Memory as a weapon
Mandela reminds us that racist colonial oppression and apartheid sought to erase our identity and history; as the Black majority, particularly the African people. Therefore, a history that obliterate accounts of the wars of dispossession, which are the cause of the African being the pariah in the land of their birth. Hence his call to us that,
“South Africans must recall the terrible past so that we can deal with it, forgiving where forgiveness is necessary but never forgetting.”
“The struggle against apartheid can be typified as the pitting of memory against forgetting.”
In this regard, as we approach today’s challenges – as with the debate on the land question, as a nation we will be better-placed to find appropriate responses, also guided by our country’s Constitution. Memory in this sense does not serve to engender bitterness but is also a catalyst to help us confront past ills and find means through which we, as a nation, can find each other as we resolve outstanding problems.
Mandela a “sell out”?
This outlook negates the notion of a Mandela who is purported to have glibly given in to white fears for the sake of reconciliation. It portrays a person who fully appreciated the task our movement and our people had entrusted upon him. Mandela drew from his own personal reflection and struggle experience to navigate the labyrinth of reconciliation. Hence, he could say,
“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
This he demonstrated in how he diffused the threat of the Afrikaner right wing and former apartheid Generals, who wanted to scupper our first national democratic elections, as they sought the secure group right. After numerous engagements with PW Botha, De Klerk, General Viljoen, he was convinced that despite the existing resourcefulness and military prowess of the racist minority, the majority would prevail. This paved the way for General Viljoen to dispense with his reactionary views and support the democratic effort. As a result, the General pulled out of the nefarious attempts. At the same time, in the process of the negotiations – having prior referred to De Klerk as a man of integrity, Madiba chastised the former apartheid President in the aftermath of the Boipatong massacre. Mandela spared no words to De Klerk as a leader without moral authority.
It is this the man who sold us and the country, recognising the danger?
Therein reveals the depth of understanding and sophistication, which enabled our movement to negotiate power away from the white minority regime. Peace time heroes will always complain of having been sold out as they have no clue about the cost of war. Spectators always see gaps and opportunities but they are never champions. The freedom of expression that these armchair revolutionaries enjoy is a product of what they see as a “sell out” option, an option that gave us freedom.
We should resist attempts to make us fear talking about our past. Children born at the dawn of democracy and beyond, must be aware of the trappings of being referred to as “born-frees”. These are subtle attempts to brainwash them so as to delink them from their liberation heritage. They seek to erase their identity under the cloak of neutrality and are meant for them to disown the liberation movement, the movement of Mandela.
Mandela: Ever mindful of the allure of power
The temptation to forget, even consciously jettison, the principles and values at the core of our liberation heritage are forever present. This temptation appears when former liberation fighters are in power, and they become reckless and end up acting in a similar manner as their former oppressors. He observes that,
“They come to believe that they are indispensable leaders. In cases where the constitution allows it, they become life presidents. In other cases where a country’s constitution imposes limitations, they generally amend the constitution to enable themselves to cling to power for eternity.”
It would be a folly on our part to self-praise and say this only happens elsewhere. Instances of the amassing of power to a single individual have, from-time-to-time, reared their ugly head in our own country; across the political landscape. At times the constitution has been leaned on in order to justify, even condone, contradictory actions. Therefore, as Madiba instructs,
“Unless their political organisation remains strong and principled, exercising strict discipline on leaders as well as ordinary members alike, inspires its membership, apart from government programmes, to develop social initiatives to uplift the community, the temptation to abandon the poor and to start amassing enormous wealth for themselves becomes irresistible.”
We, in the ANC, are too familiar with this reality that has, sometimes, caused our country to tither on the brink of collapse; threatening to drown all and sundry into a bottomless abyss of catastrophe.
The ANC, as we have repeatedly said throughout, must remain a strong and principled organisation. No one should be an untouchable, no matter their place and position in the organisation. Each of us must remain truthful to its mission of the liberation of our people and to fundamentally change their situation. This requires constant closeness to the communities we are meant to serve, not to use them as stepping stones to selfish crass materialism. As stated in the Thuma Mina Volunteer Handbook,
“Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu were leaders who acted as role models of the caring cadre and change agents the ANC wishes to build. At all times they were listening political leaders who stayed close to the people and responded to their needs… They dedicated their lives to:
The creation of a “united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous society”
Service to the people of South Africa especially the poor and marginalised
The struggle for the liberation of the oppressed and exploited masses
The fight against poverty, unemployment and inequality and betterment of the quality of people’s lives
The realisation of the ideals of the Freedom Charter”
Mandela: Ever-conscious of time, knowing when to rest before taking up another challenge
Many of those who served with him in the NEC, and various other forums, often recount how he insisted on punctuality. This attitude instilled discipline and went a long way to the respect of others. However, Madiba’s consciousness of time transcend mere punctuality.
In the first place it refers to the urgency to act, which he articulates as follows;
“South Africans have no concept of time, and this is also why we can’t solve poverty and social problems…”
“We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right”
The challenge to radically change the lives of our people beckons us to act decisively without further waste of time. He challenges us to act in the moment and disabuse ourselves of thinking that time is on our side.
Some wish to return us to racial hatred and animosity between the African and other race groups, such as with Indians. Social media abounds with racist white vitriol against Government and Blacks in general. As we are engrossed in distractive argument on this backwardness that is a lack of our progress, as Pixley kaIsaka Seme once enunciated, we lose traction and time on nation-building and social cohesion. The same can be said of the party politics that are characterised by animosity and – at times, polarisation, instead of cooperation and partnership among us, to realise the country enshrined in the Freedom Charter, assisted by our constitution. Certain pockets of the wealthy, and captains of industry, fail to grasp the urgency of an inclusive economic growth. They are oblivious to the imperative of transformation and are ignorant of the potential national crisis if they fail to ensure the majority share in the wealth of the country.
We are on the eve of our country’s silver jubilee. Indeed, in this period, we have a good story to tell. Today, South Africa is a far better place than the life we lived under apartheid. However, continued unemployment, poverty and inequality, are the indication that are yet to, completely, put the past behind us.
Therefore, the progress we have so far achieved should not lull us into believing we have completed the vision and mission of our liberation. What is required of us is to take a moment of reflection, admire what has been, and then rise up to take the next steps to fully transform our country. As Madiba intimates,
“I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is no yet ended.”
The rumblings among the youth today, and the restlessness of the poor and the marginalised, all should point to the fact that we dare not linger. We have rested long enough. We are far from the completion of our mission. As Mandela recognised;
“The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
These things are achievable if we could appreciate unity in action, as Madiba articulates. He says,
“This needs unity of purpose. It needs action. It requires us all to work together to bring an end to division, an end to suspicion and build a nation united in our diversity.”
Now is the time. Ke nako.
This is the meaning of celebrating the centenary of Nelson Mandela. It means going beyond words to concrete action.
Gwede Mantashe is the National Chairperson of the African National Congress