By Kumar David –
Nothing can be achieved without moral authority and profound dignity: How Madiba created a Rainbow Nation
Nkosi, sikelel’ iAfrika
Yizwa imithandazo yethu
Nkosi sikelela, Thina lusapholwayo*
(The stirring anthem of continental African liberation)
Tributes and eulogies pour in; there is little a humble correspondent in this far corner can add except to speak of what his example can do for us. There is not one lesson but two, one for each side. Madiba was a radical activist, a freedom fighter who said liberation was an ideal he was “prepared, if need be, to die for” (20 April 1964: Rivonia trial speech). Crucially, however, he was a freedom fighter who knew when to bury his gun. At the same time, and equally, this was a man who not only talked reconciliation, but lived it and did it. He had the vision to craft a unified multi-racial Rainbow Nation; he never allowed himself to be defined by his enemies; he brought a divided people together. Lesser leaders have failed.
True, Mandela’s vision is only half fulfilled, poverty, lack of housing and employment, and endemic social privation have not been abolished; the hideous gap between rich and poor grows; yes the long walk to freedom is but half trodden. The half which he trod, however, is cast in stone, it is irreversible. The unity of a democratic, racially plural South Africa, the Rainbow Nation, cannot be reversed. Oh woe Sri Lanka!
Madiba, his high clan name (his father was a chief), is how he is affectionately known in his country; ‘Nelson’ was bestowed by his school teacher Miss Mdingane when he started school at the age of seven in Qunu village where his remains will be interned today. An English name was required in those days; it is even now in Hong Kong, like Monica or Lydia. ‘Nelson’ Rolihlahla Mandela has done more than can be expected of any man in one lifetime; unfortunately, even Madiba is entitled to only one. Yes, the road to make South Africa a prosperous nation still stretches far into the future; others must shine a kindly light, if they can, to lead the rest of the way.
How did he create one-nation?
“Never, never and never again shall it be that that this beautiful land will allow the oppression of one by another.” If only our leaders could inspire all our people with such confidence, would not Lanka be different? Why did people believe Madiba, but why are leaders at home not believed? There are two reasons, both obvious. One is that he did not talk reconciliation only when some UN agency breathed down his neck; he did it, he believed it, he lived it. He dazzled the nation by reaching out across barriers.
The second reason is that he had the moral authority to deliver this edict. Without integrity and without moral stature, people of diverse races and communities will not, in their hearts, believe a leader. A leader cannot have credibility if scandal, venality and a legacy of abuse, haunts his family and image. And what dignity can a leader sustain if he gathers around him a cabinet of clowns, charlatans and cronies? Mandela’s integrity was above question, his stature towering; the ANC, despite the appalling experience of apartheid, agreed to follow him on the reconciliation road; people of all races believed him because, in his actions, he lived it. The celebrated new Constitution, the sincerity of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and many anecdotes, sometimes profound sometimes charming, bear this all out.
Mandela however was no simpleton; he was a tough politician, a negotiator and a leader who led collectively. Though his personality stood out, he also consulted, in particular with Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Chris Hani and Cyril Ramaphosa – Steve Biko belonged to a later, more combative generation. The South African Communist Party (theoretically the most advanced CP in the world today), and its leader the brilliant Joe Slovo (Housing Minister in Mandela’s first cabinet) and Joe’s sparkling wife Ruth First who was assassinated by the apartheid state, had good working relationships with the ANC.
Paradoxically, the strength of South African democracy is now tested by the decline in the popularity of African National Congress, the party of Mandela. People are turning away from the ANC – though Mandela and liberation mystique will prop it up for a while – because of corruption and personal misconduct, a widening wealth gap, and a lack of service delivery by the government. This possible rejection of the ANC signals a healthy democracy. If the ANC and its leaders can’t pull themselves together, they WILL be sent home. The point I am driving at is that Mandela created a racially plural nation, but also a genuinely democratic one, not an authoritarian corporatist state. The constitution is not subverted, the judiciary is not snared, elections are not rigged; it’s a different game.
A freedom fighter who separated ends from means
Mandela went underground and with Joe Slovo led the armed struggle under Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) from 1960 till his capture in 1963. UwS was active till 1990 in the ANC fold. After the Sharpsville massacre in 1960, the ANC decided that unarmed resistance was futile and opened up a new armed phase. However the goal, the objective, always was liberation; the armed effort was a tool to be discarded if or when it ceased to be the right method. A case can be made that arms were justified in Tamil resistance post-1983 when the JR government turned into a military and constitutional monster that crushed every manifestation of independent Tamil flowering. But when things moved on, when the possibility of political settlement emerged, for example in the mid-1990s, the LTTE substituted means for ends. It was no longer concerned about settlement and Tamil rights; it was dedicated to ceaseless war, it would not stop short of Eelam, whatever the alternative options.
Mandela was a principled leader and a flexible one; not a megalomaniac committed to worship of arms and cadres. His objective was liberation; liberation of all, not war victory for its own sake. This criticism is often levelled at the LTTE, but the Sinhala State is no different. Neither side, with the exception of a short period during which Chandrika made genuine efforts, desired a negotiated settlement; both were consistently dishonest. This is not the place to recount this story; dozens of books and essays have been written, and few refute this two sentence synopsis. The point I wish to underline is that Mandela the freedom fighter, knew when to draw up his paper, put aside his gun, and talk turkey. That is the second thing that made him a great leader. He could decide when to arm, when to disarm, and when to reach out and reconcile. Think of our leaders, whether in the south or the north; this slightly customised quote fits:
Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus; and you petty men
Walk under his huge legs, and peep about
To find yourselves dishonourable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Pakse and Prabha, is not in your stars
But in yourselves, that you are underlings.
An unfinished revolution
A free democratic and plural nation, but a hungry, roofless and unwashed horde; the revolution is one part done, the other part hiatus. A story I often write about is Chinese Communism today. It is not a free society, but it is a nation where the incredible feat of pulling 700 million people out of poverty has succeeded. China is on the way to abolishing poverty, but not on the way to any known form of constitutional democracy. I will not be so foolish or so arrogant as to dish up some two cent formula for completing the South African journey; instead I will examine two interesting issues and ask if pointers lie buried there.
It is palpable that the new black bourgeoisie is only able to enrich itself. It is manifestly incapable of generating a surplus to improve mass living standards and sustain investment for the future, while financing its golf playing lifestyle. Which class then, which collective social force, can spur renewal? The African proletariat? I don’t think so if you use the term in its fossilised old fashioned sense. The only candidate is the modern new working class (mistakenly called a middle-class though socio-economically it is a modern working-class). It is multiracial and increasingly educated, it is youthful and has the numbers, and it can stand at the helm of the nation.
Allow me a personal interjection. I lived next door in Zimbabwe for three years (1980-83) just after the end of white minority rule. I had many close Southern African friends (white, black, Coloured and Indian). They concurred that this rising social entity can lead the nation to renewal. By the laws of probability another Madiba will not appear soon, but South Africa can throw up a collective, cultured, educated “new middle-class” leadership to tread the remainder of the long walk.
The second tricky question is will capitalism have to be, if not abolished at least bridled, to release the productive power of this immensely resource-rich country and unleash the energy latent in its people? I think something on these lines is essential. Mandela had to compromise; he had to allow economic forms to remain in order to transform social forms. (“Men make their own history, but they do not make it under circumstances chosen by them but directly given and transmitted from the past”. Marx: 18-th Brumaire). The compromise he made has had its momentum; the new constitution is too valuable to brush aside, but it is a bourgeois democratic vehicle. The challenge is to retain its democratic substance but grow it into a vehicle of social equity and economic prosperity.
Lord, bless Africa
May her horn rise high up
Hear Thou our prayers
And bless us.