At 8.50 p.m. local time (6.50 p.m. British time), Nelson Mandela, the great liberation hero, the leader of the ANC, the first Commander-in-Chief of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the first democratically-elected president of South Africa, passed away at the age of 95 at his home in the Houghton Suburb of Johannesburg.
Although expected, his death brought the country to a standstill, while the rest of the world was stunned by the death of Madiba – Mandela’s clan name, by which he preferred to be known in the later part of his life.
Mandela’s death was announced in a televised address by the South African president, Jacob Zuma, in the following words:
“Fellow South Africans. Our beloved Nelson Mandela, the founding president of our democratic nation has departed.
“He passed on peacefully. Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father. Although we knew this day would come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss.
“His tireless struggle for freedom, earned him the respect of the world. His humility, his compassion and his humanity earned him their love.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Mandela family. To them we owe a debt of gratitude. They have sacrificed much and endured much so that our people could be free.
“Our thoughts are with the South African people who today mourn the loss of the one person who more than any other came to embody their sense of a common nationhood.
“Our thoughts are with the millions of people across the world who embraced Madiba as their own and who saw his cause as their cause… ”
Jacob Zuma went on to announce that:
” Our beloved Madiba will be accorded a state funeral I’ve ordered that all flags of the Republic of South Africa be lowered to half-mast from tomorrow and to remain at half mast until after the funeral .”
The ANC issued a statement saying that Mandela would remain for it ” our nearest and brightest star to guide us on our way. Our nation has lost a colossus, an epitome of humility, equality, justice, peace and the hope of millions; here and abroad”, adding: ” The large African baobab, who loved Africa as much as he loved South Africa, has fallen. Its trunk and seeds will nourish the earth for decades to come”.
The news of Mandela’s death caused a genuine outpouring of international grief – from the streets of Soweto and South African townships to presidential palaces. Tributes poured in from all corners of the world. Presidents, prime ministers, celebrities from the world of showbiz and sports, friends as well as former foes, opponents of the hated apartheid system as well as its notorious supporters, the oppressed and the oppressors, the exploited and the exploiters – all lined up to pay their tributes to this great son of Africa. There were huge gatherings in South Africa and abroad to mourn the death, and celebrate the life, of this truly distinguished human being.
While the mass outpouring of grief over Mandela’s death, and the tributes paid to him by millions around the world, were genuine, there was something sickeningly hypocritical about the pretended grief expressed by the spokesmen of imperialism and its gigantic propaganda machine, who had opposed, denounced and denigrated Mandela and the ANC over several decades. Watching the spectacle of the political leaders of leading imperialist countries tripping over each other to express their ‘sadness’ at the death of Mandela, to pay him fulsome tribute, while distorting his real legacy, one is reminded of the following penetrating observation of V. I. Lenin apropos the attempts made a hundred years ago by the bourgeoisie and its agents in the working-class movement to distort the teaching of Marx and to turn him into a harmless icon:
” What is now happening to Marx’s teaching has, in the course of history, happened repeatedly to the teachings of revolutionary thinkers and leaders of oppressed classes struggling for emancipation. During the lifetime of great revolutionaries, the oppressing classes constantly hounded them, received their teachings with the most savage malice, the most furious hatred and the most unscrupulous campaigns of lies and slander. After their death, attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonize them, so to say, and to surround their names with a certain halo for the ‘consolation’ of the oppressed classes and with the object of duping the latter, while at the same time emasculating the essence of the revolutionary teaching, blunting its revolutionary edge and vulgarizing it. At the present time, the bourgeoisie and the opportunists within the working-class movement concur in this ‘doctoring’ of Marxism. They omit, obliterate and distort the revolutionary side of this teaching, its revolutionary soul. They push to the foreground and extol what is or seems acceptable to the bourgeoisie. All the social-chauvinists are now ‘Marxists’ (don’t laugh!). And more and more frequently, German bourgeois scholars, but yesterday specialists in the annihilation of Marxism, are speaking of the ‘national-German’ Marx, who, they aver, educated the workers’ unions which are so splendidly organized for the purpose of conducting a predatory war!” (Lenin, State and Revolution, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Beijing, 1970, pp.5-6).
Mandela too in his lifetime was constantly hounded by the apartheid regime and its imperialist backers in the US, Britain, France and Germany. His revolutionary teachings, too, were received with the most savage malice and most furious hatred. He and his ANC were subjected to the most unscrupulous campaigns of lies and slander. But now that he is now more, a great campaign is under way to convert him into a harmless icon, to canonise him, so to speak, and surround his name with a certain halo to console the vast oppressed masses of South Africa and beyond with the sole purpose of deceiving them, while taking care to denude his teaching of its revolutionary essence, blunting its revolutionary edge and thus vulgarising it. They are busy obliterating or distorting the revolutionary side of Mandela’s teaching, while pushing to the front what is acceptable to imperialism, namely, Mandela’s alleged desire for reconciliation at all costs and to the exclusion of all else, and his alleged commitment to non-violence and peaceful methods of struggle.
Barack Obama, the US president, said that Mandela had lived up to the ‘democratic ideal’: ” He achieved more than could be expected of any man. Through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, Madiba transformed South Africa and moved all of us”.
In a live TV address from the White House Obama said: ” Today, he has gone home. And we have lost one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth. He no longer belongs to us – he belongs to the ages”.
At a memorial gathering at the FNB Stadium in Soweto on 10 December, Obama characterised Mandela as a giant of history and as the ” last great liberator of the 20th century”.
Mandela, he said, had been a great inspiration to him personally when he was a student 30 years ago, although there is no record of him joining any struggle to free Mandela from the concentration camp on Robben Island to which Mandela and some of his comrades had been consigned.
Disgustingly using the occasion to promote US imperialism’s agenda of democracy through Cruise missiles, drones and occupation, Obama had a barely disguised dig at countries and governments that refuse to follow the US diktat, saying: ” There are too many people who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge poverty and growing inequality. There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom but do not tolerate dissent from their own people”.
Such is the deluded state of mind, and disregard for reality, that must characterise the chief political representative of US imperialism, that he can utter the words just quoted without pausing to think that they are best used to describe him and the state he represents. While pretending to embrace Mandela’s legacy, of which he, along with representatives of other imperialist countries, has a completely distorted view, it is he, Mr Obama, who is hell bent on denying freedom to countries that refuse to toe the line laid down by US imperialism – from Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan to Syria and Iran. Through attacks on the working class at home and wars abroad, his administration is busy spreading poverty and misery everywhere, while he rails against others for spreading “chronic poverty and growing inequality”. While pretending to embrace Madiba’s alleged commitment to non-violence, Obama practises mass murder abroad and has become the assassin-in-chief through drone warfare, killing thousands of innocent people, including women and children, from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Yemen and Somalia. While showing fake allegiance to Madiba’s struggle for democracy and freedom, he keeps several hundred people locked up in the dungeons and torture chambers of the Guantánamo concentration camp. The US under his watch, just as under the previous administrations over the last 50 years, continues to maintain a strangulating blockade against tiny and heroic Cuba for daring to have in place a political and economic system not to the liking of US imperialism – a worse example of refusal to “tolerate dissent” is hard to imagine.
At home, US imperialism continues to incarcerate a greater proportion of its population than any other country in jails, which are notorious for the brutal, cruel and inhuman treatment of their inmates, a disproportionate number of whom are black Americans.
British prime minister, David Cameron, had this to say on hearing the news of Madiba’s demise: ” A great light has gone out in the world. Nelson Mandela was a hero of our time, a legend in life and now in death and the embodiment of grace”.
Later, in a speech outside Number 10, Cameron said: ” He was not just a hero of our time but a hero of all time, a man who suffered so much for freedom and justice””
David Cameron and John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, agreed that there would be statements and tributes in the Commons on Monday 9 December.
Nevertheless it is worth recalling that in 1985 the Federation of Conservative Students produced the ‘Hang Mandela‘ posters. In 1989 Cameron himself worked in the Tory Policy Unit at the Central Office of the Conservative and went on an all-expenses paid anti-sanctions ‘fact-finding’ mission to South Africa with a pro-apartheid lobby firm sponsored by Botha. Let everyone remember that when he tells the world that he is inspired by Madiba, he, just like the occupant of the White House in the US who also pretends to follow Madiba’s legacy of non-violence and reconciliation, has been a willing participant in the war against the people of Afghanistan, an enthusiastic participant in the barbarous bombing of Libya and the overthrow of its legitimate and popular government and the sickening murder of its legitimate head of state, and was dying to start bombing Syria before being stopped dead in his tracks by an unexpected turn of events.
At home, such is his devotion to reconciliation, negotiation and peaceful resolution of conflict that hundreds of young people are languishing in jail following the August 2011 uprisings of youth against poverty and police brutality.
In addition to all this, the coalition government he heads is busy attacking working people’s standard of living through cutting welfare benefits and gutting the health service and educational provision.
British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, to whom hardly anyone, even if maliciously mischievous, could attribute a shred of humanity or an ounce of morality, said: ” Nelson Mandela was one of the greatest moral and political leaders of our time. His life story is a compelling and inspiringly profound political journey. An international icon and inspiration to millions, his appeal transcended race, religion and class. He was at once a leader of immense character and strength, and a man closely attuned to the needs of his people.
“Nelson Mandela once wrote, ‘I don’t think there is much history can say about me.’ Yet he will be remembered forever for his lifelong fight against racial oppression, not least during his 27 years of incarceration, and as the first freely elected leader of a multi-racial South Africa. His name will echo down the ages for his immense contribution to his country, to Africa, and to the world, and his tireless work for peace and reconciliation.”
Such is his love for Madiba’s “tireless work for peace and reconciliation”, that this pipsqueak has been one of the most ardent advocates of wars in Libya and Syria. Instead of working for peace and reconciliation in Syria, he has been instrumental in providing every material aid to the fanatical Jihadis in Syria who continue to perpetrate massacres and kill indiscriminately. William Hague has the blood of countless Syrians, Libyans and Afghans on his hands.
George W Bush, who as US president waged wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, overthrew the legitimate governments of these countries, had the head of the Iraqi state and many other Iraqi leaders judicially murdered, was responsible for killing or displacing a quarter of the Iraqi population, bent every norm of legality and decency to pursue his wars in furtherance of the interests of US imperialism, and who reduced Iraq from being the cultured and prosperous society that it was before the US-led invasion to a state of medieval existence, from which it has yet to recover, unblushingly waxed eloquent about Madiba representing “one of the great forces for freedom and equality of our time“, ‘forgetting’ to add that Madiba’s ideas had not had the slightest effect on him:
Upon learning of his death, Bush issued a statement saying Mandela was “one of the great forces for freedom and equality of our time.”
“He bore his burdens with dignity and grace, and our world is better off because of his example. This good man will be missed, but his contributions will live on forever. Laura and I send our heartfelt sympathy to President Mandela’s family and to the citizens of the nation he loved.”
Bush’s junior partner in crime, former British prime minister Tony Blair, the murderer of the Afghan and Iraqi people, who blatantly denied the Afghan and Iraqi people the right to determine their own affairs, who led Britain, hand in hand with the US, to wage genocidal wars against these two countries, killing over 2m people and displacing many more, who planned in 2000 to invade Zimbabwe and overthrow President Mugabe, only to be frustrated in his plan by the refusal of Thabo Mbeki, the then president of South Africa, and Lord Guthrie, Britain’s Chief of Defence Staff at the time, to go along his mad and murderous course, had the temerity to utter the following nauseatingly hypocritical words on Madiba’s death:
“He was a unique political figure at a unique moment in history. Through his leadership, he guided the world into a new era of politics in which black and white, developing and developed, north and south, despite all the huge differences in wealth and opportunity, stood for the first time together and on equal terms”.
Former US president Bill Clinton, the murderer of the liberties of the Yugoslav people, the destroyer of the Yugoslav state and the bomber of Somalia, had this to say on Madiba’s death:
” Today the world has lost one of its most important leaders and one of its finest human beings. History will remember Nelson Mandela as a champion for human dignity and freedom, for peace and reconciliation. We will remember him as a man of uncommon grace and compassion.
“All of us are living in a better world because of the life that Madiba lived”.
The truth is: we will only live in a better world when imperialism becomes a distant memory. As long as imperialism lasts, there is no peace, or freedom from poverty, for the people of the world, who need to follow in the footsteps of Madiba’s struggle against oppression and exploitation – not his alleged legacy of existing peacefully with, and reconciling to, exploitation, injustice, misery and a dreadful existence.
FW de Klerk
FW de Klerk, the last president of apartheid South Africa, who was forced to release Mandela from jail – not out of a desire for reconciliation but because he could no longer continue to detain him in the light of changed circumstances both within and outside of South Africa – said: ” His greatest legacy is that he was a unifier and built a bridge between the conflict of the past and the peace of today.
“He was a remarkable man. His legacy will be his emphasis on reconciliation, his remarkable lack of bitterness. And he didn’t only talk about reconciliation. He lived for reconciliation. He was a great unifier”.
What made him “such a remarkable man” added to Klerk was that he “had a remarkable lack of bitterness”.
Mr de Klerk’s only motivation for reconciliation was and is to ensure the continuation of the privileged existence of the white minority in South Africa. The majority black population of the country has a completely different notion of what Mandela stood for and will doubtless pursue that path.
Similarly hypocritical tributes have been paid by the leaders of imperialism in France, Germany and Japan, not to speak of the leaders of smaller imperialist powers.
Representatives of imperialism who today are showering praise on Nelson Mandela and the ANC ought to remember that they supported apartheid, as well as the hounding and persecution of the ANC, Mandela and his comrades. All the imperialist governments regarded the ANC as a terrorist organisation. Mandela was on the US terrorist list and was only as late as 1990 able to receive a waiver enabling him to visit the US.
Attempts are being made to rewrite the history of Mandela and the ANC. A myth is in the process of being created according to which Mandela was totally committed to non-violence; that he was a South African Gandhi who opposed the use of revolutionary violence and armed resistance by the oppressed masses in pursuit of their liberation. Efforts are under way to transform him into an apostle for peace and reconciliation, into a poster boy for peaceful protest, non-violence and all such respectable methods of struggle so harmless to imperialism and the exploiters but so damaging to the cause of national liberation of the oppressed people and the mission of the proletariat for its social emancipation.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Mandela gave up on ideas of exclusively peaceful protest after the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 and played a significant role in 1961 in the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the underground military wing of the liberation movement, becoming its first Commander-in-Chief. He was never to go back on the principle of armed resistance in pursuit of the aims of the liberation struggle.
Even before Mandela, Chief Albert Luthuli, head of the ANC from 1952, had begun to question the value of exclusively peaceful methods of struggle: ” Who will deny that thirty years of my life have been spent knocking in vain, patiently, moderately and modestly at a closed and barred door? What have been the fruits of our moderation?” These had been hundreds of killings, thousands of arrests and the enduring statutory barbed wire of the pass laws which barred blacks from vast areas of their own country unless they carried a pass book endorsed by a white employer.
As for Mandela, this is what he had to say: ” Fifty years of non-violence had brought the African people nothing but more and more repressive legislation, and fewer and fewer rights”.
And further: ” Only through hardship, sacrifice and militant action can freedom be won. The struggle is my life. I will continue fighting for freedom until the end of my days”.
As he was to explain in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, ” I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth. But a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities and a thousand unremembered moments produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people”.
The systematic and brutal oppression of the black majority by the white minority racist regime in South Africa caused him to join the ANC and struggle against apartheid after its introduction in 1948.
The banning of the ANC after the Sharpeville massacre of March 1960, in which the South African police showered a peaceful crowd of black protesters with a hail of bullets, killing 69 innocent people, convinced Mandela of the necessity of organising armed resistance to the regime.
After his release from 27 years of brutal imprisonment had been agreed, he insisted on completing his long walk to freedom on foot, from Victor Verster prison near Cape Town.
Four hours later, at a mass rally, he put down a defiant marker for negotiations by calling on foreign powers to maintain sanctions, emphasising the need to continue the armed struggle: “The factors which necessitated armed struggle still exist today”, he declared.
On the occasion of the 48th Congress of the ANC in 1991 at Durban – the first to be held on South African soil since its banning in 1960 – Mandela made it clear in no uncertain terms that it was the armed struggle which had, by changing the balance of forces, obliged the apartheid regime to legalise the ANC and the South African Communist Party, as well as to free the leadership of these organisations. Sounding a note of caution, he spoke thus:
” We have suspended armed action, but we have not terminated the armed struggle. Whether it is deployed inside the country or outside, the Umkhonto we Sizwe has therefore a responsibility to keep itself in a state of readiness in case the forces of counter-revolution once more block the path of peaceful transition to a democratic society. It is precisely that struggle which has changed the balance of forces to such an extent that the apartheid system is now under retreat. Through the struggles of our people the ban on the ANC has been lifted and we are able to meet in our own country today. A regime whose ideology is based on a virulent anti-communism has been forced to unban our ally the South African Communist Party, and remove provisions from the law prohibiting the propagation of communist ideals2.
One of the charges against Mandela at his trial was that he was a communist. Indeed, he was on the Central Committee of the South African Communist Party before his arrest. Following his release from jail, in the prevailing anti-communist hysteria unleashed by imperialism in the wake of the demise of the USSR and the eastern block of socialist countries, such charges were once again levelled at Mandela as it became only too clear that he was bound to lead a new South Africa about to be ushered in. He courageously confronted this ideological offensive head on at the mammoth rally concluding the ANC Congress: ” Who are your allies is your business and who are our allies is our business”, he said.
The truth is that Mandela was above all else a freedom fighter and a leader of armed struggle against the apartheid regime and its imperialist backers.
He supported and in turn was supported by other freedom fighters the world over, from the IRA, Yasser Arafat’s PLO, Muammer Gaddafi’s Libya, to Fidel Castro of Cuba, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Agostino Neto of the MPLA, etc. – all of whom were branded as terrorists by the representatives of imperialism and its gigantic propaganda machine.
It is to the great credit and integrity of Mandela that he refused to turn his back on any of them, in spite of the pressure brought to bear upon him by imperialism.
Mandela’s loyalty to his supporters
When imperialism was opposing sanctions against apartheid South Africa and characterising Mandela as a terrorist and the ANC as a terrorist organisation, Gaddafi was funding his fight by training ANC fighters, arming them and paying for their education abroad. Mandela repeatedly called Gaddafi his close friend.
When after his release from jail imperialist spokesmen expressed their disapproval of Mandela’s visit to Libya, Mandela bluntly retorted: ” No country can claim to be the policeman of the world and no state can dictate to another what it should do. Those that yesterday were friends of our enemies have the gall today to tell me not to visit my brother Gaddafi. They are advising us to be ungrateful and forget our friends of the past”.
In the same year, 1991, Mandela visited Cuba and praised the Cuban revolution in the following effusive terms – to the great chagrin of US imperialism: “Long live the Cuban revolution. Long live Cde Fidel Castro … Cuban internationalists have done so much for African independence, freedom and justice. We admire the sacrifices of the Cuban people in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in the face of a vicious imperialist campaign designed to destroy the advances of the Cuban revolution. We too want to control our destiny … There can be no surrender. It is a case of freedom or death. The Cuban revolution has been a source of inspiration to all our freedom-loving people”.
His dislike of, and opposition to, US imperialism can be easily gauged from this pronouncement of his: ” The people of Asia and Africa have seen through the slanderous campaign conducted by the USA against socialist countries. They know that their independence is threatened not by any of the countries in the socialist camp but by the USA, who has surrounded their continent with military bases. The communist bogey is an American stunt to distract the attention of the people of Africa from the real issue facing them, namely, American imperialism”.
He expressed his vehement opposition to the Iraq war and condemned the US in these harsh and unequivocal words: ” What I am condemning is that one power, with a president who has no foresight, who cannot think properly, is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust … If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America. They don’t care”.
He unreservedly supported the liberation struggle of the Palestinian people against Zionist occupation and he met Yasser Arafat in 1998. In 2010 he wrote a powerful letter to Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, correctly characterising Israel as an apartheid country, just as South Africa had been: ” The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not just an issue of military occupation and Israel is not a country that was established ‘normally’ and happened to occupy another country in 1967. The Palestinians are not struggling for a ‘state’ but for freedom, liberation and equality, just like we were struggling for freedom in South Africa”.
And he concluded: ” Thomas, I am not abandoning Mideast diplomacy. But I am not going to indulge you the way your supporters do. If you want peace and democracy, I will support you. If you want formal apartheid, we will not support you. If you want to support racial discrimination and ethnic cleansing, we will oppose you. When you figure out what you are about, give me a call.”
In his speech to the Dail, Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, paid fulsome tribute to Mandela as a friend of the Irish people and their struggle for liberation. The death of Bobby Sands was marked in Mandela’s prison calendar, said Adams. There was close collaboration between Umkhonto We Sizwe and the IRA, with the latter providing military training to the ANC guerrillas and helping them blow up an oil refinery in South Africa.
Mandela, said Adams, mourned the deaths of the hunger strikers, and, although he stood for reconciliation, he was immovable on core principles and values.
In 1990 the Labour Party tried to prevent Mandela meeting Gerry Adams but failed as Mandela was adamant that the meeting take place.
Mandela rightly believed that there was no alternative to the use of violence in the struggle against apartheid. The life of Mandela, said Adams, was full of action and hard struggle.
In the light of the foregoing, it is clear that Mandela was an enemy of imperialism, an admirer of communism, and passionately subscribed to the cause of national liberation of the oppressed people and the social emancipation of the proletariat. He was a firm believer in the use of revolutionary violence in the face of the counter-revolutionary violence of imperialism and its agents. He firmly believed in the need for a close alliance between the national liberation movement of the oppressed nations and the proletariat in the centres of imperialism. These, then, are the reasons why he is universally loved by the oppressed peoples and the proletarians of the world.
Why imperialism praises Mandela
This being the case, what then explains the praise, sincere or otherwise, showered upon him by the loathsome spokesmen of imperialism?
The clue to this strange phenomenon lies in the fact that the ANC proved unable or unwilling to carry into effect its Freedom Charter, thus leaving the economic interests of the white minority, as well as of imperialism, intact. As long as these interests are not damaged, representatives of imperialism can bear to swim with the tide of the adulation of the masses for their truly great hero, especially as they hope to turn him into a harmless icon in order to dupe the masses and keep them off the path of economic liberation. That doubtless they won’t succeed in this venture in the end does not detract from the fact that they are nevertheless doing their best to succeed.
As well as bringing to an end the white monopoly on political power, the ANC had vowed to effect a fundamental restructuring of the political and economic system to address the economic inequalities of the apartheid era. Through its Freedom Charter, drafted in 1955 with Mandela’s participation, it declared:
“The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole”.
None of that has come about, for the agreements which brought down apartheid, signed by the ANC, included provisions to the effect that major corporations in South Africa, be they owned by South Africa whites or imperialist finance capital, could not be nationalised.
The hopes and aspirations of the masses have by and large been disappointed on this score, notwithstanding the great political advance achieved consequent upon the downfall of the apartheid regime. Here are a few statistics which shine a light on the contrast between the lives of the white minority and the black majority (save a handful of blacks who have made it into the ranks of the bourgeoisie): 85% of the country’s land still belongs to 15% whites. 30% of the black workforce is unemployed, while a quarter of the black population lives at or near the poverty line. 1.5 million black people have no flushing toilets. 1.7 million live in shacks with neither washing nor cooking facilities. 1.4 million African children live in homes reliant on dirty streams for drinking water. The top 5% of the population take home 30 times the wages of the bottom 5%. 5 million suffer from HIV/Aids.
There is widespread corruption, racketeering and fraud. Over two decades since the end of apartheid, the ANC, from being an inspiring liberation movement, has become a self-serving and self-perpetuating elite, busy playing musical chairs, recycling place and pelf between themselves. It has become a doorway to riches and patronage, with people joining for the purpose of promoting their commercial and political interests, rather than to serve the masses. In the words of Zwelinzima Vavi, a veteran communist trade unionist, the new ruling élite of a tiny group of privileged blacks has become a ‘predatory class’.
President Jacob Zuma has used £15 million o f public funds to upgrade his residence in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal Province, complete with a helipad, a clinic and an underground bunker – all in the name of security of course.
The dichotomy between overblown rhetoric about civil, political, economic, social and human rights, on the one hand, and the omnipresent income inequalities and the conditions of squalor which blight the lives of millions of black South Africans, on the other hand, is all too obvious. The sluggish response to the police massacre of 34 miners at Marikana was a brutal reminder of the gulf dividing the ANC leadership and the poorer sections of the population.
The glaring contrast in the lives of those who tweet on the best technology and those who do not have sufficient food to eat hardly needs pointing out. Wealth is still dominated by the white minority. According to a 2007 survey, white South Africans earn seven times as much as their black counterparts. A white person born in 2009 can expect to live to the age of 71, as against the 48 years that a black person can expect. It is a shameful statistic, but true, that inequality of income presently is worse than even during the decades of apartheid, with the second-worst Gini coefficient (a measure of inequality) among 136 countries.
The black masses of South Africa have achieved political freedom – doubtless an historic advance. They have, however, yet to achieve economic freedom. The power base of monopoly capital, local and foreign, as well as white economic privilege, is intact.
Lack of economic justice is a festering sore and a source of great frustration, anger and sheer hate bubbling just beneath the surface, without addressing which there will be no peace in South Africa. The next phase of the liberation struggle in South Africa is bound to tackle this question and usher in changes which will not be to the liking of the privileged minority.
Amidst the media frenzy following the death of Mandela, with one-sided saturation reporting and wall-to-wall coverage emphasising Mandela’s powers of reconciliation, the following thoughtful comment furnished a healthy antidote to the sickening extravaganza aimed at rewriting the history of the South African liberation struggle with the sole purpose of influencing the future course of its development to the advantage of imperialism and the local elites alike:
” As Mandela led South Africa through the peaceful transition to a ‘rainbow nation’ at the 1994 election, white support for him became near-universal, particularly among the young. But there is a negative side to this near-adulation: many still seem to think that after his journey from a prison cell to the presidency, no further change is required, and that the whites’ overwhelming economic privilege can be maintained.
“Whites often appeared to cling to Madiba, Mandela’s clan name as if to banish the thought of what might happen when he was gone. They are probably right to fear that without his forgiving presence, chillier winds may blow around them.
“South Africa has lost the greatest figure in its history, but Mandela’s death merely marks the end of the first phase in the country’s revolution. There is much change yet to come, and little of it will be palatable to those who imagine things can stay the same” (Raymond Whitaker, ‘Chillier winds may blow through the nation’, The Independent, 6 December 2013).