Mandela would have been forced to be more radical economically had he stayed in office

Dear Editor,

Now that the dust has settled on the death and celebration of the life of the late great African personality, Nelson Mandela, I now take some liberty in sharing a point of view.

The glowing tributes lavished on him and all the encomiums were in order – he stood tall and in his presence many were dwarfed. His exemplary statesmanship left an indelible mark on the face and history of South Africa by his totally different and magnanimous quality and style of leadership. He was a living inspiration, the disciple of forgiveness and reconciliation, though the abyss of poverty lingers on, brazenly caressing his people – the black masses – as he bid them farewell.

Let me say something many may not agree with: Had Mandela been somewhat younger and stronger in health to stay in office much longer he would definitely have met with severe opposition from his own people who crowned him and would have been forced to shift gear adopting a different and more radical economic stance in dealing with those powerful white folks. This would have been to create – though not even remotely – a semblance of balance for his people in relation to the whites, at least in terms of making living conditions a bit better, and more bearable for those millions in abject poverty. The sprawling disparity over the years, the wretched social conditions would have dictated his actions, leaving him with no other choice other than to discard his angelic approach towards those powerful and well-fortified whites still holding real economic sway over the land and economy.

There is a point beyond which a wretched people on their knees cannot be coaxed or reached with nice-sounding philosophical phrases. Despite his heroic and longstanding battle with apartheid that catapulted him into prominence and into the arms of his people, there is a point at which all honeymoons must end. Yes, indeed he was a kind of father figure because of his endearing qualities, his humbleness, his unantagonistic behaviour towards his enemies after he left prison, his saint-like approach to life – all virtues. But unlike Christ, he was at the helm of a nation, the one in charge who held the mantle of authority in a country whose conditions he struggled to change. But his people were still wretched, their situation unaltered with merely a change in the frame as the former oppressors continued business as usual enjoying a heavenly existence.

There is hardly a record of any people waiting forever without any favourable results who have not become restless. There are still terrible things that are being done to them as if the old order were intact: the shooting down of thirty-odd workers on strike – not by whites! Zuma’s craving for the pleasant things of life, the opulence enjoyed by the apartheid enforcers; Mbeki’s less than energetic and enthusiastic approach in addressing issues. You know it is true that most rebels mellow with age – battle weariness as some would say – losing their zeal, and hence the need for a changing of the guard, for a fresh, exuberant, radical but stable brigade to come to the fore. According to Winnie Mandela: “Mandela did go to jail, as he went in a burning young revolutionary, but look what came out.”

Zuma is caught up in a no confidence motion against him for corruption; presumptuous and scandalous acts of impropriety by his ministers were all along festering as the masses of poor South Africans blacks remained burdened and trudged on. Thus Zuma’s ignominy, his embarrassment was expected and it occurred at just the right time.

It seems to me from all reports that Mandela had bent back too much in trying to appease the white folks – his gaolers, “being too saintly, too good” and less attentive to his own people according to Mugabe. Mandela, the living inspiration of a Rainbow Nation, would have most likely, in time, once there wasn’t a noticeable change in the lot of his people, have had to face a mean confrontation. His ideal of a “shared prosperity, of black economic empowerment” at his death remained a fleeting illusion.

Maybe Mbeki was twice as correct when he said: “The transformation of South Africa is a very difficult task. I think in many respects more difficult than the struggle to end the system of apartheid.”

Yours faithfully,
Frank Fyffe

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