Nelson Mandela a legacy of convenient shades
Rolihlahla Mandela son of Qunu’s hinterland celebrated his 95th birthday recently. This by itself is a mean feat; there is not too many who reach this age anymore. Secondly, it is a mean feat particularly for what he and many others had to endure exemplified in an extended period of inhumane incarceration conditions. It is this very incarceration on Robben – Island and the lime quarry digging that is responsible for his on-going lung condition. Yet we all last week shared in our annual Mandela Day of 67 minutes in commemoration of this giant, the thought to dissect perhaps an aspect of his legacy that comes twisted cannot escape me.
It never fails to surprise me that Nelson Mandela it appears is more endeared by ‘whites’ than any other group that defines the South African population canvas. This strange phenomenon is worth examination. Whilst some will shoot this down as not provable in scientific research, it does not detract from my assertion, which I will endeavour to prove. Mandela became the face of the SA collective political freedom struggle. This freedom fighter, for a very long time a ‘terrorist’ for some, yet for others a guerrilla trained soldier of MK attests to a twisted legacy.
This founder member of the ANC military wing UMKHONTO WE SIZWE, in this epoch has his personal and political history whitewashed by a need of some to regard him as a saint. Mandela by his own admission never professed sainthood, in fact, he towards the latter years gladly admitted the errors of his judgment in a number of areas be it personal or political, suggesting the iconic status invoked upon Mandela has little to do with Mandela himself but the need of some to ease the conscious.
Mandela adored as an ANC leader who has made his contribution to the organisation its ethos, values and principles. He remains a loyal member of the ANC famed for quipping once he dies, and arrives at the pearly gates of heaven he will firstly ask for where the ANC corner is to register his membership.
My conundrum is as much as Mandela is adored by Africans for being the symbol of the fight for freedom from Apartheid’s oppression, racism and indignity he is also the much worshipped hero for ‘whites’. When ‘whites’ in South Africa talk of Mandela, there is a spontaneous admiration, almost challenging the intensity and depth of the ‘black’ constituency from whom he hails. Whilst this potentially a moot point, the unpeeling of the factual evidence for this conjoined adoration of Mandela is worth unpacking.
No Afrikaner hero, in 2013 is mentioned in the same breath as Mandela. Hence, it becomes important to ask why? It is my contention that the exact moment for Mandela’s heroism for whites remains dodgy and very speculative.
If ‘blacks’ talk of an admiration of Mandela, it is out of the umwelt of a rich and long history of struggle, yet if ‘whites’ speak of Mandela it is out of the context of a 1995 Rugby World Cup when he donned a number 6 jersey. I think for most Afrikaners Mandela became a hero that day, and in the absence of this day, one may only speculate if he ever was going to hold such venerated position. The truth is Thabo Mbeki our second democratic president also wore this jersey in 2007 yet he is not that hero for Afrikaners.
In my search to know when Mandela became this hero for ‘whites’ I had to pause and remember that Mandela at the time of the 1994 elections simply did not hold such hallowed presence in the mind of ‘whites’ for his election to power was absent of the ‘white’ constituency of voters.
Despite the extended prison sentence accumulatively accredited as 27 years (the subject of many ‘white’ inspired commercial products), he was not able to convince ‘whites’ that he fought a just cause.
Regardless to his symbolic international status, he was not able to muster the support of South African ‘whites’. Regardless to the historic 1992-1994 period that set the tone for our first democratic elections, Nelson Mandela remained a figure among many that represented the enemy and a less trustworthy character for ‘whites’. The 1994 election results attests to the fact that Nelson Mandela as the face of the ANC could not eclipse the ANC in the minds of ‘white’ voters for the ANC at the dawn of democracy secured 62,65% of the vote and the now defunct National Party scored 20% of the vote. Hence at the dawn of democracy, who Nelson Mandela was for ‘whites’ was highly questionable for it did not translate into an outright majority of ‘white’ votes for the ANC or for him as a person.
Throughout his term in office as president of South Africa, ANC policies were agreed by ANC structures informed by conferences and working group sessions, hence he articulated, and implemented ANC policies and was assessed on implementation of ANC resolutions and manifestos like all ANC Presidents after him.
It appears Nelson Mandela outgrew the ANC in the minds of the ‘white voters’ until the ANC became the antithesis of what Mandela according ‘whites’ stood for. Today it is easy to hear; the ANC has betrayed the values of Nelson Mandela, a common theme thrown around by some who purport to have first- hand knowledge of fact in regard this claim. The interesting thing is ‘whites’ too share this view although we still do not know what it means for them for we cannot naturally assume a congruence of mind by all those who claim this to be the case. Benefactors of apartheid gladly chorus this song while we still do not know from what platform.
It appears it is Mandela’s personal conviction on reconciliation that defined him as the hero for ‘whites’. This reconciliation a necessary and important aspect of our future nationhood when an apartheid system has dehumanised the majority of SA citizens by racial skin colour definition, was a natural and admirable choice for our first democratic president. We salute Mandela for being brave to work for reconciliation, yet this reconciliation today is questioned (some of us have questioned it from the start as one underwritten by ‘blacks’) from many circles in the ‘black’ cohort and it is often colloquially murmured as the proverbial sell-out in which ‘white’ apartheid privileges and acquisitions were guaranteed in a post- apartheid environment.
It was during Mandela’s era as president that South Africa adopted its much-celebrated constitution. A constitution that has as direct intent the equality of all before the law, the affording of rights for a citizenry understood and underpinned by a humanity of collectiveness less understood in shades of colour definition. Is it possible that perhaps this historic moment of the adoption of our constitution in 1996 became the signpost of the Mandela admiration crossover by ‘whites’?
Yet notwithstanding the fact that Nelson Mandela an elected president was leading the nation at this celebrated occasion overseeing the adoption of our first true constitution, the voting patterns in both national and municipal contexts remained static.
Notwithstanding him having donned the green and gold in 1995, visiting Betsie Verwoerd in Orania, and making many overtures to ‘white’ constituents in a plethora of engagements, the 1999 vote majority for the ANC remained the same when our second democratically elected president Thabo M. Mbeki was elected. Suggesting the Mandela Magic did not necessarily change the voting patterns of ‘white’ voters when it equally confirmed the ‘black’ support.
Perhaps he managed to crawl deep into the hearts of ‘whites’ when he opted not to seek a second term. Whilst constitutionally in his party and country there was nothing wrong with soliciting a second term, he opted not to exercise such right. Is it possible that in an Africa where until then it was commonly accepted that once an African rises to power politically, he would never step down, weighed on the minds of the very ones who never trusted him with their votes.
It is common history now that Mandela, as popular as he was did not seek a second term. In fact, for the better part of the second half of his one term it was comfortably suggested that his Deputy President had taken firm control of the presidency as Mandela spent much energy on a global stage endearing many to our democratic miracle. Nothing wrong with that at all, and again thank you Tata for your contribution in this regard for you continued the tireless work of your predecessor Oliver Reginald Tambo, who was instrumental in giving the ANC an international presence with his addresses and meetings with a cross variety of role players from where the ANC obtained a sympathetic ear.
Did Mandela become this hero par excellence for ‘whites’ when he became the joint Nobel Peace Lauerette? Maybe he did for it could be argued he became the symbol for peace and reconciliation. Yet Chief Albert Luthuli, decorated former President of the ANC attained this as far back as 1960. This renders the role of the Nobel Peace prize awarding to Mandela as not an authentic singular reason for him securing the admiration among the ‘white’ constituency.
Back to my point, just when did Mandela the freedom fighter, ‘terrorist’ , MK soldier, militant, ANC member, the pimpernel, the ‘black’ attorney and leader become the extraordinary hero, icon, saint and who knows what for our ‘white’ South Africans? For it appears his true history is sanitised, eclipsed by a 5 years stint of presidential power, when they did not in the first place trust his organisation, nor him with their vote and continues not to trust the ANC.
It is fair to conclude it appears, Mandela became the hero of ‘whites’ the same who today lecture us despite never trusting him nor his party with their votes, when he adopted as his mantra a reconciliation that suited them.
He became a hero par excellence when under his leadership in 1996 SA constitution was adopted effectively ensuring an equality that does not challenge apartheids benefactors.
Mandela became the hero of white- Afrikaners when he donned their Springbok emblem and Green & Gold affirming their sport and embracing its history of racism.
Mandela became the hero and icon when every proverbial Tom, Dick and Harry defined from our SA ‘whites’ enclave in general could have access to him when ‘blacks’ simply could not.
Mandela became this hero and antithesis of an African leadership when he decided not to stand for a second term for this made him different to other African leaders though the constitution afforded him that privilege.
The aforementioned actions allowed him to eclipse his very organisation, for whom ‘whites’ simply never will have respect regardless to what. South Africa will never have another Mandela and if a Mandela being who is, did what he did could not sway the ‘white’ voters, will anybody ever be able to persuade these voters?
It therefore is no guess to conclude that Mandela is the hero of ‘whites’ and has liberated them at no cost to them, hence he is deserving of this heroism of leadership at the expense of all ANC leaders and presidents. When the ANC is criticised for non – delivery, the criticism often adopts this conclusion that the ANC has done nothing from 1994 – 2013, nothing for its own and nothing for this country. He is their hero, because what he stood for never challenged their position as apartheid benefactors, making it easy for them to see in him this hero.
This analysis inadvertently argues a Mandela Presidency the only period of his life that sensibly defines the epoch in which this ‘white’ admiration was born, entrenched and taken to levels of celestial heights seldom attained by any mortal.
From this warped criticism the ANC stands naked as useless a dishevelled mess that has brought South Africa only turmoil insult and a sense of indignity as it dismally failed in every sphere, this whilst Mandela is a collective hero completely, exonerated and adored miles apart from this collective responsibility of failed delivery.
Yet Mandela, is and remains at 95 an ANC member, leader and servant who tried to serve to the best of his God-given capacities, who made many mistakes yet embodies the ‘black’ man’s freedom struggle. Nelson Mandela stands in the tradition of the less celebrated (by whites) Oliver Reginald Tambo and many others who conspicuously remain of paled into oblivion of less significance as depicted by the SA ‘white’ voters as to an undeniable role and purpose in our collective freedom.
Madiba, happy birthday, indeed your legacy has many shades. Yet we celebrate your life, which definitely did not start in 1994 but 95 years ago as a rural Mveso born country boy defined as ‘black’ by a system that celebrated a ‘white’ identity. Yes a system that made you Nelson, a system that challenged you to ask why, a system and its benefactors that defined you as ‘kaffir’ yet you made them human. A system that defined you a prisoner by charging you with treason when all you and others did was to declare apartheid a heresy.
Yet Mandela is this icon and demi-god for ‘whites’ because his life guarantees them what they claim a status quo and his death spells a threat to them and their status at all levels, at least the way they believe it. Though this is an unfounded fear rhetoric it is real for ‘whites’ who keep seeing Mandela as their freedom hero, not sure what the rest of the barbarians, uncivilised, endemically corrupt, bloodthirsty and revenge crazy ‘blacks’ will do once the icon closes his eyes. A legacy of many shades whitewashed in the soap of convenience. For some you cannot be afforded occasion to rest your eyes, because even in old age you must still guarantee their protection from your own
Clyde N. Ramalaine