Be in no doubt, Mandela was a great man. But nobody is perfect; and one of the tenets of political maturity is recognising that even the greatest political figures have their flaws.
It’s tempting even when those of questionable repute die to turn off one’s critical faculties and adopt a wholly pious stance toward the deceased. With a titanic figure like Nelson Mandela, it’s almost impossible to do anything else, such were the achievements of the man.
That said, elevating human beings – even human beings as great as Nelson Mandela – to saint-like status paints a false picture. Mandela had his faults like anyone else. It just so happened that his achievements were so vast as to cast a long shadow over those faults to the point that they were barely visible.
Be in no doubt, Mandela was a great man – an ‘African titan’ as one of our writers put it last night. But nobody is perfect; and one of the tenets of political maturity is recognising that even the greatest political figures have their flaws.
In that spirit, here are three things with disagreed with Mandela on.
He embraced privatisation and didn’t do enough about economic inequality
Despite promising a wave of nationalisations before it came to power in 1994, in power the ANC embarked on a programme of mass privatisation,and embraced policies recommended by the IMF and World Bank. In a nod to the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, on taking office in 1994 Mandela proclaimed “Privatization is the fundamental policy of our government. Call me a Thatcherite, if you will.”
Under Mandela inequality grew and by the time he decided not to stand for President in 1999 unemployment was burgeoning. Today many of the inequalities of the Apartheid era still exist. According South Africa’s biggest trade union to Cosatu, 98 percent of whites but only 27 percent of blacks had access to clean water in their homes by 2001. According to a 2011 Census, almost a third of South Africans live below the breadline.
He has a questionable relationship with dictators
Mandela’s warm relationship with Cuban leader Fidel Castro is perhaps understandable. Castro sent thousands of troops to Angola in the 70s and 80s in support of the liberation of Angola by the country’s national liberation movement against other movements backed by the CIA and South African troops. The victory of the black Cuban army against white South African troops was highly symbolic, and drove a nail in to the pernicious myth of white superiority that Apartheid was built on. This is why Cuba was one of the very first countries Mandela visited as President.
Unfortunately, Mandela was close to far more unsavoury figures than the Cuban dictator. Two of the ANC’s biggest donors during Mandela’s rule were Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and President Suharto of Indonesia. Suharto, who invaded East Timor as President of Indonesia leading to the deaths of 100,000 people, was awarded a 21-gun salute and The Order of Good Hope – two of South Africa’s highest honours.
He left the ANC unreformed
Despite winning all four elections since 1994, in recent years the ANC has become little more than a vehicle for the personal enrichment of a small clique of politicians. In the process the party has become increasingly detached from the travails of the black working class. This was epitomised by the incident last year in which the police massacred striking miners at the Lonmin platinum mine and then tried to blame peaceful protesters for the deaths of their comrades.
John Kane-Berman, the head of the South African Institute of Race Relations, claims that the ANC “operates with Soviet-style democratic centralism”. “Zuma has restored the superiority of the party over the state that had faltered under (his predecessor) Thabo Mbeki,” he said.
This had led previous high profile supporters of the ANC to distance themselves from what it has become. South African Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu has said he would no longer vote for the ruling ANC after “the way things have gone”. “The things we have voted for or against have been a disgrace. It has been a total betrayal of our whole tradition,” he said.
Former ANC secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe was quoted in 2007 as saying the following: “This rot is across the board. It’s not confined to any level or any area of the country. Almost every project is conceived because it offers opportunities for certain people to make money.”
Elsewhere on Left Foot Forward