Time for a better deal
The reality of Nelson Mandela’s mortality has been South Africa’s greatest fear for the past few months.
The debate on Mandela’s institutionalised divinity will go on for many more months to come.
We will be told of how great he was, and we will also be told of how he “sold” out poor South Africans. It is an unwinnable argument.
Or as Vladmir Putin said when putting into perspective whether or not Edward Snowden is a proponent of free speech or a US spy: “I'd prefer not to deal with this issue at all – it's like shearing a pig, too much squeaking, too little wool.”
What the debate does demonstrate, however, is that South Africa is stuck in a rut.
There has been a preoccupation with Mandela’s divinity or lack of it so much that South Africa has not done anything for the millions of poor South Africans who still suffer in the most humiliating of poverty even though we are often told to celebrate the fall of apartheid back in 1994.
It is in someone’s interests to keep South Africans preoccupied in this meaningless debate instead of focusing on creating a more equal society. There really is no need to say here whose interest it is I am referring to.
What South Africa needs to do (and I suggest this humbly as a citizen of Africa who would like to see this so-called Rainbow Nation start to provide real leadership to a continent so desperately in need of real heroes) is to go back to the Independence negotiations and see where they got it wrong.
The malaise that South Africa suffers today – in much the same way most of Africa, particularly those countries colonised by France – is directly related to a flawed Independence pact that did not deliver on the essentials that characterise true political, economic and cultural liberation.
Mandela basically negotiated for his personal freedom, not for the freedom of poor and downtrodden South Africans.
I remember Lukhona Mnguni writing for a South African publication some weeks ago that Madiba was more inclined towards reconciliation than getting a deal that would lift his fellow blacks out of poverty.
“When he was released from Robben Island in March 1982 to Pollsmoor Prison from where he was transferred to Victor Verster Prison where only he had first class treatment, he was living in a large warden’s three bed-roomed house with a swimming pool and a big garden and he also had a private chef,” Mnguni dutifully reminded a South Africa that is star-struck by Madiba Magic.
Also remember FW de Klerk saying: “I do not intend to negotiate myself out of power.”
That was no idle statement. He meant every single word of it!
So what kind of deal did South Africa get in 1994?
It is instructive to recall Mandela’s own admission in his book “The Long Walk to Freedom” that he initiated secret talks with the apartheid National Party back in 1986 without consulting his colleagues in the ANC.
He says he started talking to Kobie Coetzee, a National Party MP and lawyer. Mandela says he only told Govan Mbeki and Ahmed Kathrada in 1987 that he was negotiating with apartheid from the comfort of his five-star, three-bedroom “prison” with chef, garden and swimming pool.
Oliver Tambo was so distressed by the nature of these “negotiations” that it is said he succumbed to the stroke that then killed him.
Okay, so let’s say Mandela did the “manly” thing and reached out to apartheid. Of concern then should be what it is he actually negotiated.
The Freedom Charter was The reference point for ANC and the millions of poor South Africans the movement represented.
That Charter says very unambiguously: “The national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people; the mineral wealth beneath the soil; the banks and monopoly industries shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole; all other industries and trade shall be controlled to assist the well-being of the people.”
And so the negotiations for South Africans Independence were supposed to have a political and economic hue.
However, Mandela separated the two and in essence negotiated for political power.
That is why there has never been any real transfer of wealth and the means of production from the apartheid status quo.
That is why even the Reserve Bank was privatised so that today the majority shareholders are whites. And that is why also Mandela met regularly – and this is a fact – with Harry Oppenheimer and Anglo-American to assuage his fears about mines ownership in the “new” South Africa.
South Africa got a raw deal in 1994, and it is now up to the present generation to push through a better arrangement.
The talk of Mandela’s divinity or treason is neither here nor there: what is important is ensuring that things like Marikana do not happen again.