No new Mandelas among today's political crop

2014-12-01 10:36


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* In this week leading up to the anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s death, News24 will be running a number of content pieces looking at the impact and contribution his life had on the country, and the notable events of the past 12 months.

There has been much talk and gnashing of teeth recently about the quality of young leaders within the ANC. What has become of the “rainbow” inclusiveness of Nelson Mandela or the statesmanlike soberness of Thabo Mbeki?

The campaign within the ANC alliance to rid itself of Mbeki introduced a much brasher style of politicking. The backlash against Mbeki led to a spirited campaign to replace him with his comrade-in-exile Jacob Zuma.

The ANC Youth League, personified by Julius Malema, and Cosatu (driven by Zwelinzima Vavi) vociferously campaigned for Zuma against Mbeki. The rhetoric was revved up during Zuma’s rape and corruption trials. We suddenly entered a political landscape of verbal insult and populist rhetoric epitomised by the “we will kill for Zuma” threats.

What has happened to the grand old traditions of the ANC of Albert Luthuli, Mandela and Walter Sisulu, people ask. Do leaders like Malema represent a new political style? A new, angrier, and less forgiving sentiment in the movement and, more broadly, in South African society? In other words, has the rainbow faded?

People often forget that Mandela, like Malema, was an inconvenient youth. Mandela was one of the founding members of the ANC Youth League in 1944. The Youth League developed a much more radical programme to that of its mother body. It involved more confrontational methods like boycotts, strikes and other defiance tactics. In 1949, the "young lions" won and ANC adopted the youth league's more radical programme.

Acts of sabotage

This lead to the Defiance Campaign in 1952. Mandela was arrested under the Suppression of Communism Act and stood trial along with 20 other accused. Following the apartheid government’s violent and repressive crackdown the peaceful protests of the Defiance Campaign, Mandela came to believe that the ANC "had no alternative to armed and violent resistance".

In 1961 Mandela co-founded Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) with South African Communist Party leader Joe Slovo and his old comrade and political mentor Walter Sisulu.

Initially, MK engaged in acts of sabotage, bombing military installations, power plants, telephone lines and transport links at night, when civilians were not present. Mandela has said that they chose sabotage "because it did not involve loss of life [and] it offered the best hope for reconciliation among the races afterward." Mandela said that "strict instructions were given to members of MK that we would countenance no loss of life", but should these tactics fail, MK would resort to "guerrilla warfare and terrorism".

In 1962, Mandela was arrested and so began his 27 years of incarceration.

The Mandela who emerged from prison in 1990 and who became our first democratically elected president in 1994 went out of his way to be as inclusive and reconciliatory as possible. The country was still in flames and on the verge of a bloody civil war. Factions within the old apartheid security structures were still orchestrating “third force” violence and right wing forces and Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Inkatha were threatening (and planning) bloody war against the emerging democracy. Mandela and the ANC realised that it wasn’t in their or the country’s interest to have these destabilising forces running rampant. And so a process of "toenadering" and seduction began.

When it seemed that the right wing and the Zulu nationalists might completely derail things, there were some in the ANC who were prepared to go to war. Mandela (as well as Mbeki and Zuma) worked tirelessly to bring them on board. Kader Asmal summed up the approach when he said it was better to have your enemies inside your house, pissing out the window, than standing outside pissing in.

Moral authority

But Mandela was not always sugar and Spice Girls and all things nice. While continuing his charm offensive with white South Africans, he could be tough and uncompromising when he believed it was necessary. His relationship with fellow Nobel Prize winner FW de Klerk was often conflictual, with Mandela accusing De Klerk of trying to undermine progress towards democracy. Mandela also remained loyal to those who had supported the ANC’s struggle while in exile. In his excellent book Ragged Glory, Ray Hartley reminds us of one such instance. Defending South Africa’s friendship with leaders like Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, Mandela said that those who criticised him for “being loyal to our friends” could “go throw themselves into a pool”.

Because of Mandela’s moral authority he was being able to blend a hard-nosed and principled approach with that of the “great reconciler’.

And there lies the difference between Mandela and some of today’s young leaders. He could reach out with one hand and put his fist down with the other. And because of his ‘Madiba magic’, he could be both ‘good cop’ and ‘bad cop’. Most of today’s young leaders, both within the ANC and the opposition, sadly lack both the style and moral authority of Madiba.

Today we have entered a world of real politics. A rough and tumble place of political point scoring, personal attacks and to and fro accusations. In other words, a more normal society.

- Is there a politician who can follow in Nelson Mandela's footsteps? Tell us who, and why, and be featured on News24. Upload or e-mailyour thoughts.
Read more on:    anc  |  fw de klerk  |  nelson mandela  |  mangosuthu buthelezi  |  julius malema

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