by Kung Fu Zu 12/7/13
Nelson Mandela died Friday and since that day, there have been almost non-stop exaltations of the man from various pundits and news outlets around the world. Like many politicians who live to extreme old age after leaving office, Mandela’s image has gained from the fact that much of his life’s story is forgotten. In light of the hagiographical tales we are now hearing about Mandela, it might be wise to look into his history.
That Mandela was the grandson of a Xhosa King, and had a privileged upbringing is fairly well known. He began attending church as a child and was a Methodist all of his life. He became politically active after going to work as a clerk for a law firm which was run by a liberal white man. At this firm he became friendly with co-workers who were members of the African National Congress and communists. He started attending communist meetings in his early twenties. While attending law school, he met and established long term relations with communists such as Joe Slovo and Ruth First.
Dissatisfied with the leadership of the ANC, he and several others established the ANC Youth League in the early 1940’s, with the intention of pushing the ANC into a more radical stance. In the early 1950’s Mandela became more accepting of Communism and was influenced by the writings of Marxist writers and dictators. Throughout the 1950’s he became increasingly radical in his politics while becoming a philanderer on the side. He and his first wife divorced in the late 1950’s. Shortly thereafter he married Winnie Madikizela, a particularly despicable woman who used Mandela’s stature to shield herself from scrutiny. She formed the “Mandela United Football Club,” as a personal body guard. This was essentially a group of thugs who would occasionally “necklace” (soak a car tire with gasoline and put it around someone’s neck then set it on fire) as well as beat others to death. Yet Mandela stood by her when justice finally caught up with her and she went to trial for some of her crimes.
From the mid 1950’s, Mandela was an advocate for violence against the regime. He reorganized the ANC on basis of the cell structure and centralized the leadership. Both changes were adopted from earlier communist models. In 1961 he established the armed wing (MK) of the ANC in cooperation with the South African Communist Party. He also stated that he had drawn inspiration from the likes of Castro and Che Guevara. Mandela trained in guerilla warfare and secretly arranged for weapons from the Communist block to be smuggled into South Africa to be used in an armed struggle against the government. It was this push for an armed struggle which finally landed him in jail.
The South African government had tried to silence Mandela and others through the legal system, but had largely failed. In one particular trial the government brought the charge of treason against a large number of activists, but the charges were so broad and weak that they failed in court. But it was a different story with the MK. In a short period of time, the MK arranged dozens of bombing across South Africa. It was for these violent acts that Mandela was arrested, found guilty of conspiracy and trying to overthrow the government and subsequently sent to prison.
Many people today appear to believe that Mandela brought about the end of the apartheid government in South Africa. It is true he and President de Klerk reigned in the more extremist groups from both sides. And they did come to an understanding on how the country needed to move forward. But, to a large degree, it was international politics which forced the apartheid government to release its grip on power.
The South African apartheid State was established after WWII. This was the period during which the Cold War was started and South Africa became one of the fields on which it was fought. The Soviet Union saw many possibilities to extend its influence in colonial and post colonial Africa and it cooperated with many “liberation” movements such as the ANC. The Western block had no intention of allowing South Africa to fall under Soviet influence and supported the South African regime for many years. Over the years however, a public relations campaign against South Africa began to take its toll. Numerous companies began to cut back their trade with and investment in South Africa. More importantly, in my opinion, in the 1980’s it was becoming clear that the Soviet Block was cracking and unable to maintain its various clients throughout the world. This diminished Soviet threat, surely played a part in the decision of the United States, Great Britain and a large number of other countries to impose trade sanctions against the apartheid government. The South African government’s hand was forced and it saw Mandela as the least bad alternative.
Mandela’s greatest contribution is probably the way in which he helped keep violence under control. His “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” no doubt saved many lives. And he deserves a huge amount of credit for this alone.
But, it must not be forgotten that, in addition to his long-time association and cooperation with the South African Communist Party (SACP leader Joe Slovo became a minister in Mandela’s administration) government corruption and crime increased. And since his departure from office the situation has only worsened. Perhaps most worrying, for South Africa, is the fact that something approaching one million whites have emigrated from South Africa. One runs across them in all English speaking countries.
Mandela was not the political caricature which is presently being foisted upon the world. He was a revolutionary, and like all revolutionaries, he was willing to use violence to achieve his aims. Luckily, as regards his legacy, he was imprisoned in the 1960’s before he could come into power by violence. The history of revolutionaries who gain power through violence is not a happy one.
It was a happy turn of fate that he came into power as an old man after time and other forces had cleared most of the path to power for him. • (1809 views)