Well everyone else has put their 5 eggs in so I might as well; what finally moved me to put finger to keyboard was on the one hand, the apparent confusion of the liberals who would like to make a saint of the man, and the abject hypocrisy of right-wing politicians who supported apartheid with everything they had, and now claim inspiration from him, apparently endorsing the overthrow of post-colonial societies by armed struggle. Meanwhile their lackeys smash up students at UCU for having the temerity to demand a fair hearing.
Growing up, Mandela was a hero of mine along with a few others now best forgotten like Che Guevara and Bob Mugabe. Mandela was a revolutionary not a reformer, I still admire him for refusing to give up armed struggle in 1985 when he could have cut a deal to get himself out of jail, for refusing to compromise or consider his own safety, for declining to put himself above his comrades or the people, and perhaps above all for having the bollocks to stand in a court in the most repressive country in the world and challenge it to hang him.
It seems to me that Mandela set himself two main tasks; the first was the dismantling of apartheid, allowing equal rights and universal suffrage, the liberation of his own people as such. The second was the integration of the races into a fair and equal (socialist) society. In the first task he succeeded, his strategy of “carry(ing) on the fight even within the fortress of the enemy” whilst the guerrilla war continued around him, paid off – but let’s not overlook the sacrifice of the untold thousands of combatants and non-combatants whose lives were lost in that liberation struggle.
In the second he failed, the world had moved on a long way during his incarceration, the economic dividends of WW2 and the cold war expired and gave way to neoliberalism. I believe his Marxist education would have led him to conclude that a bourgeois revolution must precede a socialist one; that majority representation would allow the mode of production to advance to this end. The ANC continued the expropriation of the producers from the means of production, creating both a black proletariat and a black bourgeoisie. For the sake of the economy, and perhaps to avoid international ostracism, the privileged white minority were allowed to keep their luxurious houses and well paid jobs, sealing themselves off into fortresses to avoid the wrath of the poor outside. They have Mandela’s faith in social democracy to thank for not having been slaughtered in droves.
However the personality cult that has grown up around the victor of apartheid disguises a vicious class system and a country as divided as ever. 20 years later, South Africa is still a very unequal society, perhaps 100 years behind even Western Europe, like everyone else it practices neoliberal capitalism, and like all such societies rests on the myths of freedom and equality under the law and the absurd idea that the poor somehow benefit from the prosperity of the rich. Only those who have direct access to the means of production are free, the rest have to do as they’re told. The summary execution of 34 striking miners at Marikana last year, and the torture of hundreds of others, just makes the point that the ANC snatched from the jaws of victory a primitive, 19th century style capitalism. Once again, we have to understand the failure of a revolution in terms of the psychological deterioration of individuals corrupted by power.
I don’t blame Mandela for all that; I wonder how many of the keyboard warriors who rushed to shout ‘fuck Nelson Mandela’ on radical fora could even speak a coherent sentence after 27 years in jail with hard labour and solitary confinement. As for Cameron, Blair and Obama, you’re just pissing in the wind you stupid bastards.
The working class sometimes needs figureheads but it doesn’t need leaders, it needs everyone to get up off their arse and take responsibility for what goes on around them. I think I’ll go with my initial reaction to the news, raise a fist then get on with it and try a bit harder.
Mal Content 2013.