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Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela (Photo credit: Festival Karsh Ottawa)

Speculation will continue to abound for the foreseeable future relative to the factors that caused former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, change from advocating armed struggle and violence prior to his 27 year incarceration, to embracing non-violence and peaceful coexistence, following his release. Some suggest that Mandela was “broken” (physically and psychologically), similar to a wild horse that has been tamed, or seasoned. Others assert that his food in prison was laced with stuff that altered his behavior. Still others say that Mandela had a religious experience. Interestingly enough, there are those who argue that his domestic situation negatively impacted his revolutionary fervor during the almost three decades of confinement. The speculation goes on, and on, also including the bizarre… However, my perspective is based on the facts of my various visits to the Republic of South Africa, prior to and during his presidency, between 1991 and 1999. My maiden voyage in 1991 was a 21 day fact-finding mission as a guest of the South African Department of Foreign Affairs. During that official visit, I had several meetings with the leadership of the African National Congress (ANC), Pan African Congress (PAC), and executive committee members of Zulu Chief Buthelezi’s political organization, among lesser known black political groups.

Press Conference by President of African Natio...

Press Conference by President of African National Congress of South Africa (Photo credit: United Nations Photo)

It was very interesting watching virtually all of the world’s political leaders attending President Nelson Mandela’s, going home celebration in South Africa, and I took note of the few missing heads of state that did not publicly pay their respects to the former head of state and Noble Peace Prize laureate. I was compelled to reflect on the drama and revelations that accompanied the proceedings of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission chaired by Bishop Desmond Tutu. I found the expert witness testimonies and tears emotionally riveting and insightful… Undoubtedly, the overwhelming success of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission laid the groundwork for President Nelson Mandela’s political dispensation… Needless to say, the much hoped for post racial, free market, a democratic government that offered hope for economic equanimity, ultimately fell noticeably short of expectations… While the election of Mandela to the presidency was without question a “political” miracle, the corresponding “economic” miracle became a dream deferred. Moreover, no initiative for economic upward mobility of the black population in general was advanced and a persuasive argument can be advanced that the economic situation of the majority of South Africans has worsened under black rule. Consequently, the objective economic facts on the ground are generating an incendiary scenario among the masses, which positions the country’s future precariously. Unfortunately, unfolding current events in South Africa, the continents strongest economy, is fueling social and political unrest, and portends a dubious future.

Português: Brasília - O presidente da África d...

Português: Brasília – O presidente da África do Sul, Nelson Mandela, é recebido na capital federal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Civil unrest seems to be proliferating among the employed masses in terms of rank and file workers, as well as the conventional union against management dynamic. But the traditional juxtaposition is complicated by the industrialization of the union movement in general, therefore unions are in survival mode and their fiduciary responsibility to advocate on behalf of the worker is compromised. This perceived paradigm shift in the nature of union behavior is animating local as well as the international community is causing anxiety in all quarters going forward. The current political and economic state of South Africa is invariably viewed through the prism of Mandela’s leadership period, which ended with the close of the twentieth century. While the Nelson (Madiba) Mandela dispensation is broadly acknowledged as a political golden age in that country, by many around the world, South Africa is precariously positioned as it engages the second decade of the twenty-first century. The post Madiba presidential leadership of the country to date has been poor, comparatively speaking, and the ANC political party has been internally rocked by scandal and an array of political challenges. Hence, the President Mandela leadership years are vastly distinguished from the years of all of his successors.

But, even if the successors to the post Mandela presidency were all fine leaders and the political, social, and economic status quo were stable, the exceptional leadership of Nelson Mandela could not be overstated… However, when evaluating the leadership of Mandela during his presidency, it must be distinguished from his leadership as a member of the ANC prior to and immediately following incarceration. The distinction between Madiba as the president of South Africa and his role as a leader of the revolutionary ANC is in order, and the two roles should be evaluated in its respective context. Furthermore, Madiba’s leadership and role as a reconciler stands alone and it required an appropriate and different job description. There are inherent political limitations of a head of state in terms of the responsibility to govern all the people. As a revolutionary leader of the ANC, his mandate was opposed to the state, such as it was, and the economic status quo. As the foremost advocate of reconciliation, non-violence, and peace, Mandela had to thoroughly embrace magnanimity and a high spiritual sense of brotherhood. These three different political dispositions of Nelson Mandela should necessarily be viewed and evaluated on their own terms. Be that as it may, many of the glowing and noble eulogies offered by South Africans and people from around the world, and all stations in life, are peppered with so-called shortcomings connected to his presidency and/or his leadership at the grassroots level. Most of the colorful alleged shortcomings articulated by political speculators, pundits, and detractors, seem to focus on the individual and his personality, while omitting context in terms of the practical political and economic facts on the ground in the country, and the unfolding geopolitical scenarios of the periods.

One major component that formulates a relevant context on the ground during in question is the nature and state of the African National Congress (ANC), prior to and following the Nelson Mandela Presidential dispensation. Accordingly, ones assessment and analysis of Nelson Mandela should be viewed in the context of the relative state of the ANC which played a dynamic role in Mandela’s process, going forward. The ANC enjoyed the overwhelming support of the masses during SA’s revolutionary period, and exercised political hegemony over its counterparts on the ground. There were two political organizations on the ground competitive with the ANC, in the names of the Pan-African Congress (PAC), and the Zulu political organization lead by Chief Buthelezi. Both of these organizations were composed of generally cohesive ethnic groups, as compared to the ANC, which was a multiracial political coalition of groups united to defeat Apartheid. The PAC was a radical political organization that advocated for a black nationalism, and they were animated by the land question. The PAC boosted a long history of political struggle while the Zulu’s historical exploits are legendary. Apart from the multiracial nature of the ANC, the organization had international affiliations that played into the conventional geo-political juxtaposition between the East and West stakeholders and role players. Specifically, much of the ANC leadership in South Africa was publicly committed communists, which colored the political power relations established and maintained by the organization. Therefore the political nature of communism, trade unionism, and the parochial political narrative of the “worker,” was a dynamic factor in local and geo-politics as well as in Mandela’s process that some argue is a curious if not a questionable metamorphosis.

English: A USSR stamp, 70th Birth Anniversary ...

English: A USSR stamp, 70th Birth Anniversary of Nelson Mandela. Date of issue: 18th July 1988. Designer: B. Ilyukhin. Michel catalogue number: 5853. 10 K. multicoloured. Portrait of Nelson Mandela (fighter for freedom of Africa). Русский: Марка СССР Н. Мандела (1988, ЦФА №5971). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Notwithstanding the pros and cons associated with the political disposition, personality, and presidency of Nelson Mandela, the internal dynamic among desperate and competing elements, ideologies, and politics within the ANC coalition, all helped facilitate the imposition of a sophisticated strategic political ideological imperative that bifurcated and transformed South Africa’s revolution… Interestingly enough, the strategic political ideological bifurcation may have reared its head, by way of the overwhelming unemployed and underemployed, the result of a neglected economic sector. Moreover, the respective unions and the trade union movement in general, continues to demonstrate poor forward moving leadership, and seems to be stuck on bygone tactics and self perpetuation. There are apparently no adjustment efforts underway in order to reform the labor union industry to be a sustainable entity, directed to twenty-first century economic and employment challenges. This is the shorthand version of how the bifurcation and impacted the ANC’s revolutionary movement…

The bifurcation as a practical matter isolated the political objective of the movement into the prospect of a “political” miracle in the form of the election of the first black South African to the presidency. This political strategy repositioned the land question and the redistribution of economic wealth, to the prospect of jobs, equal employment opportunities, and black entrepreneurship. Accordingly, the “economic” miracle would follow the success of the “political” miracle. A critical mass in the ANC began to promote the prospects of a “political” miracle by way of the election of the Republic of South Africa’s first black president. And the corresponding need of an “economic” miracle became overshadowed going forward. The philosophy and feasibility of successfully pulling off a “political” miracle followed by an “economic” miracle was promoted and became vogue with the movement’s critical mass… Unfortunately, black leadership was ultimately intoxicated by the intrigue and fascination of political power and leadership. The corresponding “economic” miracle imperative was henceforth compromised and reduced to employment rhetoric and jobs for the masses that were never delivered… Looking forward, we ask the following questions: Are the shortcomings of the Mandela administration responsible for South Africa’s economic status quo? Does the ANC bare responsibility for the economic and political status quo? Was the political bifurcation of the ANC’s strategic objective an odious political machination?

Stay tuned…


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