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Mandela did not sell out - response to the Youngster

24 July 2012, 13:34

MANDELA DID NOT SELL OUT—RESPONSE TO THE YOUNGSTER

Floyd Shivambu

On the 17th of July 2012, an author who identified himself/herself as a Youngster penned a letter to former President Nelson Mandela, not to wish him the 94th Birthday which falls on the 18th of July, but to charge that President Mandela is a sell-out. The writer of the letter premises this notion on a fallacy spread that President Mandela re-interpreted or distorted the Freedom Charter for immediate political convenience and gratification during the transition from apartheid to an elected inclusive government.

The accusations that President Mandela sold out should be eloquently dismissed because if left undisputed, many might silently believe what the Youngster claims is a reflection of reality. Some already believe him due to the emotive and almost factual recount of the events of South Africa’s transition period and politics. Because the Youngster paid detailed attention to some of the components that defined South Africa’s incomplete transition from apartheid capitalism to a democratic, free, equal, and Freedom Charter inspired society, it is only fair to give him/her the benefit of the doubt and blame the conclusions he/she made on misreading of history, not on pure ignorance.

To properly clarify the misconceptions propagated by the Youngster, we need to make some admissions and agreements on facts. The first admission is that President Nelson Mandela held discussion with the political leadership of apartheid South Africa on the political nature and character South Africa’s transition should assume before the official negotiations started. At all times, President Mandela informed the leadership of the ANC in exile on what were the discussions.

Second is the fact that the leadership of the ANC, notably President O.R. Tambo, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma met various delegations of South Africa’s business elites (capitalists) and intellectuals to holistically discuss and make concessions on the nature and character of South Africa’s political, economic and social transition. This group of negotiators wanted to secure one thing and one thing only, summarised in 1987 by Anglo American’s Clem Sunter: “Negotiation works. Rhetoric is dropped, reality prevails and in the end the companies concerned go on producing the minerals, goods and services[1]”. If anywhere, the tactical retreats and detours could have been taken on these talks before talks.

Thirdly, an admission should be made that key components of the Freedom Charter were neglected in the transition from apartheid capitalism to an inclusive democratic government. Whilst rhetorically maintained as the beacon of hope and political programme of the ANC in government, the Freedom Charter was neglected, and its key components sacrificed on the altar of neo-liberal economic policies and in great fear of what was misconstrued as the end of history—capitalist triumph over Left leaning or socialist orientated policies due to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Whether Mandela is solely or collectively responsible for the abandonment of the Freedom Charter is now the question in point.

Fourthly, it is not President O.R. Tambo who said “Prisoners cannot negotiate their own freedom”, even if he had said it; the context would be to demand the freeing of political prisoners so that negotiation can happen amongst equals. These words were first said by President Mandela “Only free men can negotiate, prisoners cannot enter into contracts” in a statement issued by then Minister of Justice Koebie Cotzee on the 12th of July 1989 after Nelson Mandela’s meeting with PW Botha. He said this as a means of pressurising the apartheid authorities to release all political Prisoners before they entered into serious talks for a democratic South Africa. It is evident that he was not negotiating his personal freedom because on various occasions, the apartheid authorities offered to release President Mandela alone and he flatly refused to be released alone, whilst other political prisoners remained in jail.

Fifthly, it is not true that “Shortly after the 1994 election, you (President Mandela) even submitted the ANC’s economic program to Oppenheimer for approval and made several key revisions to address his concerns, as well as those of other top industrialists.  Shame on you for selling out of minerals and land to the imperialists”, as claimed by the Youngster in the letter he wrote. The ANC had developed various economic policy frameworks during transition including the Discussion Document on Economic Transformation (DDEP), Ready to Govern, the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), and the report of the ANC commissioned Macro Economic Research Groups (MERG), all of which took a broadly consultative approach in an attempt to build consensus on how the economy should be transferred. With expanded capacity in government and the ANC, President Mandela could have not consulted one individual to seek approval on an economic policy. We all agree that the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) policy was a blunder, but to blame it on him and accuse President Mandela for taking this from Oppenheimer is intellectual laziness.

President Nelson Mandela is one of the most renowned defenders of the Freedom Charter, who even when it was not fashionable to do so, stood firm in defence of the Freedom Charter. As early as 1956, President Nelson Mandela said that “the intensive and nation-wide political campaigning that preceded it, the 2,844 elected delegates of the people that attended, the attention it attracted far and wide and the favourable comment it continues to receive at home and abroad from people of divers political opinions and beliefs long after its adoption, are evidence of this fact[2]”. The Freedom Charter heralded a heroic and dedicated struggle for the emancipation of the black majority and Africans in particular, and united all progressive forces against apartheid repression, oppression and exploitation. To this day, the clearest expression of the alliance’s common programme is the Freedom Charter.

Writing about the Freedom Charter in 1956, Nelson Mandela said. “Never before has any document or conference been so widely acclaimed and discussed by the democratic movement in South Africa. Never before has any document or conference constituted such a serious and formidable challenge to the racial and anti-popular policies of the country[3]”. In the ANC 44th National Conference in 1955, the National Executive Committee said, “The Charter is no patchwork collection of demands, no jumble of reforms[4]”.  Writing about the Freedom Charter in 1956, Nelson Mandela says, “The Charter is more than a mere list of demands for democratic reforms. It is a revolutionary document precisely because the changes it envisages cannot be won without breaking up the economic and political set-up of present South Africa[5]”.

Various historical narrations point to the reality that the Freedom Charter is a product of intensive campaigns and engagement with the people of South Africa. The ANC NEC report to the 44th National Conference says that the Freedom Charter was adopted with “one million signatures: 450,000 in the Transvaal; 350,000 in the Cape; 150,000 in Natal; and 50,000 in the Free State”. The million signatures appended to the Freedom Charter happened within a population of 12,5 million people in South Africa, and this illustrates the weight the Freedom Charter has and no one could ever think of undermining or misinterpreting the Freedom Charter. The Freedom Charter belongs to the people of South Africa and such will never change anytime soon.

Amidst all these mobilisations, President Nelson Mandela was the most prominent leader at the forefront as Volunteer in Chief of the defiance campaign, and later co-ordinating all volunteers of the progressive movement to stand firm behind the Freedom Charter. When President Nelson Mandela was ultimately arrested alongside 155 others in the Treason trial, the Freedom Charter was Exhibit 1 on the evidence presented in Court to indict those accused of Treason. The Freedom Charter was also the basis of the Rivonia trial which saw President Mandela receive a life-sentence although the regime wanted him to receive a death sentence which he was prepared for.

President Mandela advocated for the adoption of the Freedom Charter by the ANC even when such a step threatened unity of the Movement, with the Africanist faction led by Robert Sobukwe threatening to break away from the ANC if the Freedom Charter is adopted. Together with Chief Albert Luthuli and Walter Sisulu, President Mandela stood firm by the Freedom Charter which faced massive internal opposition from the Africanist faction and right-wing component which labelled the charter a socialist document.

The vitality and centrality of the Freedom Charter in the National Liberation Movement cannot be undermined, nor neglected for whatever reason. The freedom charter’s clause on economic transformation begins with a clarion call that “the people shall share in the country’s wealth”. This notion is not vague and is properly explained in the clauses that follow, which categorically state;

The national wealth of our country, the heritage of all South Africans, shall be restored to the people; the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole; all other industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the well-being of the people; all people shall have equal rights to trade where they choose, to manufacture and to enter all trades, crafts and professions[6].”

The most correct interpretation of this clause is the one given by President Nelson Mandela in 1956, that, “It is true that in demanding the nationalisation of the banks, the gold mines and the land the Charter strikes a fatal blow at the financial and gold-mining monopolies and farming interests that have for centuries plundered the country and condemned its people to servitude. But such a step is absolutely imperative and necessary because the realisation of the Charter is inconceivable, in fact impossible, unless and until these monopolies are first smashed up and the national wealth of the country turned over to the people. The breaking up and democratisation of these monopolies will open up fresh fields for the development of a prosperous Non-European bourgeois class”.

The interpretation of the Freedom Charter by President Nelson Mandela is correct because it illustrates that whilst the freedom charter calls for nationalisation, it does not call for holus bolus (generalised) nationalisation, where everything is under the control and ownership of the State. The Freedom Charter, as stated in many perspectives of the ANC and entire National Liberation Movement is a programme which should necessarily lead to nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, i.e. Mines, banks and monopoly industries. When these are under the control and ownership of the people as a whole, then all other private individuals shall have the rights to trade where they choose, to manufacture and to enter all trades, crafts and professions.

In his first public address after the release of political prisoners in 1990, Nelson Mandela said, “nationalisation of the mines, banks and monopoly industries is ANC policy, and any change to this policy is inconceivable” (Nattrass, 1994). It is important to note that this articulation was not part of his written speech, but something he said as a way of re-affirming the central message of the ANC. What many people do not know is that President Mandela made this statement in direct response to the assurances given to apartheid capitalists by the political leadership in exile that the Freedom Charter might be abandoned.

The statement most certainly heralded an intense political, ideological, economic and tactical discussion in the ANC on whether it will be wise to pursue nationalisation of strategic sectors of the economy upon assumption of political power in 1994 and whether it would be wise to make such a discussion part of the transition negotiations. President Nelson Mandela said it is inconceivable to change this policy framework, because he knew that within the movement there were those who were pondering over the possibility of changing the Freedom Charter. How could he go to prison for so many years, and almost get killed by the apartheid regime in defence of the Freedom Charter, and when an opportunity to implement the Freedom Charter arises, he abandons this important political programme?

Now because of the complexities and dynamic nature of negotiated transitions and settlements of political battles, necessary retreats and tactical temporary detours had to be taken to secure a peaceful transition and transfer of political power from the white minority to the elected majority, black and white. President Mandela, like someone who understood and was inspired by Marxist thoughts, accepted the reality that seizure of political power gives access to the State and economy. In a letter he wrote to PW Botha on the 5th of July 1989, he said, “It is true, as I have already stated, that I have been influenced by Marxist thought. But this is also true of many of the leaders of the new independent States. Such widely different persons as Gandhi, Nehru, Nkrumah, and Nasser all acknowledge this fact. We all accept the need for some form of socialism to enable our people to catch up with the advanced countries of this world and to overcome their legacy of extreme poverty”. This statement he had made at the opening of the defence case in the Rivonia Trial, Pretoria Supreme Court, (20 April 1964).

Dealing with socialist political transitions, Karl Marx perfectly explains this notion in a letter to Joseph Weydemeyer dated March 5, 1852; he says clearly: "Now as for myself, I do not claim to have discovered either the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me, bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this struggle between the classes, as had bourgeois economists their economic anatomy. My own contribution was first, to show that the existence of classes is merely bound up with certain historical phases in the development of production; second, that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat; and third, that this dictatorship itself constitutes no more than a transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society[7]."

The FIRST STEP in this process is the SEIZURE OF POLITICAL POWER by the working class majority of society; known in Marx's day as the "dictatorship of the proletariat" as opposed to the "dictatorship of the bourgeoisie" which is seen to be inevitably phenomenon in a capitalist society. Once in political power, the working class can then move to assert its control over the economy. Once the working class democratically runs the economy in the interests of all, instead of in the interests of a handful of capitalists, then very quickly the working class will be able to provide the basic necessities and then much more to everyone. There will therefore be provision of necessities such as unemployment; free quality healthcare; education, housing, and more to everyone. The creative and productive potential of humanity will be unleashed[8].

This lays bare the whole question of South Africa’s political transition, because it illustrates that the Movement agreed on framework for a democratic South Africa, agreed on Sunset clauses, assume political power, gain control over the key components of the State in order to define and set the conditions upon which we will transfer the economy from the white minority to the elected majority. In CODESA, the oppressor conceded on political power and retained economic power through Constitutional commitments of the right to private property. The Oppressor was however fully aware that the economic power they have retained can be taken away through political power, which is the power to decide which laws and regulations can be passed to redress injustices of the past and build a solid foundation for sustainable economic development, democratisation and transformation of the State, economy and society as a whole.

When these retreats were made, President Nelson Mandela understood clearly that these are not strategic retreats, but tactical retreats to allow transfer of political power in an eloquent seamless manner. Recurrently, President Mandela said that the global balance of forces, and the predominance of neo-liberal policies across the world did not allow for radical economic policy shifts like Nationalisation of Mines in the immediate. President Mandela never said the ANC should abandon the Freedom Charter. The approach thereof would be to tilt the balance of forces in favour of the forces of change so that the Freedom Charter objectives are implemented without hindrances and major blunders. Even when he returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos, President Mandela said the ANC failed to convince the so many economic role players in the world on the direction of nationalisation and greater State participation in the economy, and obviously that was due to the euphoria generated from the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is total folly for any revolutionary to ignore both domestic and global subjective and objective conditions and platforms for a revolution to be carried out in an impactful and meaningful way.  

Where are we now?

A proper understanding of where we are currently should necessarily be located within the context of the Strategy & Tactics of the African National Congress adopted at the 52nd National Conference in 2007, which in analysing the balance of forces says, “overall, since 1994, the balance of forces has shifted in favour of the forces of change. It provides the basis for speedier implementation of programmes to build a truly democratic and prosperous society. The legal and policy scaffolding for this is essentially in place. Most of society wants this to happen[9]”.  It may also be added that the global crisis of imperialism has also exposed the bankruptcy of the ideology of market forces as a supreme arbiter in the trade-offs associated with resource allocation.  On this basis, the relevance of state activity in the economy has occupied the centre-stage.  The combined occurrence of the global crisis of capitalism and the veritable shift in the balance of forces as pointed out by the ANC cannot go to waste.  It is opportune time to deepen the economic transformation implied by the national democratic revolution. 

Elements of the understanding of a “prosperous society” are contained in the Freedom Charter. The ANC adopted the Freedom Charter in 1956 and hoisted it as a beacon of hope for the people of South Africa. In the process of its organisational configuration, what was subsequently launched as the South African Congress Trade Unions (SACTU, the forbearer of COSATU) in 1955 endorsed the process towards the adoption of the Freedom Charter. In 1962, the South African Communist Party’s political programme, the Road to South African Freedom said, “The main aims and lines of the South African democratic revolution have been defined in the Freedom Charter, which has been endorsed by the African National Congress and the other partners in the national liberation alliance[10]”, and further that “The Communist Party pledges its un qualified support for the Freedom Charter[11]”.

The vitality of the Freedom Charter in the Congress Movement cannot be overemphasised because it occupies a special space in the Congress movement. The Freedom Charter is the lifeblood of the Congress Movement and any attempt to replace it as a strategic vision has potential to turn the Congress alliance into a myopic formation. It is not only the replacement of the Freedom Charter which will impact on the ideological character of the Congress movement, but also attempts and actions that seek to give it a liberal interpretation.

The Freedom Charter is the original transition to a democratic society envisaged by the forefathers of the African National Congress. There is completely no need to feebly conceptualise a second transition because a substantial component of the original transition, which is the Freedom Charter has not been achieved. The strategic objective, essence, nature and character of the transition we are involved is articulated and finds expression in the Freedom Charter. What needs to be done on 5 year intervals is interrogation and robust engagement of the tactics we take towards total attainment of Freedom Charter objectives which forever remains the ANC strategic mission.

In his last authoritative perspective in the ANC, the political report to the 50th National Conference in December 1997, President Mandela said, “the first three years have provided us with a multi-faceted domestic and international experience which also lays the basis of the agenda for the period ahead of us, both for the ANC and the rest of the progressive movement of our country”. In addressing this question he identified either principal issues that should be of consideration in the post apartheid and now reconstruction and development trajectory. Amongst those is what he said is “the challenge of creating a people-centred society, of living up to the vision contained in the Freedom Charter, (which) requires that all elements of South African society be subjected to genuine reconstruction and development.

These assertions on the centrality of the Freedom Charter do not reflect sentiments of a leader who has sold out the Freedom Charter, because if he had sold out the Freedom Charter, he would never have made reference to it on his parting political report to the National Conference of the ANC. Nelson Mandela handed over the baton to the new generation of leaders and reminded them that the strategic mission of the ANC is attainment of all Freedom Charter objectives. At the helm of the ANC, he could not immediately nationalise Mines, banks, and monopoly industries because he had to consolidate political power, democratise society and enhance/harness the confidence of all South Africans on the democratic government and society.

Even if he wished to nationalise Mines, banks, and monopoly industries, both the domestic and global balance of forces were not conducive for such decisions to be taken. Domestically, the white minorities would have panicked and degenerated into a war mentality which was being cultivated by the ultra-right wing forces and a huge percentage of the white minorities, and globally, the imperialist forces that were apologists of apartheid capitalism, including those who had recently joined the anti-apartheid movements on human-rights, not economic inequalities basis, would have unleashed a serious economic backlash, including economic sanctions which were going to strangle a young democracy.

Now conditions are not the same, because we have the political power, legitimacy and capacity to transfer wealth to the ownership of the people as a whole. Instead of being trapped in nostalgia that cannot help anything, let us all put pressure on the current political leadership to take decisions and implement programmes that could not be implemented in the first 5 years of democracy wherein President Mandela was at the helm of the South African State. The global balance of forces has significantly shifted with the failure and collapse of capitalism in the world, and the rising strength of alternate powers in the form of China, Russia, India and Brazil. These countries’ geo-strategic and economic significance in the world is not insignificant and can effectively prohibit the imperialist bully tactics of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Now the letter by the Youngster is too sensational, therefore blinded from the truth and complexities of managing political transitions, which in the world history are the most complex of processes to manage. On various occasions, management and mismanagement of political transitions lead to loss of many lives, destruction of infrastructure and infliction of wounds that take many decades to heal. As the leader of a political transition in South Africa, President Mandela did exceptionally very well, because he secured the political power which generations and leaders after him can utilise to transform society, and most importantly the economy.

The ANC government wields the power to mobilise the whole of society, including opposition political parties behind the objectives of the Freedom Charter and behind the need to change Constitutional clauses that prevent transformation and transfer of wealth. Whether the will to do so exists is a question which all Youngsters should respond to, instead of dwelling on the blame game of previous leaders who did nothing wrong.

FLOYD SHIVAMBU is Political Activist, Economic Freedom Fighter and Freedom Charter defender.



[1] From Sunter’s 1987 book, The World & South Africa, cited in Bond (1996b:4)

[2] Nelson Mandela, (1956), In our Lifetime, Liberation, June 1956

[3] Nelson Mandela, (1956), In our Lifetime, Liberation, June 1956.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Nelson Mandela, (1956), In our Lifetime, Liberation, June 1956

[6] Freedom Charter

[7] V. I. Lenin 1917: "The State & Revolution"; In 'Chapter 2 part 3. The Presentation Of The Question By Marx in 1852'; Moscow; 1980; Volume 25; pp. 381492

[8] Ibid.

[9] ANC 2007 Strategy & Tactics, adopted by the ANC 52ND National Conference.

[10] South African Communist Party 1962 Political Programme, The Road to South African freedom

[11] Ibid

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