelezi was seeking endorsement of his bantustan leadership and collaboration with the Vorster regime. prof as a banned person could not reply but the photograph that was taken show his unease at the seeming betray by those he depended upon as friends. Both these men were forcibly removed from the VIP guests, and Buthelezi was almost manhandled. Bishop Desmond Tutu saved the day. The Sobukwe family is related to Buthelezi, and the journalist had been a close friend of Sobukwe. In my opinion, the youth were not misbehaving. They were making a revolutionary statement in defense of the image and symbolism of their departed leader, Sobukwe’s funeral was a political platform.

      At the memorial service for Mandela on Tuesday 3 December 2013, disenchanted mourners expressed their political stance against State President Zuma by booing him each time he appeared on the big screen and indicated a football sign to exchange a deadwood player in the game. This moment could never have come at a right time for the opponents of Zuma’s leadership. While we solemnly mourn Madiba’s passing, the reality of a corrupt and ineffectual government was starring us in the face. Tutu tried to save the day, again. Only this time, the damage was already done. Mandela’s funeral is a political platform – refer to Castro and Obama.

      The two examples merely point to the urgency of the day, and the spontaneous reaction to the blemish that shows up at this momentous juncture. Writers are messengers of the truth – anytime, anywhere and anyhow. We should be bold and courageous to read the message and not tackle the messenger with the scissors of censorship. We the readers need to make informed decisions – the popular commercial media will not allow critical insight and open debate out of protecting their vested interests, and that this line of discussion will eventually lead to an adoption of the strategy to change and transform society for the common good of all, as you suggest.

  3. You have said a mouthful again Jaki. I have said it in this web magazine that I am not going to abandon discussion out of tact (or timing). There will be no compromise when it comes to establishing the truth. We are not faced with a sacrosanct idol whom we should avoid debasing.

  4. Nakedi says we should stop being a nation of whingers and do something about changing the conditions of our lives.. Don’t you think I am doing something when I am alerting South Africans that they are being misled to hero-worship a person who was exposed as an MI6 agent and a Freemason? I refer readers to an article written by Neil Mackay in Sunday Herald (Glasgow, Scotland) and published on the 19 March 2000 under the headline, “Mandela is named as MI6 Agent” and another one by Martin Akpan in Newsatch of 17 November 2008 reporting that Mandela belonged to a secret society known as the Freemasons. Until when should I wait before I can write about these things to show that I have ‘timing’? I tnink the first port of call in a situation like this is to free the minds of the people by empowering them with information and knowledge through this medium.

  5. Give thank to the true Brother and Sister who kept doing the best of work from word of mouth truthful to lead on the right way, for the forefathers ancient teaching, Not for some who are Mislead, clawns, comedians, Cause our forefathers where not entertainers.Maximum respect

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