“Mandela was no god, no saint, but a man of the people. He reaffirms that people born of humble beginnings can rise and achieve extraordinary feats. Victory is possible against all odds.
He was loved for his honesty and integrity. He was loved because he was neither Mbeki nor Zuma. He was a visionary, he had a grand project… He was dignified and above all he had an immense love for his people and for the project of building a non-racial and non-sexist South Africa.
He slammed Bush and Blair for the war on Iraq: ‘What I am condemning is that one power, with a president who has no foresight and who cannot think properly, is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust.’ For Blair he had these words: ‘He is the foreign minister of the United States. He is no longer prime minister of Britain.’
He rose above bitterness and resentment. He was self-sacrificing and could reach out to his enemies and cross many divides. He was great because he was the great unifier. In many ways he was the architect of the New South Africa.
The struggle to liberate South Africa was a collective effort. Moreover it was the power of the most downtrodden, the workers in the factories, the poor in the community, working class women and youth that brought the apartheid government, if not completely to its knees, at least to negotiate the terms of the end of their racist system.
Mandela’s ANC came to predominate. Yet Mandela was the first to acknowledge the role of a broad range of movements that made up the struggle for national liberation and the mass democratic movement.
He took initiative, he led but he did so as part of a collective… He was a man of the black, green and gold – but he could reach beyond organisational boundaries.
In the words of Fikile Bam, a Robben Island prisoner from the left-wing National Liberation Front: ‘Mandela had this quality of being able to keep people together. It didn’t matter whether you were PAC or ANC, or what, we all tended to congregate around him. Even his critics – and he had them – deferred to him at the end of the day as a moral leader. Without him I can’t visualise how the transition would have gone.’
Mandela was great, but not so great that he could bridge the social divide rooted in 21st century capitalism that has given us the era of the 1 per centers
For the present cannot be understood without understanding the past, and not all that is wrong with current day South Africa can be put at the door of Zuma or Mbeki. The negotiated settlement that brought about a democratic South Africa on the basis of one person one vote will be regarded as Mandela’s greatest achievement. It avoided the scorched earth path of bloodletting which we now see in Syria. And yet it is those compromises that are now coming apart at the seams. The unresolved social inequality that has given rise, in the words of Thabo Mbeki, to South Africa as a country of two nations: one white and relatively prosperous, the second black and poor.
The great unifier could undertake great symbolic acts of reconciliation to pacify the white nation but because, by definition, this required sacrificing the redistribution of wealth, reconciliation with the whites was done at the expense of the vast majority of black people.
It is the unfortunate timing of South Africa’s transition, occurring as it did in the period in which global power became rooted in the global corporation, empowered through the rules of neoliberal globalisation. Reconciliation required the abandonment of ANC policy as articulated by Mandela on his release from jail, ‘nationalisation of the mines, banks and monopoly industry is the policy of the ANC and the change or modification of our views in this regard is inconceivable.’
Yet it is this abandonment of nationalisation, nationalisation symbolising the redistribution of wealth which was dictated by the needs of reconciliation not just with the white establishment but with global capitalism. His encounters with the global elite at Davos, the home of the World Economic Forum, convinced him that compromises needed to be made with the financiers. In the words of Ronnie Kasrils: ‘That was the time from 1991–1996 that the battle for the soul of the ANC got underway and was lost to corporate power and influence. I will call it our Faustian moment when we became entrapped.’
It is precisely this capitalist road that has proved such a disaster and which may ultimately destroy Mandela’s life’s work. To do justice to Mandela’s life of dedication and sacrifice for equality between black and white, the struggle must continue.
It now has to focus on overcoming inequality and achieving social justice. In this struggle we will need the greatness and wisdom of many Mandelas.”
In South Africa, like in the rest of the capitalist world, we will need an organisation dedicated to mobilising people of all ethnicities and cultures for the liberation of the wealth from the hands of a tiny elite. We will need leaders like Mandela and all the many greats that have led struggles for national liberation around the world, but most importantly we will need the people to “take their lives into their own hands and become their own liberators”.