Did Nelson Mandela ever write in Afrikaans

Revolutionary instead of an icon: the real Mandela

In the course of his life, Nelson Mandela learned how to go from terrorist to secular saint in the West. The world media continues to turn headline after headline about his life and legacy. Today they consider him, alongside Gandhi and Martin Luther King, to be one of the moral leaders of the 20th century.

Everyone, from Disney star Lindsey Lohan to former apartheid defenders like British Prime Minister David Cameron, is today hailing Mandela as a hero. However, he was no pacifist, no tame non-violence preacher, no ideology-free embodiment of unique righteousness. He was an exemplary revolutionary, spurred on by his will to assert himself politically.

But while Mandela was undoubtedly a "great figure of historic stature," too many of the obituaries and tributes show incapable of going beyond hero-worship or platitudes. There is still far too little critical reflection on what his political legacy really is. The same applies to the failure to analyze the nature and dangers of the popular Mandela mythologies. Many paint the picture of a progressive “rainbow nation” that has found its way - a picture that has little to do with the social realities of South Africa beyond apartheid.

The myth of Mandela

The truth is, much of what apartheid was all about persists in South Africa - no longer under the coercion of state laws, regulations or the use of force, but under the new, market-enforced forms. This must be the starting point for anyone who subjects Mandela's legacy to an honest assessment. But this requires the distinction between Mandela, the myth, and the real Mandela.

There were actually two mandelas. The first is the revolutionary, the lawyer, the politician - a great man with all his weaknesses. Mandela Zwei is an embellished construct, a myth: the father of the nation, the icon, the world's darling, also celebrated by the spreaders of global phrases of humanity, even the original enemies of the African National Congress (ANC). This mandela has been robbed of its humanity and stylized as an abstract symbol of moral justice.

Like tens of thousands of others, Mandela Eins was inspired by the will to devote his whole life to fighting a racist system. He was a lifelong anti-imperialist and never hesitated to oppose the United States on foreign policy issues. His solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinians or with countries like Cuba, close allies in the anti-apartheid struggle, never waned.

This Mandela was a brilliant strategist. Together with companions such as Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and Anton Lembede, he succeeded in transforming the ANC into a political mass organization - largely through the ANC Youth League in the 1940s and 1950s and through the Defiance campaigns to disregard unjust laws . After his release from prison, Mandela again succeeded in turning the liberation movement ANC into a modern political party. Notable successes in both cases. And of course it served the anti-apartheid movement as a moral icon of extraordinary symbolic power - a symbol whose aura later also wanted to be used by the people and institutions that Mandela had fought.

Revolutionary instead of grandfather of the nation

In the international discourse on human rights and political leadership, people like to refer to Mandela as a benevolent leader. The political path he actually took is ignored. This led from the anti-communist black nationalism of its early years via an excursion to the South African Communist Party (SACP) to a non-racially determined, more radical vision of the South African nation. Mandela's early conviction that nationalization measures were necessary - which he only moved away from in the early 1990s - as well as his sharp criticism of the racial injustices during the apartheid era are also ignored. Generally speaking, the revolutionary character of his political work is ignored.

In 1960, for example, he formulated his political stance as follows: “I am drawn to the idea of ​​a classless society. This attraction arises partly from Marxist reading and partly from my admiration for the structure and organization of early African societies in this country. The soil as the most important means of production at that time belonged to the tribe. There was neither rich nor poor and there was no exploitation. ”From 1961, when the ANC decided to take up armed struggle, the following criticism of non-violence comes:“ There are many who feel that it is useless and in vain to continue to speak of peace and non-violence against a state power whose only answer is cruel attacks on unarmed and defenseless people. "

In short: At no time was Mandela the benevolent grandfather of the nation as which he was often portrayed after the apartheid era. Nevertheless, today Mandela Zwei, the man of reconciliation who pulled South Africa back from the abyss of civil war, is world-famous; the Mandela, who entered into the compromise with the Nationalist Party that led to the government of national unity after the victory of the ANC in the country's first democratic elections in 1994. This Mandela is the subject of post-apartheid sentimentality, for example in films such as "Invictus", where he appears in the jersey of the South African team boss at the final of the Rugby World Cup to announce that the new South Africa has room for whites. And in the current film “Long Walk to Freedom” he is portrayed as someone who saved South Africa from the radicalism of his fellow campaigners.

Mandela is considered to be one of the rare examples of “good governance” in Africa because he voluntarily relinquished power. This led to the construction of a nonsensical contradiction between the South African way of democracy and economic stability (Mandela) on the one hand and the Zimbabwean way of radical intervention and authoritarianism on the other (Mugabe). This silly juxtaposition is found in many obituaries.

The neoliberalization of South Africa

A central contradiction marks the legacy of Mandela in today's South Africa. The country is a pluralistic liberal democracy in which the black majority enjoys all civil rights - a state whose constitution defines human and socio-economic rights in equal measure. In South African society, however, social inequality is more pronounced than anywhere else in the world. Unemployment is 40 percent and the country's economic system still keeps the majority of black South Africans trapped in the poverty trap or in the low-wage sector.

The written law, laws, ordinances, and regulations of the apartheid system may have been abolished, but the free market acts as a mechanism that is almost as effective in maintaining apartheid structures - both geographically and economically. In much of the country, the Bantustan structure has remained intact. These areas remain undeveloped “labor reserves”. Millions of South Africans live there under the tyranny of a patriarchal customary law, most of which goes back to "black traditions" invented by white apartheid authorities and executed by "traditional leaders".

All too often, the time when Mandela himself was president is transfigured into a kind of miracle - a time when he succeeded in uniting black and white. The real successes are just as little analyzed as the defeats he suffered in his short term in office.

Much of what did not succeed can be traced back to the neoliberal course in economic policy in the country, which the National Party had already embarked on in the 1980s. Under the pressure of the GEAR package of measures adopted by the IMF and the World Bank in 1996 [1], this course was tightened and laid down. In doing so, South Africa submitted to an austerity regime that was justified by the need to repay the debts that the apartheid state had accumulated. Western countries, international financial institutions, technocrats (largely inherited from the previous regime) in the South African government and a powerful ANC faction headed by ex-President Thabo Mbeki and ex-finance minister Trevor Manuel pushed for the GEAR course.

As a result, there was massive privatization of state-owned companies and extensive commercialization of basic services. The GEAR policy thus displaced the categories of universalistic civil rights that had grown out of the liberation struggle and replaced them with an understanding of citizenship, the focus of which is the respective position in economic activity. In other words: the “stakeholder” took the place of the citizen.

The fact that the ANC adopted the GEAR program was partly due to pressures from international powers and capital representatives, as well as threats that South Africa would face expulsion from the World Trade Organization if the ANC pursued a radical redistribution program. In addition, the dominant party faction clung to the belief that the market would - freed from the shackles of apartheid - bring about the construction and restructuring of South African society and lead to their "empowerment" by integrating blacks into regular business operations.

ANC: Party without a narrative

The ANC, to which Mandela dedicated his entire life, has now degenerated into a deep swamp of social conservatism, neoliberal technocracy, patronage networks, corruption and increasingly authoritarian politics. The party also has no narrative that could unite the country, nor a vision for the future of South Africa. Its reputation as a progressive force in the interests of the poor and the working class is now based on pure rhetoric - a rhetoric that sounds increasingly hollow after the police murder of 34 striking miners in Marikana in 2012. At that time, the police acted in agreement with leading ANC politicians, in particular the deputy ANC chairman and ex-union leader Cyril Ramphosa.

The continuing mass support of the ANC is mainly due to the fact that it cultivates the pathos of the liberation struggle - and refers to Mandela in doing so. The party benefits from the weaknesses of the opposition parties, the dependence of millions of black South Africans on the state for access to economic life and, finally, the success of the ANC social welfare program, whose benefits are now received by over 18 million citizens.

Another narrative, however, portrays Mandela as an arch traitor - as the man who is responsible for selling out liberation and the South African road to socialism; who sold the ideals of the liberation movement to white capitalists and the National Party and who considered it more important to come to terms with white South Africa than to fight the old elite and their allies.

This narrative is closely related to the Stalinist current within the ANC. It adheres to the idea of ​​a national-democratic revolution in which a nationalist revolution of the bourgeoisie is regarded as a necessary preliminary stage to the actual struggle for socialism. In this notion, the state functions as a mere tool, and socialism can only be achieved when the right people are in power. But this narrative draws no lessons from history, neither from the failure of “actually existing socialism” or from the experiments of “African socialism”. Nor does it ever deal with the fundamental contradiction between nationalism and socialism.

Both narratives have in common, however, that they do not see Mandela as the person he was, but rather through the optics of the mythology surrounding him. So they move more in the symbolic than in the real-historical space. It has always been the ANC's strategy to work towards compromises with the right-wing South African National Party (Afrikaans Nasionale Party) and white capitalists. Even during the armed struggle, the organization never saw it as a real possibility of overcoming the apartheid state militarily. The treacherous narrative that large parts of the left spread both inside and outside the ANC is too conspiracy theoretic and reinforces the historical power attributed to Mandela.

Mandela's nocturnal hotel room talks with South African capitalists like Harry Oppenheimer, the former head of the Anglo-American mining company, and his trips to Davos certainly played a major role in his gradual move towards a market economy. Politicians like ex-President Thabo Mbeki and Trevor Manuel, at the time South African finance minister and architect of the GEAR program, played a much more important role than Mandela in the neoliberal turnaround in South Africa. It is therefore wrong to personally blame Mandela for the entire responsibility instead of the ANC's lack of political maneuverability in the economic negotiations of the post-apartheid period.

As early as 1999, Neville Alexander - another great revolutionary and fellow prisoner of Mandela on Robben Island, who died in 2012 - stressed in a television interview: “'[The ANC does not believe ...] that we can overthrow the apartheid state. He assumes that we have to force the ideologues and strategists of apartheid to the negotiating table. ”He recalled that when [Ben Bella], the Algerian leader at the time, visited Algeria, he was told about an attempt by the ANC to establish the apartheid state had advised against overcoming it by force, because it could not be done. It would be a strategic waste of human life, time [and] energy. "

The fateful image of Mandela as the Redeemer who set out from Robben Island in 1990 to liberate South Africa persists. It nourishes the sentimental aura that surrounds the ANC - and is the key to its hegemony. At the same time, it feeds the post-apartheid mythology of capital that South Africa has overcome racism and transformed into a society in which moral value and social position are no longer measured by race, but by market value or productivity. According to her, Mandela redeemed the nation from all past sins. The year 1994 meant a complete break with the past.

The political revival of South African society

The glorification of the leaders of a liberation struggle, the stylization of the “founding father”, sometimes only comes to light gradually. She then goes beyond mere distortions of the past and creates a picture of history that robs those who took up the fight of both their real role and collective action. After all, it was the black trade union movement, it was the hundreds of thousands of people mobilized by the United Democratic Front and its affiliated organizations and the civil movements that took to the streets, occupied pits and fought against the police - it was they who liberated Mandela.

But because the legend of the liberation by the one great man is closely tied to the ANC and Mandela, it leads to the demobilization of a highly politicized society and brings the mass movements of the 1980s under the direct control of the ANC leadership. In the early 1990s, the ANC changed from a liberation movement to a political party. This was partly to prevent massive opposition to the economic compromises the ANC leadership wanted to make with capital and the National Party. The main aim of this was to enable the ANC to prevent resistance from the trade union movement to its economic course. As a result, speaking to Frantz Fanon, “the people were driven out of history [...] and sent back to the caves.” To put it more concretely: the idea prevailed that once freedom had been achieved, the people should please to wait passively to see what the ANC intends to do next.

Any left-wing transformation project for South Africa outside of the ANC must renew the awareness and legacy of the mass movements of the 1970s and 80s. This also means that she has to question the narrative of the quasi messianic liberation, which is linked to the Mandela mythology.

Mandela deserves to be respected, mourned and used as a source of inspiration. But we should not succumb to the mythology that surrounds his legacy. The danger of immunization against the spirit of criticism is simply too great.If we leave Mandela Zwei, the myth, untouched, we will at the same time allow the dynastic, even religious forms of nationalism, such as those that developed in India around Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.

Mandela as a myth offers capital cover and narrows the political imagination about South Africa's future to an understanding of politics that virtually perpetuates the present. But it would be urgently necessary to develop alternatives again and to reconnect with the tradition of the mass movement to which Mandela himself owed the liberation. Mandela teaches us that personal courage, collective solidarity and revolutionary engagement can actually bring about political and social change. However, South Africa's liberation struggle is far from over.

[1] GEAR stands for Growth, Employment and Redistribution - that is, growth, employment and redistribution.