Mandela’s Double Legacy

nelson_mandela obama image

Mandela’s Double Legacy

Who cannot but admire a revolutionary imprisoned for twenty seven years for his beliefs and actions? A person who had the magnanimity to forgive his captors and helped prevent civil war in post-apartheid South Africa? A person who protested the US aggressive war against Iraq? A person with a winning smile, loud shirts and some funky moves?

And yet. Yet there is the other side to Nelson Mandela.

What should I think of a statesman who orders a bloody invasion of tiny Lesotho and sells weapons to states with notorious human rights records like Peru, Columbia and Algeria? What should I think of a statesman who recognises the legitimacy of the brutal Burmese military dictatorship and gives South Africa’s highest award to the Indonesian mass murderer General Suharto?

What should I think of an originally leftist politician who turns out to be just another politician and declares himself for the nationalization of mines, banks and monopoly industry one month and then, after elections, for Thatcherite privatisation and neoliberalism the next? A politician who guarantees the white ruling elites that their economic power will not be curtailed and then oversees the ‘structural adjustment’ the World Bank imposes at the expense of workers and the poor? A politician who simply facilitates the rise of the ‘wabenzi’, the Mercedes-driving black capitalists and new middle class at the expense of the rural and urban poor whose living standards have worsened: average life expectancy decreased by thirteen years, the doubling of the unemployment rate and of those living on less than a dollar a day, one million evicted from farms to live in shanty towns etc.

Even Mandela’s and Bishop Tutu’s much praised legacy of the national reconciliation process seems seriously flawed from the perspective of the oppressed, justice and human rights. Whether or not a victim forgives his or her oppressor or torturer is a personal matter. In contrast, publically and politically there can be no double standards allowed for human rights abuses, one for criminals and one for state employees. If state employees and others committing crimes to shore up the apartheid regime are freed from prosecution and punishment simply because they have confessed or expressed contrition, justice goes out the window. One wonders whether Bishop Tutu and Mandela would have accepted such a let-off process for, say, the Nazis tried at Nuremburg? This is not a matter of revenge, but of elementary justice.

In the avalanche of liberal, progressive and conservative obits, the Thatcherite legacy of post-1990 Mandela the statesman is seldom mentioned. Sanctification is the order of the day, and this often from the very same kind of politicians and media who would have decried him as a ‘terrorist’ before his release. As so often in history (from the medieval peasant ‘good king’ notion to Stalin or Mao), many inside South Africa seem caught in the usual infantilism of projecting onto him their unconscious need for a benevolent Great Father figure, for ‘Tata Madiba’. History’s final judgement will be less kind. So will the ultimate view from the bottom-up perspective of the poor and oppressed. A Gandhi or a King he certainly was not. In the end, just another bourgeois politician, although one with a nice smile, nice shirts and some funky moves. Will Brand Mandela go the way of Brand Obama?

For the details, here are four extracts from Mark Curtis, John Pilger, Naomi Klein and the Irish Examiner.

1. From Mark Curtis, Guardian Review of John Pilger’s Freedom Next Time (2006):

What about the “authorised version” of reality in South Africa since the end of apartheid? Pilger notes that while average household income has risen by 15%, average black household income has fallen by 19%. The World Bank in effect imposed a traditional “structural adjustment programme” after apartheid, but with the complicity of the African National Congress (ANC) government. Although the ANC certainly has its achievements, it has failed to reclaim sufficient land for the dispossessed and presides over a growing gap between rich and poor.

“The unspoken deal,” Pilger writes, “was that whites would retain economic control in exchange for black majority rule.” Thus secret meetings were held in Britain before 1994 between the current president, Thabo Mbeki, members of the Afrikaner elite and companies with big commercial stakes in the country. Mandela told Pilger: “We do not want to challenge big business that can take fright and take away their money . . . You can call it Thatcherite but, for this country, privatisation is the fundamental policy.”

Pilger is virtually alone in daring to expose the “ambiguity of Mandela” himself. Though recognising Mandela’s role in alerting the world to the dangers of the Bush administration, Pilger writes that “as the first liberation president, he ordered a ridiculous and bloody invasion of tiny Lesotho. He allowed South African armaments to be sold to Algeria, Colombia and Peru, which have notorious human rights records. He invited the Indonesian mass murderer General Suharto to South Africa and gave him the country’s highest award . . . He recognised the brutal Burmese junta as a legitimate government.”

2. From John Pilger, ‘South Africa: the liberation’s betrayal’ (2008):

Glimpse back to 1985 when the Johannesburg stock market crashed and the apartheid regime defaulted on its mounting debt, and the chieftains of South African capital took fright. In September that year a group led by Gavin Relly, chairman of the Anglo-American Corporation, met Oliver Tambo, the ANC president, and other resistance officials in Zambia. Their urgent message was that a “transition” from apartheid to a black-governed liberal democracy was possible only if “order” and “stability” were guaranteed. These were euphemisms for a “free market” state where social justice would not be a priority.

Secret meetings between the ANC and prominent members of the Afrikaner elite followed at a stately home, Mells Park House, in England. The prime movers were those who had underpinned and profited from apartheid ‒ such as the British mining giant, Consolidated Goldfields, which picked up the bill for the vintage wines and malt whisky scoffed around the fireplace at Mells Park House. Their aim was that of the Pretoria regime ‒ to split the ANC between the mostly exiled “moderates” they could “do business with” (Tambo, Mbeki and Mandela) and the majority who made up the those resisting in the townships known as the UDF.

The matter was urgent. When FW De Klerk came to power in 1989, capital was haemorrhaging at such a rate that the country’s foreign reserves would barely cover five weeks of imports. Declassified files I have seen in Washington leave little doubt that De Klerk was on notice to rescue capitalism in South Africa. He could not achieve this without a compliant ANC.

Nelson Mandela was critical to this. Having backed the ANC’s pledge to take over the mines and other monopoly industries ‒ “a change or modification of our views in this regard is inconceivable” ‒ Mandela spoke with a different voice on his first triumphant travels abroad. “The ANC,” he said in New York, “will reintroduce the market to South Africa”. The deal, in effect, was that whites would retain economic control in exchange for black majority rule: the “crown of political power” for the “jewel of the South African economy”, as Ali Mazrui put it. When, in 1997, I told Mbeki how a black businessmen had described himself as “the ham in a white sandwich”, he laughed agreement, calling it the “historic compromise”, which others were called it a betrayal. However, it was De Klerk who was more to the point. I put it to him that he and his fellow whites had got what they wanted and that for the majority, the poverty had not changed. “Isn’t that the continuation of apartheid by other means?” I asked. Smiling through a cloud of cigarette smoke, he replied, “You must understand, we’ve achieved a broad consensus on many things now.”

Thabo Mbeki’s downfall [in 2008] is no more than the downfall of a failed economic system that enriched the few and dumped the poor. The ANC “neo-liberals” seemed at times ashamed that South Africa was, in so many ways, a third world country. “We seek to establish,” said Trevor Manuel, “an environment in which winners flourish.” Boasting of a deficit so low it had fallen to the level of European economies, he and his fellow “moderates” turned away from the public economy the majority of South Africans desperately wanted and needed. They inhaled the hot air of corporate-speak. They listened to the World Bank and the IMF; and soon they were being invited to the top table at the Davos Economic Forum and to G-8 meetings, where their “macro-economic achievements” were lauded as a model. In 2001, George Soros put it rather more bluntly. “South Africa,” he said, “is now in the hands of international capital.”

Public services fell in behind privatisation, and low inflation presided over low wages and high unemployment, known as “labour flexibility”. According to the ANC, the wealth generated by a new black business class would “trickle down”. The opposite happened. Known sardonically as the wabenzi because their vehicle of choice was a silver Mercedes Benz, black capitalists proved they could be every bit as ruthless as their former white masters in labour relations, cronyism and the pursuit of profit. Hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost in mergers and “restructuring” and ordinary people retreated to the “informal economy”. Between 1995 and 2000, the majority of South Africans fell deeper into poverty. When the gap between wealthy whites and newly enriched blacks began to close, the gulf between the black “middle class” and the majority widened as never before.

In 1996, the office of the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) was quietly closed down, marking the end of the ANC’s “solemn pledge” and “unbreakable promise” to put the majority first.

3. From Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine (2007):

In January 1990, Nelson Mandela […] sat down in his prison compound to write a note to his supporters outside. […] “The nationalisation of the mines, banks and monopoly industries is the policy of the ANC, and the change or modification of our views in this regard is inconceivable.” […] That belief had formed the basis of the policy of the African National Congress for thirty-five years, ever since it was spelled out in its statement of core principles, the Freedom Charter. […]

[…] rather than calling for the nationalization of the mines, Mandela and Mbeki began meeting regularly with Harry Oppenheimer, former chairman of the mining giants Anglo-American and De Beers, the economic symbols of apartheid rule. Shortly after the 1994 election, they even submitted the ANC’s economic program to Oppenheimer for approval and made several key revisions to address his concerns, as well as those of other top industrialist. Hoping to avoid getting another shock form the market, Mandela, in his first postelection interview as president, carefully distanced himself from his previous statements favouring nationalization, “In our economic policies…there is not a single reference to things like nationalization, and this is not accidental,’ he said. “There is not a single slogan that will connect us with any Marxist ideology.” The financial press offered steady encouragement for this conversion.: “Though the ANC still has a powerful leftist wing,” The Wall Street Journal observed, “Mr Mandela has in recent days sounded more like Margaret Thatcher than the socialist revolutionary he was once thought to be.” […]

Mbeki convinced Mandela that what was needed was a definitive break with the past. The ANC needed a completely new economic plan – something bold, something shocking, something that would communicate in the broad, dramatic strokes the market understood, that the ANC was ready to embrace the Washington Consensus.
As in Bolivia […], in South Africa only a handful of Mbeki’s closest colleagues even knew that a new economic program was in the works, one very different from the promises they had all made during the 1994 elections. […] To make sure the message was loud and clear to traders in New York and London, at the public launch of the plan, Mbeki quipped, “Just call me a Thatcherite.” […]

Between 1997 and 2004, the South African government sold eighteen state-owned firms, raising $4 billion, but almost half the money went to servicing the debt. In other words, not only did the ANC renege on Mandela’s original pledge of “the nationalization of the mines, banks and monopoly industry” but because of the debt, it was doing the opposite – selling off national assets to make good on the debts of its oppressors. […]

After a decade of ANC rule, millions of people had been cut off from newly connected water and electricity because they couldn’t pay the bills. […] As for the ‘banks, mines and monopoly industry’ that Mandela had pledged to nationalize, they remained firmly in the hands of the same four white-owned mega-conglomerates that also control 80 percent of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. In 2005, only 4 percent of companies listed on the exchange were owned or controlled by blacks. Seventy percent of South Africa’s land, in 2006, was still monopolized by whites, who are just 10 percent of the population. […] Perhaps the most striking statistic is this one: since 1990, the year Mandela left prison, the average life expectancy for South Africans has dropped by thirteen years. […]

Since 1994, the year the ANC took power, the number of people living on less than $1 a day has doubled, from 2 million to 4 million in 2006. Between 1991 and 2002, the unemployment rate for black South Africans more than doubled , from 23% to 48%. The ANC government has built 1.8 million homes, but in the meantime 2 million people have lost their homes. Close to 1 million people have been evicted from farms in the first decade of democracy. Such evictions have meant that the number of shack dwellers has grown by 50 percent. In 2006, more than one in four South Africans lived in shacks located in informal shantytowns, many without running water or electricity.

4. From P. Govender & J. Herskovitz, ‘Brand Madiba: Everyone wants little piece of Madiba magic’, Irish Examiner online 9/12/13:

At stake is the inheritance that will go to Mandela’s more than 30 children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, some of whom already use the Mandela name and image to market everything from clothing to reality TV.

There are also the Mandela brands and trademarks that help fund the foundation. And for the ANC, Mandela’s reputation as an anti-apartheid hero is worth votes for years to come.

There are no available public figures of Mandela’s wealth, making it difficult to put an exact value on his estate, which includes an upscale house in Johannesburg, a modest dwelling in his rural Eastern Cape home province, and royalties from book sales including his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom.

Several South African branding experts have declined to estimate the annual value of Mandela’s trademark and brands.

Maintaining control over the copyrights is already a difficult business; protecting the Mandela brand may be even harder now that he is gone.
Makaziwe and one of her daughters have launched a ‘House of Mandela’ range of wines, even if Mandela himself once said he did not want to be associated with alcohol or tobacco.

Some of his grandchildren have started a line of caps and sweatshirts that feature his image under the brand “Long Walk to Freedom”, borrowed from the title of his autobiography, while two of his US-based granddaughters starred in a reality television show called Being Mandela.

The other group keen to use Mandela’s image is the ruling African National Congress. After Mandela was imprisoned in 1964, the ANC made a conscious decision to use him and his young wife Winnie as symbols of the struggle against the racist government.

When Mandela walked out of prison in 1990, he became a figure of reconciliation, calming the white minority who had been told for years he was the terrorist face of the ‘swart gevaar’, or ‘black danger’.

Today the ANC needs that magic more than ever. “The ANC made the brand and the brand became bigger than the ANC,” author and political analyst William Gumede said.

When President Jacob Zuma visited Mandela at his Johannesburg home in April, some in the Mandela family accused the current president of manipulating a frail old man to shore up his own battered image.

~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on December 9, 2013.

One Response to “Mandela’s Double Legacy”

  1. wow.. nothing short of a blueprint of the ruling elites’ capitalist policies…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: