The real meaning of Feb 11

2014-02-16 14:00

Oppressors have never offered the oppressed freedom as an act of generosity or justice.

The history of our liberation struggle and the achievements of the ANC-led government is deeply contested and distorted.

No part of it is as contested now as that associated with the struggles, leadership and role of our founding president, Nelson Mandela.

To some of our detractors, February 11 1990, the date on which Madiba was released from prison, reflects the vision and leadership of FW de Klerk in creating a new and democratic South Africa.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Oppressors have never offered the oppressed freedom as an act of generosity or justice.

When oppressors and exploiters are forced make such concessions, it is because they feel they must change or risk being forcibly removed from power.

The escalation of counter-revolutionary warfare by the apartheid regime soon after Madiba was released, and its spread from KwaZulu-Natal to Gauteng and parts of Mpumalanga, was an attempt to seriously weaken the ANC, thus proving that the release of Mandela was no commitment to a peaceful handover of power.

The jailing of Mandela and others after the 1964 Rivonia Trial was preceded by the banning of the ANC and other liberation formations in 1960. It was followed by the widespread persecution of our movement’s leaders and activists. This marked a serious weakening of the liberation movement and also inaugurated a period of rapid economic growth thanks to cheap black labour.

However, this intensified capitalist exploitation laid the foundation for the first opening salvo of post-Rivonia resistance: the 1973 workers’ strikes. These strikes, in turn, laid the foundation for rebuilding a progressive trade union movement.

Economic growth also necessitated the expansion of schooling to train the semiskilled workers needed by an increasingly sophisticated industrial economy.

There was also limited expansion of university education for blacks, mainly to produce civil servants for the evolving Bantustan strategy.

It was partly the concentration in large numbers of black youth in Bantu education schools that created the conditions for the 1976 student uprisings.

The combined impact of workers and youth struggles during the 1970s created the conditions for the semi-insurrectionary struggles of the 1980s.

These created the apartheid regime’s worst political crisis since 1948.

The crisis was also economic in that it began to threaten the profitability of South African capital, which was also hemmed in by international economic sanctions.

It was no accident that the section of the ruling bloc that first sought a meeting with the ANC, in the mid-1980s, was made up of representatives of big capital.

The crisis was deepened by the successes of the ANC’s revolutionary strategy, which was premised on four pillars: The armed, mass and underground struggles, and the international isolation of the regime through sanctions.

These struggles led directly to the release of Mandela.

This is how February 11 1990 came about.

In fact, from the mid-1980s, the campaign to release Mandela had gained such momentum that the apartheid regime in January 1985 tried to release him on condition that he “renounce violence”.

Madiba refused and announced this publicly through his daughter, Zindzi: “I cherish my own freedom dearly, but I care even more for your freedom?…?I cannot sell my birthright, nor am I prepared to sell the birthright of the people to be free.”

Those who opposed Madiba during his imprisonment and his presidency now pretend they were his devoted fans.

They try to separate him from the ANC and the alliances that he was part of for his entire political life.

They try to render his memory impotent by presenting him as a saint.

Yes, he was a great man who sought reconciliation and forgave his oppressors.

But Madiba was also a revolutionary, a leader of a great revolutionary movement that freed South Africa from oppression.

Let our history be properly told and retold.

Nzimande is SACP general secretary

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