For most politically conscious people of my age, Nelson Mandela has been with us all our lives. I was not yet a teenager in the late 1950s when I remember a sticker on my father’s car ‘End Apartheid Now,’ the meaning of which I only later learnt. By the time the Rivonia trials came around, and because I was from a political home, I could feel the impact of the trial and imprisonment of Nelson Mandela and his colleagues because all the adults around me felt and talked about it.
In the ensuing years the entire PPP and all the current leaders of my generation were deeply affected by apartheid and were involved in the struggle against it. Most of us knew many South Africans from the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party and met many others during travels to overseas conferences. The anti-apartheid movement in the UK was very powerful during the time I was a student and afforded the opportunity to me and thousands to contribute tangibly to freedom for South Arica and all political prisoners.
In as much as the anti-apartheid struggle outside South Africa was extensive and eventually played a major role in forcing hitherto reluctant countries to impose sanctions, the real struggle was going on in South Africa, led by the ANC, the CPSU and later the umbrella trade union body, COSATU – Congress of South African Trade Unions ‒ fuelled by the militancy of millions of South Africans who by small acts and heroic deeds, resisted the apartheid regime.
The struggle against apartheid was an important component of the world communist and workers’ movement. Parties of the left, like the PPP, saw that victory over apartheid would be a severe blow to imperialism. It had continued to support the apartheid system because it facilitated the super exploitation of African labour based on a system of racism and racial discrimination and was its partisan in the Cold War. However, the freedom of Nelson Mandela coincided with the dismantling of the Soviet Union and the loss of power by communist parties in Eastern Europe.
While socialism no longer remained on the immediate agenda of the ANC, the liberation of South Africa restored freedom and human dignity to South Africa’s oppressed people.
The struggle of the oppressed people of South Africa, and Nelson Mandela’s example, have inspired and continue to inspire those who are still in bondage and who still continue to struggle for freedom.
The first freely elected government of South Africa, headed by Nelson Mandela as President, was a coalition of forces including representatives of the National Party, the party of apartheid. The first Deputy President was F W de Clerk, the last apartheid Prime Minister, even though Mandela had developed great personal distaste for him.
This government of national unity had been part of the agreement which brought an end to apartheid. Mandela and the ANC agreed to it because they wanted to assure white South Africans of their safety and security. A mass white South African departure would have been disastrous for the South Africa economy.
In Guyana the PPP/C was in office and paid careful attention to developments in South Africa. In 1992 a coalition was not possible with the PNC which was on the political warpath while its leader, Desmond Hoyte, and many others no doubt, harboured enormous personal animosity for the Jagans. The PPP, anxious for a coalition partner, was rebuffed by the WPA and therefore had to settle for the Civic. Even so the forces for triumphalism were too strong at that time in the PPP for any kind of coalition with the PNC.
The coalition building activities of the PPP from the day of its formation, in the period after the split, during the crisis years of the 1960s with offers of a coalition government, in the 1970s with critical support and the national patriotic front, during the 1980s with other opposition forces in the VLD (Vanguard for Liberation and Democracy) and the PCD (Patriotic Coalition for Democracy) were all the work of Cheddi Jagan, in the sense that he designed and fought for these policies within the PPP and orchestrated the developments. This does not diminish the role of many in the PPP who worked hard to give effect to collaboration with other groups and parties.
It was not possible for Cheddi Jagan to have so fervently believed in national unity and to have so dedicatedly worked to build alliances with other political forces, to have suddenly forgotten his life’s work after 1992. But hostility from the PNC, disappointment with the WPA, triumphalism within the PPP and the overwhelming burdens of running the government, held in check any immediate effort for any new initiatives.
The coalition government of South Africa, called in Guyana the ‘Mandela Formula,’ gave Cheddi Jagan renewed political vigour in relation to the principle of national unity. Even though the situation in South Africa was far different to that of Guyana, and the ‘Mandela Formula’ was not appropriate to our situation, Cheddi Jagan grasped it and promoted it with fervour. He did not, and of course could not, directly relate it to Guyana but the message was clear to those who were listening attentively. It was that Guyana needs something like this.
He had expressed exasperation at the continued public disruption by the PNC saying on one occasion, “We cannot continue like this.” It is anyone’s guess what he meant. It is my belief that the only reason why Cheddi Jagan could have possibly wanted to run for another term at the age of 79 was to try to negotiate a shared governance, winner does not take all, system before he retired, a system which he had publicly supported in those identical words up to 1991. He kept saying, whenever asked, that there were many leaders in the PPP capable of taking over from him. Why then would he have chosen to seek office again at 79?