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Mandela’s new work


this sounds odd, but only if we assume, that Mandela is a born revolutionary. On examination, he seems to be a man


of conservative temperament, with a sense of decency, inclined not to overthrow sys- tems but to seek compromises in situations of conflict. If such a man was drawn to embrace armed insurrection, the reason lies less in his temerity than in the cruelty of the system he fought to end, apartheid.


Europe and apartheid Like Nazism, apartheid is conventionally presented as an aberration in European history. In fact, it was part of the world- wide expansion of Europe, the globalising process that replaced the populations of North and South America, Australia and New Zealand with immigrant Europeans, and transferred other people’s land and wealth to European descendants. In Africa, that European adventure was


most intense in Algeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa. In the conflict between South African democrats and apartheid supremacists, European nations such as Britain, France and Germany, along with the USA, were not bystanders. Tey were active allies of the white supremacist re- gime. Tere is an occasion in this book for looking at that fact, but it gets fumbled. In a discussion with Ahmed Kathrada, an


76 | March 2011 New African


ANC comrade, Mandela is prodded to re- member the moment of his betrayal and ar- rest. Mandela, disguised and underground, was driving to an appointment with a US embassy contact. Te contact tipped off the apartheid security service, and Mandela was taken off to spend 27 years in jail. Here, there is no mention of the em-


bassy’s role. Instead, we are served shreds of misleading gossip. Did Walter Sisulu betray Mandela? Was it Kathrada? Red herrings. It is handled as if it belonged to the field of trivia. Te impression this casu- alness creates is that the struggle is past, no longer a matter of serious attention. For the decision to integrate Mandela’s


memory into the narrative of European social thought seems based on the as- sumption that with the achievement of the formal right to vote, the struggle for the emancipation of Africans in South Africa is over. Such a supposition would be tragically shortsighted. Deeper than the political struggle lies the pending strug- gle for economic democracy. It cannot be waged intelligently unless the oppressed know who we are, who we have been throughout history, and what our rela- tionship ought to be to the material and intellectual resources we need for living: the land, the air, the subsoil, and environ- mental resources of our continent. As long


as Africans lack this cultural knowledge, our leadership will continue selling raw materials, raw energy, raw labour, which means they will continue creating poverty and unemployment at home, because they don’t know that Africa has a tradition in which unemployment is unacceptable, land cannot be sold, and resources are not for export, but for use in industry and agriculture involving every living adult in gainful work and shared prosperity. Mandela’s generation were prevented from acquiring this salutary knowledge of Afri- can history. Still, they did a great job for posterity by courageously confronting apartheid and forcing it to concede the po- litical franchise. Tey thus opened the way to the future, assuming that the vote can be used to create hugely better educational and health facilities. In that sense, they played the special role of the Vulindlela in South Africa, and the Wpwawt in Ancient Egypt. Tey opened closed ways. It is for coming generations of Africans


to widen the now open ways to knowledge, to spread knowledge of regenerative values, and to use that knowledge to organise our society. Mandela is a master of the self- deflating quip, a short, Zen-style statement that, by pricking his iconic persona down to a miniature, reveals hidden realities behind the public image. Remembering the decision to adopt armed struggle over 50 years ago, he laughs at how cheaply he was initially outvoted by conservative ANC officials. More funnily, when he wished to recog-


nise teenagers’ contributions to the libera- tion struggle by lowering the voting age, he was shown in a cartoon that implied he favoured giving the vote to babies in diapers. “I did not have the courage,” says this courageous man, to pursue the matter. Tis book contains another such in-


sightful quip. “Frequently over the years since his release he (Mandela) has teased visitors and guests with the comment that he is still not free, while pointing a finger at his personal assistants: ‘And these are my jailers.’” (Nelson Mandela, Conversations with Myself, is published by Macmillan, London)


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