Guest Column

Mandela's ideas for SA need to be revisited

2015-09-02 12:49

Goodenough Mashego

South Africa’s first black president Nelson Mandela once said: "If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named goodness and forgiveness."

This could easily have been his justification for the path he took in trying to plaster over decades-old septic wounds through the Truth and Reconciliation and Amnesty Commissions.

These were two controversial processes that required a referendum to be undertaken and were not just the whim of one man who was duped with a Nobel Award before he could ink the final deal for his people’s economic emancipation.

Mandela’s dreams for South Africa are a mixed bag and have never been critiqued for fear of offending his memory. It’s now time to revisit them and try to find sense in his view of a world he was absent from for 27 years.

Mandela's shortcomings

You have every right to wonder what does “goodness” and “forgiveness” really mean?

To the family of missing Umkhonto we Sizwe courier Nokuthula Simelane “forgiveness” means not discovering the whereabouts of their child regardless of Mandela’s Amnesty having been denied to four Special Branch policemen who kidnapped, tortured and killed her. It means not being afforded an opportunity to bury their child with dignity.

To the four policemen “goodness” and “forgiveness” means getting off scot-free, evading justice and retiring to their graves with a secret sworn over braaivleis and Klippies.

The two Madiba “virtues” mean not being prosecuted by people who believe in ubuntu (goodness) and a forgiveness that was not solicited in return for an apology.

Those were Mandela’s shortcomings; flaws that the country has an opportunity to rectify as the old man’s dreams did not have the consensus of all South Africans.

Mandela was not unique in thinking he knew exactly what “his” people wanted.

Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi’s Jamahiriya was clearly articulated in The Green Book with which every Libyan had to concur. Gaddafi succeeded, through coercion and persuasion, to sell his thumbsuck to every Libyan for over 42 years until it came crashing down when his vision became blurred by smog from Benghazi.

Frankly, Mandela’s outlook was informed by the years he spent in prison, not by teargas, rubber bullets, farm work or living in a shack. With that in mind, he was a deeply flawed man. His thoughts should not be treated like gospel.

His ideas must be scrutinised and if they are out of step with the South Africa of 2015 they must be replaced with ideas that will move society forward.

We must be allowed to deviate from Mandela's script

To move forward as a nation we need to quarrel to know what our differences really are. We still don’t know since Mandela hoisted FW de Klerk’s hand during that televised debate as a gesture of the oppressed reaching out to the former oppressors. We forget that Mandela was not elected by anyone to enter into deals on behalf of the oppressed. He was an ANC leader not a blacks’ leader.

By later endorsing Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s “Rainbow Nation” notion, Mandela declared our contest a draw before we even threw the first punch. Now that he is gone we must be allowed to deviate from his script of “goodness” and “forgiveness”, to quarrel intensely and find each other in that noise.

Unlike Mandela, Chinese nationalist Mao Zedong gave his nation The Little Red Book. Today’s China is a far cry from what the communist leader preached. Chinese leaders from 1978 opted not to be enslaved between the pages of an archaic book. The minute they threw it out 500 million Chinese were lifted out of poverty.

Great leaders have come, shared their vision and gone. Mahatma Gandhi’s peace credentials didn’t stop India from acquiring nuclear weapons while at the same time flaunting him as their biggest brand ambassador. Leaders are enigmas; that’s what robs their dreams of nobility.

Mandela failed to understand South Africa’s structural and economic problems. His CODESA adopted Sunset Clauses are full of betrayals of the Freedom Charter principles.

He thought blacks were dying to hold hands and share Rooibos with Betsie Verwoed.

His successor Thabo Mbeki spoke of a country of two nations; in a way indicting his predecessor for having failed at his biggest project – reconciliation and nation building. Five years after his presidency South Africa was more divided than it was when he cast his vote. Where there were manicured lawns there were now electrified walls.

He sucked up to former president PW Botha who, according to Zelda Le Grange in her book Good Morning Mr Mandela, to his death refused to address him as “president” but rather as a  disrespectful “Mandela”.

Mandela visited Israel while the official ANC policy was that of not fraternising with the regime there. There is no way a “boycott, divest and sanction”-conscious South Africa can look at Mandela’s treason as something worth applauding.

Mandela’s ideas were not in harmony with the rest of humanity because since coming out of prison he had been living in a bubble. His vision was limited to his speeches and humanitarian gestures such as wearing a Springbok jersey to a rugby final and socialising with Margaret Thatcher.

Shred the Sunset Clauses

Some claim Mandela delivered democratic elections for the black majority. This is untrue.

De Klerk’s term as president was expiring in 1994. If Mandela wanted to extort concessions from him he should have dared him to hold a whites-only election in that environment. De Klerk would have conceded more than the crumbs he gave Mandela to pass to blacks.

The time has come for the Third Generation to shred the Sunset Clauses that dog South Africa today and reopen negotiations on their own, new terms of reference. Unlike Mandela who offered forgiveness on a platter, the new negotiations should be for reparations and how they will be paid.

There is an economic consensus that the best form of reparations should be an uninterrupted 6% GDP growth for 25 years which will be guaranteed to lift millions of black people out of poverty and create the society that Mandela dreamt of.

This can only be achieved if people refuse to be held hostage by the politics of the 1990s and renegotiate a new lease with those who still own the economy.

* Goodenough Mashego is a political analyst/writer and freelance journalist based in Mpumalanga.

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