The post was initially inspired by Sisonke Simanga’s Ted Talk with the same title. Sisonke expressed her frustrations with our democracy, the pace at which we are making progress as a country as well as the benefits (or lack thereof) that black people are enjoying from this so called freedom. What she said resonated with me, the fact that black people still have to put up with people like Penny Sparrow and Steve Hofmeyr. The fact that we are still fighting to be included in public spaces, platforms and the workplace makes you wonder (even though it may be blasphemous) if Mr. Mandela failed us and our fight for freedom. It makes you wonder if he was wrong in encouraging a peaceful transition from the apartheid government to a democratic government and if our frustration with the current economic and political standing should be in fact be directed at him (rest his soul).
There are scores of articles, videos and debates on whether or not Mandela was a sellout. Malema is repeatedly quoted saying “The Mandela we celebrate now is a stage-managed Mandela who compromised the principles of the revolution…” I assume these principles include radicalness (I dont think this is an actual word). Winnie Madikizela-Mandela expressed similar sentiments in 2010. “Mandela let us down... He agreed to a bad deal for the blacks, economically we are still on the outside. The economy is very much ‘white’. It has a few token blacks, but so many who gave their life in the struggle have died unrewarded.”
Some of my sisters agree with Malema and others that are of the opinion that Mandela was a traitor. One of my sisters argues that he could have done better with the redistribution policies, she argues that the willing buyer willing seller land redistribution clause was not justified, especially considering the means by which white people acquired the land in the first place. I tried arguing this point with her but she shut me down and I didn’t even get to ask what I wanted to ask (cons of being a last born). She further argued that Mandela traded peace for justice, the perpetrators and facilitators of the apartheid regime were not held accountable for the crimes they had committed. The fact that some of the apartheid leaders did not appear before the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Committee) and of those that did appear before the committee there were those that were not given amnesty yet were not persecuted. What then was the point of appearing before the TRC? She further questions the fact that de Klerk is still celebrated today, for what?! Mandela did little to correct the 1913 Land and Employment acts that reduced black wages and stations…
Although I find the above statements to be true (we are still minority stake holders in the economy despite the fact that we make up majority of population, the economic struggles that we face today are a direct result of apartheid laws and colonial laws before that) I don’t think it’s fair to be mad at Mandela nor do I think he was a sellout. Sure, progress is slow and the freedom we hoped to achieve in 1994 remains elusive and incomplete, but we cannot blame one man for the progress of a whole country.
Freedom, both political and economic was a cause he was not only willing to die for but also willing to kill for (I think). With this in mind, I think he calculated that a civil war was not worth twenty-seven years he spent in prison (we can argue that it wasn’t just about him, but he was a man and by virtue of that fact alone, he was flawed) and also that it would delay the freedom of black people in general. I know it’s not right to compare South Africa to other African countries but we are doing better than most, even though our country’s democracy and economy is not in perfect health.
Furthermore, we have to understand that the ANC was working towards the right for the black body to vote in a democratic structure which would give black people political power. Political power has the potential to open many doors, one of those being the door to economic freedom. With political power you are able to implement land expropriation laws, and many social grants that are meant to empower the previously (or currently) disadvantaged.
Freeing the black man was not (and still isn’t) one man’s task. We’ve got political freedom, what are we and our current political leaders doing with it? It’s easy to blame Mandela for our economic oppression and forget that current political leaders are also responsible for continued fight for black man’s freedom. It’s not just Mandela, current political leaders have also failed us in introducing effective redistribution and justice policies. But at the same time we have to realize that the one reason that the apartheid system worked so well for so long was the fact that it crept up on us, if they had done anything drastic in facilitating the oppressive and discriminatory laws black people would have revolted (I’d like to think).
Great things take time, it’s not right and it’s not fair that we have to be so nice and lovey dovie to the same system and people that oppressed us for centuries. But I think this peaceful transition that they enjoy is not just for them but also for ourselves. We have given too much of our lives, time, blood and our energy to dedicate any more of it to the same system. The fight for freedom should not be an emotional one but one that needs to be fought strategically and hopefully with little emotion in order to remain objective and focused.
I may be wrong in my analysis of the situation. I may be “captured” by the other side, I don’t know. But I really think we’ve made progress since 1994, the cost at which this progress has come is yet to be determined. Twenty years from now I might be writing a post or an article about how wrong I was, or I could be writing about even greater strides South Africa has made since I wrote this post. But I don’t think the anger directed at Mandela is justified.
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