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Akanyang Merementsi
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Did Mandela sell us black people out?

17 November 2011, 13:21

When former President Nelson Mandela’s wife, Winnie, reportedly said in an interview with The London Evening Standard newspaper in March last year that the old man “had let us [black people] down” and that he apparently agreed to a bad deal for us black people and that nothing seems to have changed as “economically, we [black] are still on the outside” and that “the economy is very much white” – many people said that was not true. But come on, really? What has changed anyway?

Ever since Winnie denied granting the newspaper’s journalist, Nadira Naipaul, an interview – allegations that journo repudiated, saying Winnie was not telling the truth in an interview with City Press newspaper – not much has been said or rather, interrogated as to whether Mandela indeed did sell us out black people during the negotiated settlement with the apartheid government or not. Nothing, or at least not to my expectation.

Assuming what Winnie said was true, if not close to the truth, I agree with her that Mandela had indeed “had let us [black people] down”. What is worse is that even after he had left the presidency, taken over by former President Thabo Mbeki and now by Jacob Zuma, I still think that many of us black people have even been let down worse than we were by Mandela himself. I also believe that, yes, the economy is still in the minority (white people) and that will continue to be like that until…

But of course this was before she denied the allegation in an interview or having agreed to it or denying having had any interview with Naipaul that “had caused so much confusion” in the country with the ruling African National Congress, of which Mandela is still a member, saying at the time it was still to verify “exactly what [she] said”. And it was only on her return from the US that Winnie denied granting Naipaul an interview as had been reported.

Winnie denied what Naipaul claimed she said in an interview with The Evening Standard newspaper, saying the alleged interview was “an inexplicable attempt to undermine the unity of my family, the legacy of Nelson Mandela and the high regard with which the name Mandela is held here and across the globe”. Writing in the Sunday Times denying allegations that she told The Evening Standard newspaper that she said “This name Mandela is an albatross around the necks of my family”, that we “all must realise that Mandela was not the only man who suffered”; that “there were many others, hundreds who languished in prison and died” and that “many unsung and unknown heroes of the struggle, and there were others in the leadership too, like poor Steve Biko, who died of the beatings, horribly all alone” – Winnie “categorically” denied this as “completely false”. She said she “gave no interview of any kind to Ms Naipaul” and that it was “therefore not necessary for me to respond to the far-fetched content of a fabricated interview”.

According to the foreign newspaper Winnie is quoted as saying Mandela “did go to prison and he went in there as a burning young revolutionary. But look what came out”. She criticised the South African media for picking up the story and publishing its “verbatim” which she found “even more disturbing”. She asked: “Does it mean that because they could not reach me they would give a distant journalist and a paper known for its sensationalism the benefit of the doubt, and not me?” The Evening Standard newspaper further reported that she said she “cannot forgive him [Mandela] for going to receive the Nobel [Peace Prize in 1993] with his jailer [FW] de Klerk”. “Hand in hand they went”, she is quoted as saying of Mandela and De Klerk. Winnie apparently asked if we thought “Klerk released him [Mandela] from the goodness of his heart” and went on to say “the times dictated it, the world had changed, and our struggle was not a flash in the pan, it was bloody to say the least and we had given rivers of blood”. She allegedly said she “had kept it alive with every means at my disposal”.

Winnie’s denial of the interview reminds me of what I said of our media a while back that newspapers write crap on a slow news day. But that’s a topic for another day, anyway. But being a reasonable person that I believe Mandela is, I suspected he must have been hurt by Winnie’s remarks, if they were ever true, despite her denying them. And assuming that this fabricated interview is anything to go by, I would have agreed with a couple of her points though, that:

Ø      The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a “charade”. This was confirmed to a certain degree by a Constitutional Court ruling that input of the victims, relatives and family members of those whose loved once were victims of apartheid crimes and have applied for presidential pardons must be take into account. As she apparently put it: “How does it help anyone to know where and how their loved ones were killed or buried?”

Ø      Mandela may have let us down not just for the fun of it but because at the time it felt “the right thing to do for his people and the country at large”. I have always maintained, and still do, that despite how many of us, if not the whole world, view and envy Mandela and appreciates what he had done – he must have done something terrible wrong that if we are to know of it “all the adoration, love and respect and everything good he deserves and we think of him right now would all go away in a second if were are to know nothing but the whole truth about the ‘negotiated settlement’ for our freedom and democracy. What I am trying to say is that Mandela must have done something terribly bad we do not know of to this day and which we probably will never know. But good for him that we do not know that or lucky to those that do know but will dare not tell the world. And if letting us down or cracking a “bad deal” for us was the only option he had at the time, then so be it,

Ø      Mandela has been and is sometimes turned into a “corporate foundation” which he has “no control (of) or say any more (in matters that relate to him or the foundation itself)”. Even more sadly, as Winnie apparently put it: “He is (abusively) wheeled out globally to collect the money and he is content doing that [and] the ANC have effectively sidelined him but they keep him as a figurehead for the sake of appearance”. And this is quite true. We have seen this before during and before last 2009 general elections,

Ø      Lastly, we have a somewhat “bias” media coverage here in South Africa for important things that should receive more media coverage do not, and that things that are not in the public interest get the most coverage. And this is same point I have addressed before.

But whatever the case, and assuming there is any truth to the 'fabricated' interview, here in South Africa one is certainly entitled to express a constitutional right to freedom of opinion and expression irrespective of where in the world one is.

Sunday Times reported that Naipaul “could not be reached for comment” at the time while its managing editor Doug Wills told the SABC two days prior that “the interview did take place, and that [Winnie] posed for a picture with Nadira and [his husband] after it”. But City Press quoted Naipaul as saying: “... [Winnie] should stand by her controversial words and show the great leadership for which [she’s] become know”. Naipaul told City Press that she stood by the “contents of the interview” which was conducted in July 2009 when she visited Winnie’s home in Soweto with Mandela. Her insistence on having interviewed Winnie came after Winnie denied granting her the fabricated interview when she visited South Africa in the year alleged.

What is also surprising, however, and which to date has not been clarified by neither newspapers (City Pres and The Times) is Naipaul’s claim to City Press that the alleged fabricated interview with Winnie took place in July 2009 while The Times on the other hand reported the interview to have take place August that same year. Who is fooling who here?

Mandela is a symbol of reconciliation and peace. But he is also a potent symbol of Struggle over oppression, has become an inspiration to all people who suffer oppression, and has demonstrated that one can wage a just war to achieve freedom and people's power, Winnie wrote in the Sunday Times of the former and first democratically elected president.

BruElla Gila wrote to the newspaper asking “why then would a person of [Winnie’s] stature resort to fear and denialism in fear of reprisal by fellow comrades or even worse being declared an outcast in a party [she has made her home since her youth]?”. In her interview with City Press, Naipaul said she “took notes during the interview”. Many fellow bloggers and opinionated South Africans, like Khaya Dlanga, wondered “what it is that maybe Mandela could have done” to Winnie that may have led to the alleged interview . Dlanga suggested that Winnie was “mistaken” on Mandela because she spoke of him “as if it was not the ANC collective that made the decisions that caused her to complain about Nelson Mandela by [placing] all the blame squarely on his shoulders”.

Winnie, said Dlanga, acted as if she was “not part of the NEC that agreed to the principles that would lead to the formation a new South Africa”. Another fellow blogger, also an opinionated South African like me, Sipho Hlongwane, wondered if indeed Mandela had sold us [black people] out. So, what is your take? Were we black people sold out by Mandela?

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