Why They Praise Mandela

Attempts are being made to  rewrite the History of Mandela and the African National Congress (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 colonial powers 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 Sjzwe, 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.

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.

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.

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 western media in the wake of the demise of the USSR and the eastern block of actually existing 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.

Yet the West continues to shower praise on Mandela.

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 multinationals, intact. As long as these interests are not damaged, representatives of corporate world 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.

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 global 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.

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 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.

Amidst the media frenzy following the death of Mandela, many have begun 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. [contributed]

Vol. 46, No. 33, Feb 23 - Mar 1, 2014