Lead Opinion

Set Madiba’s legacy straight

Carl Niehaus


“Madiba was a principled realist and pragmatist – but he was never a sell-out…

“The racist regime was badly weakened by the heroic onslaught of the people against them, but the enemy was not defeated. If they were defeated we would not have had to negotiate with them.”


Two political trends became more prevalent than before this Mandela Day. The first is to my mind positive and necessary, while the second is very dangerous and quiet disturbing for its lack of historical understanding. This pro status quo revisionist trend is truly dangerous and straightforward abusive.


I use the word abusive deliberately because it is not only disrespectful and abusive towards who Nelson Mandela was in reality, but it is also hugely abusive to the current leadership of the African National Congress (ANC). I will revert to this travesty later.


Let me start with the first, which is a historically grounded assessment about what Madiba achieved during the time that he started in prison with the exploratory/ preparatory talks for negotiations, and which evolved into the fully fledged negotiating process that through all its difficulties culminated in the negotiated settlement that the ANC reached with the NP regime, and the current democratic dispensation that we live under.


This historical analysis does not find it necessary to idolise Madiba as the almost saintly figure that have been created by the mainstream media during the last years of his life and after he passed away. Nor does it necessarily consider the outcome of the negotiations and the current constitution that it bequeathed on us as the ultimate paragon of success and an unchangeable writ that has to regulate our lives into perpetuity, without any changes to be made to it.


I have always maintained that Madiba would have been most uncomfortable with the sainthood that had posthumously been bestowed on him. I have too often heard him saying: “I am not a saint, unless you think that a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying”.


Madiba was simultaneously a very proud, but also a very humble human being. His pride did not originate from considering himself as an individual person to be so important, but from his understanding that he was in every respect a product of the African National Congress, and that as the representative of the ANC (in the last years of his active political life as President of the ANC) he was not only entitled to be respected – but that he had to claim that respect for the sake of his people. It was that clear understanding that made Madiba to resist the ANC – or him as its representative – ever to be disrespected or belittled.


I have watched Madiba jealously – and sometimes fiercely – demanding and protecting that dignity and respect inside South Africa and internationally. FW de Klerk was in no uncertain terms put in his place when he tried to disrespect the ANC by attacking it unjustly during CODESA 2, and I have watched the renowned television interviewer Ted Koppel being treated like an errant child who was left lost for words when he tried to lecture Madiba about Fidel Castro and whom the ANC should associate with.


At times like this Madiba’s whole demeanour – his face and body language – became almost regal. I have not seen anyone who could under those circumstances resist the sheer force of his personality. He literally became the ANC, and spoke with the authority that the ANC derived from the people. It was indeed the incarnation of that famous phrase: “… We the People”.


It was no coincidence that Madiba mostly preferred to use the plural “we”, rather than “I” in such situations. I have always maintained that if Madiba was still alive he will have found himself among those who endeavour to historically contextualise his own legacy. He had a very acute sense of history in the sense of understanding that politics is a process rather than a destination – it is always in the making – it is never a case of having arrived.


That it is the art of the possible within a particular context of having to deal/engage with balances of power at a particular historical moment that one finds oneself in. Madiba was a principled realist and pragmatist – but he was never a sell-out.


He always had principles that he was not prepared to compromise, and he also had ideals that he was not prepare to forsake, but understood that the realisation of some of those ideals may have to wait for a future time when the power dynamics (power relations) were more conducive to make it possible to achieve them.


Madiba never had any illusions about the evil of the apartheid monster that he literally locked horns with during the negotiations. Nor did he harbour any illusions about the evil duplicity of FW de Klerk who, while negotiating with the ANC, was simultaneously stoking on violence through the Third Force in order to destabilise and weaken the ANC. Madiba never trusted De Klerk and always considered him to be an inherently untrustworthy and shifty character – but he none-the-less for the sake of moving the forces of the revolution forward negotiated with him.


Madiba understood that while the ANC (and the democratic people’s forces in general) was in the ascendancy, we had not won the revolutionary war against the apartheid regime. The racist regime was badly weakened by the heroic onslaught of the people against them, but the enemy was not defeated. If they were defeated we would not have had to negotiate with them.


The ANC was in a relatively powerful position, but it was not all powerful. To make an analogy: In the card-game of negotiations history had cut the ANC a certain hand of cards and Madiba and his fellow ANC negotiators had to play that hand the best they could. In this situation compromises were inevitable.


I was a junior member of the ANC’s Negotiations Commission, and I had very little say in the ultimate compromises that the ANC settled for – but I was privileged to have been in close enough proximity, to have experienced how the negotiations evolved and how decisions were reached. The learning experience was huge.


I was there on the last night of negotiations before the Interim Constitution was adopted (that had to guide us towards our first democratic elections and beyond), when the National Party insisted on the inclusion of the protection property rights clause as an absolute pre-condition for them to proceed.


I heard our own ANC intelligence reports that the South African Defence Force was readying itself for a military coup if the Interim Constitution was passed without that protection of white property (for property read especially land) rights, as well as a mechanism/process to grant them amnesty for the heinous apartheid crimes that they have committed.


Thus, the protection of property rights in the interim and final constitutions, as well as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, resulted. These were no easy decisions – they were as hard as they possibly could be – and together with the rest of the ANC’s negotiations team I experienced the agony of having had to move forward in order to protect the huge gains that had been achieved through the struggles of our people, and the unpalatable compromises that came with it.


However, and this must be emphasised because I know it is also how Madiba saw it, the compromises that were forced on us at that particular historical moment were never intended to be cast in stone. They were made in order for us to gain state power as the foundation from where in future – when the balance of power relations were more conducive – we could proceed to secure the full liberation our people.


There was no confusion in our understanding that this had to mean a continuous process working towards the full economic empowerment of our people – which had to include the restitution of the land to the people.


Let us not beat about the bush, it was our clear understanding that the constitutional arrangements that we agreed to, because of the particular power balances of that historical moment, was never meant to be our final destination. It was a beachhead that we had to secure, but from where we were committed to move much further.


This brings me to the second, a-historical revisionist, trend that I referred to. It is a travesty that there are now comrades in the ANC who treat the Constitution as if it is a Holy Writ that was never the product of sometimes particularly unfortunate historical circumstances – as was the case on that fateful night when we were forced to make compromises in order to get the Interim Constitution adopted.


One of my greatest criticisms of President Thabo Mbeki is that when the power dynamics indeed changed in favour of the people, and the ANC had a two-thirds majority in parliament, he did not use that decisive majority to change the Constitution and to address the burning issue of land restitution decisively.


Instead he gave us GEAR and its concomitant jobless (utterly non-inclusive) growth. White Monopoly Capital was the greatest benefactor and it greatly strengthened its control over our economy, while assets worth many billions were moved off-shore. Sadly, at the very point where we had the greatest power to effect change we gave away the most.


This together with his HIV/ AIDS denialist policies, that at the very least cost the lives of 350 000 South Africans, is in essence the disastrous legacy that Thabo Mbeki bestowed on us. To my mind it was nothing short of criminal. Interestingly enough the very same revisionists who do the historical disservice to Madiba by trying to bestow sainthood on him, are the ones who are now full of nostalgia for the Mbeki era.


Recently they packed the Power FM broadcast with him, and “oohed and aahed” – literally gushed and hanged onto every word that Mbeki uttered during the sycophantic interview that Given Mkhari produced for his elevation. If there was anything that Mbeki proved during this charade, it was that he is the fountain head of revisionism in South Africa.


Apparently the very same people have forgotten how terrible Mbeki and his cronies treated Madiba at the last NEC meeting that he ever attended, when Madiba tried to question his disastrous HIV/AIDS policies. They even went so far as to insinuate that Madiba was showing signs of senility to do so. They humiliated Madiba in the worst possible manner, to the point that he left the NEC so hurt and outraged that he never attended another NEC meeting again.


Evidently many of those who are baying for President Zuma’s blood, and who peddle the narrative that South Africa had been betrayed by his administration, have themselves sold out the people of our country. They are a small elite who have done very well out of having made common cause with White Monopoly Capital – having experienced their biggest advances during the Mbeki era of neo-liberal economic policies.


In Joel Netshitenze’s infamous words: “Their relationship with monopoly capital is one of contestation and cooperation” – with the emphasis very much on cooperation. Cooperation that has actually evolved to the point where they can no longer distinguish themselves from the White Monopoly Capitalists on who they depend for their increasingly luxurious lives.


For these revisionists the economic status quo is their fortress to protect the gains they have made. They fear change, because they believe that any fundamental change in the economic power relations, as foreseen by Radical Socio-economic Transformation, will lead to them losing the material gains that they have made.


They do not care for the empowerment and well-being of the majority of black (especially African) South Africans – they only care about themselves. As I have written before, the vicious attacks that are being launched against President Zuma have their origin in this fear that he will actually implement Radical Socio-economic Transformation and that the Second Phase of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) will cost them their material gains and power.


So for these revisionists, Madiba had to be transformed from the revolutionary that he was into a stagnant establishment figure that delivered the current South Africa, where the power dynamics between the White Monopoly Capitalists (and a small parasitic black hanger-on clique), and the vast majority of black (especially African) poor is not to change.


For them, as Derek Hanekom said: It is “nonsense” to talk about land restitution without compensation. As they try to capture Madiba in a gilded time-capsule they have indeed become the worst enemies of his enduring legacy among the people. One of their crassest exponents is the loud Dr Makhosi Khoza who saw it fit to use Mandela Day to promote this agenda by claiming to serve Madiba’s legacy, while literally spitting on the very essence of what Madiba always was as a disciplined ANC member – who never placed himself above the democratic organisational structures of the ANC.


Dr Khoza and Pravin Gordahn abused an event honouring Madiba on Mandela Day to call for the removal of the ANC President, and for ANC Members of Parliament to disregard ANC party discipline and to support a parliamentary no-confidence vote against their own party leader.


Everything about this goes against the very grain of what Madiba stood for. It is revisionism that has transformed itself into the monster of egoistic self-service, where the very essence of unity of the ANC in the collective service of the people of South Africa is to be destroyed.


There can be no tolerance for this – Madiba would not have tolerated it – and we should not tolerate it either. For the sake of the unity of our beloved ANC those like Dr Khoza, Pravin Gordahn and Derek Hanekom (to only name a few), who decided to embark on this divisive counter-revolutionary revisionist service to White Monopoly Capital, have to be dealt with immediately and decisively.


*Carl Niehaus is a member of the National Executive Committee of MKMVA and National Spokesperson. All Carl’s articles can also be found on his blog, Carl’s Corner: www.carlniehaus.co.za


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