The divided legacy of Nelson Mandela

To: Detroit Workers' Voice mailing list
December 11, 2013
Re: Detroit Workers' Voice Discussion Group meeting

Join us this Sunday to discuss the divided legacy of Nelson Mandela - from the historic overthrow of apartheid to the Marikana massacre of striking black miners

On December 5, Nelson Mandela, the greatest leader of the African National congress, died. The oppressed masses had built a number oforganizations whose members fought courageously against apartheid: theANC, the Pan-Africanist Congress, the Black Consciousness Movement, etc.The ANC ended up as the largest organization in the decades-longstruggle that overthrew the racist apartheid system. The white racistregime in South Africa was a major blight on Africa and the entireworld, and the anti-apartheid struggle was one of the major freedomstruggles of our time. Mandela was one of the heroes of this struggle.

The communist movement was, since the mid-1920s, an important part of the struggle against the racist South African regime. To this day, theSouth African Communist Party (SACP) works closely with the ANC, and it was close with Mandela, who was a member at one time. Communism is not just the fight against economic oppression, but against tyranny andoppression of all types. Meanwhile the American capitalist governmentfor decades backed the apartheid government as a bulwark againstcommunism and the African liberation movements.

The end of apartheid in 1994 marked a new departure for South Africa.

Yet on August 16, 2012, almost two decades after the fall of apartheid, years during which the ANC ruled South Africa, thirty-four striking black miners were shot down by police at Marikana, South Africa, and many more miners were wounded. This massacre dramatized that while many ANC leaders had become millionaires, the majority of black people in South Africa still suffered from deep poverty; the class struggle was intensifying in South Africa; and the ANC and the SACP were now on the wrong side of the barricades.

This, too, was part of Mandela's legacy. He had been one of the key figures who had led the ANC, as it came to power, to discard thepromises of its famous "Freedom Charter", which had envisioned radical economic change. Instead, the ANC government has acted as one of the foremost adherents in the world of free-market fanaticism. If the bourgeois governments fawn on the memory of Mandela today, it's the Mandela who became a defender of the privileges of the rich and an advocate of policies like those of the World Bank.

This shows the importance of the fight against revisionism, the political trend that talks in the name of Marxism and communism but has betrayed ("revised") their real meaning. It is revisionism, not communism, that rules in China and Cuba today, and Russia and Eastern Europe in the old days. This has had its effect in South African politics. Although many members and supporters of the South African Communist Party fought courageously and at great personal cost against apartheid, the party also came to follow closely the sold-out politics of the revisionist movement centered in the Soviet Union. And the ANC regime showed in practice how a new bourgeoisie can arise after a revolution; in the case of South Africa, the new ANC millionaires emerged hand-in-hand with the traditional white bourgeoisie.

Let us be inspired by the historic victory of the South African masses in overthrowing apartheid, but let us also be committed to continuing the class struggle until the liberation of the masses from poverty, inequality, and all oppression. Let us learn from the momentous struggle of the South African people, and from both the pluses and minuses of Mandela's legacy. Let us build new organizations of struggle, committed to the revolutionary cause of the working class and attentive to the lessons learned from the historic movements of the past. Solidarity with the struggle of the South African working people of all ethnic backgrounds for freedom, equality, and socialism!

Below are some statements from people of several different political backgrounds about Mandela's divided legacy

From an interview by The Real News with the South African activist Patrick Bond:

Mandela Led Fight Against Apartheid, But Not Against Extreme Inequality


He [Mandela] was released in February 1990 after 27 years in jail, and he skillfully maneuvered the negotiations so that at least political democracy, one person, one vote in the unitary state was [won], whereas the prior rulers, the Afrikaner Nationalist Party, had tried all manner of gimmicks--Jim Crow laws and property-based voting--and had done their best to weaken ANC, also through slaughtering thousands of ANC activists in the period between 1990 and '94.


And in all of that time [the early 1990s], one saw the distinction between the radical Mandela, who had endorsed Marxism back in the 1950s, as particularly the Freedom Charter of 1955 called for the expropriation of the mines and banks and monopoly capital and their sharing for the people as a whole--. When Mandela came out of prison in 1990, he said, that is the policy of the ANC and a change in that policy is inconceivable. But it was only a few months later before--I certainly witnessed that in Johannesburg in that transition period, 1990 to '94--major compromises were made with big business. And big business basically said, we will get out of our relationship with the Afrikaner rulers if you let us keep, basically, our wealth intact and indeed to take the wealth abroad. And so exchange controls were relaxed very soon after Mandela took over. And just as he left office in 1999, big businesses said, we now want to take our money out of here forever. So they re-listed from the Johannesburg Stock Exchange to London, New York, and Australia. So this is the great tragedy of capital flight. Big business never really believed in Mandela, never truly invested in the country.

And there were more symbolic victories, like the Rugby World Cup that was won with Mandela promoting especially the Afrikaans-dominated team. And that was to great symbolic effect, but didn't do much for delivering services and redistributing wealth. Our wealth redistribution was the second worst of major countries after Brazil, and now is much, much, much worse, is the worst major country in the world. A GINI coefficient that fell from about 0.56 to 0.67, meaning very, very extreme inequality, got much worse during Mandela's government.

Excerpt from an article by John Pilger in CounterPunch discussing his interview with Mandela:

From Apartheid to Neoliberalism in South Africa -- Mandela's Tarnished Legacy

In brooking no criticism of the African National Congress (ANC), he revealed something of why millions of South Africans will mourn his passing but not his "legacy".

I had asked him why the pledges he and the ANC had given on his release from prison in 1990 had not been kept. The liberation government, Mandela had promised, would take over the apartheid economy, including the banks – and "a change or modification of our views in this regard is inconceivable". Once in power, the party's official policy to end the impoverishment of most South Africans, the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), was abandoned, with one of his ministers boasting that the ANC's politics were Thatcherite.

"You can put any label on it if you like," he replied. "…but, for this country, privatisation is the fundamental policy."

"That's the opposite of what you said in 1994."

"You have to appreciate that every process incorporates a change."

From Mandela's Economic Legacy by Michael Roberts:

South Africa under Mandela and later Thabo Mbeki has seen some improvement in the truly awful living situation of the black majority, in sanitation, housing, electricity, education, health etc, ending the cruel and arbitrary control of movement and the inequality of the apartheid regime. But South Africa has the highest inequality of incomes and wealth in the world still and inequality has never been higher as black capitalists have joined the white ones in the economy. Despite its professed socialist ideology, the ANC never went towards replacing the capitalist mode of production with common ownership, not even of the mines or resource industries.


And now the rich whites are joined by rich blacks who dominate businesses and exert overwhelming influence over the black leadership of  the ruling ANC party.  The ANC expresses the sharp divisions between the majority of working class blacks and the small black ruling class that has developed.  These fissures erupt every so often as yet without a  decisive break (as we recently saw with the shooting of striking miners by police under a black government).  Mandela's legacy was the end of apartheid; the struggle for equality and a better life continues with subsequent generations of his people.

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Posted on December 11, 2013.