World — December 20, 2013 at 12:56 AM

Mandela’s forgotten legacies

If you are like me, you probably noticed something amiss with the rain of praises that erupted soon after South African president Jacob Zuma announced the demise of Nelson Mandela. For the most part, majority of the eulogies were geared toward Mandela’s forgiveness attribute. Not that there is anything wrong with that. If the world noticed Mandela’s great spirit of forgiveness and decided to make a big deal of it, so be it and I support the gesture. My beef is with the way he is being cast by some as if he was a religious leader whose only mission on earth was to teach the world the virtue of forgiveness.

No sooner was the official announcement of his death made than the religious wing of the world pounced, seizing the occasion for its benefit by advertising Mandela as “poster child” of forgiveness. While here with us Mandela did not pass himself as a religious leader. He was an activist, prisoner, politician and later president of South Africa.

So, how come Mandela’s forgiveness trait is being made a big deal over his other qualities as if forgiveness is the only trait worthy of a person? Not that having a forgiving spirit is bad, but the notion that it is the only outstanding characteristic Mandela possessed is misleading.

Admittedly the Mandela that went to prison was not the Mandela that came out of it twenty seven years later. The world fell in love with the Mandela after prison. But there would not be Mandela after prison if there was no Mandela before prison. It was Mandela’s pre-incarceration qualities that gave birth to his now much celebrated after-prison qualities. To love only Mandela’s after-prison qualities and despise his pre-prison attributes is like loving chicken meat but hating the egg from which the chicken hatched or to love bacon meat but condemn the pig as unclean.

Pre-prison Mandela was a revolutionary, but for good cause. As a member of the African National Congress (ANC) he and other members of the anti-apartheid movement revolted against the oppressive apartheid regime of South Africa which clamped down on the country’s non-white population with draconian laws and tactic. In fact, he was a soldier of South Africa’s anti-apartheid army.

Back in the days of the struggle Mandela had to endure a lot, including constant avoidance of the apartheid regime to forestall arrest. In one occasion he had to disguise as a chauffeur to hide his identity as he travelled around the country to put in place ANC’s new cell structure and a mass stay-at-home strike in 1961. The police promptly put out a warrant for his arrest, but that did not stop him from having secret meetings with reporters.

After the government failed to prevent the 1961 strike Mandela warned that many anti-apartheid operatives would soon resort to violence through other groups like the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA) which was the military wing of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). Mandela advocated for the ANC to have a military wing and convinced then ANC leader Albert Luthuli (who was morally opposed to violence) and other anti-apartheid groups the need for a military front.

Inspired by Fidel Castro’s July 26, 1961 Cuban Revolution, Mandela co-founded Umkhont we Sizwe (meaning “Spear of the Nation” and abbreviated MK). Mandela was the head of the group. Although it was officially separate from the ANC the group later became the military wing of the ANC and operated through a cell structure.

MK also agreed to acts of sabotage in order to pressure the South African government with minimum casualties, bombing military installations, power plants, telephone lines and transport links at night, when civilians were not present. Mandela explained that the choice of sabotage was chosen not only because it was the least harmful action, but also “because it did not involve loss of life and offered best hope for reconciliation.” According to him “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 “guerilla warfare and terrorism”.

Later the ANC agreed to send Mandela as a delegate to the February 1962 Pan-African Freedom Movement for East, Central and Southern Africa (PAFMECSA) meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Mandel travelled there clandestinely and met with Emperor Haile Selassie I, and gave his speech after Selassie’s at the conference.

After the Addis Ababa conference Mandela embarked on another trip to Cairo, Egypt. He was a great admirer of the political reforms of President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt. From Egypt he went to Tunis, Tunisia, where President Habib Bourguiba supported his cause with £5000 for weaponry. From Tunis he proceeded to Morocco, Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Senegal, receiving funds from Liberian President William Tubman and Guinean President Ahmed Sékou Touré.

Mandel also went to London, England, and met anti-apartheid activists, reporters and prominent leftist politicians.He would later return to Ethiopia to commence a six-month course in guerrilla warfare, but he completed only two months of the course before he was recalled to South Africa. Such was the struggle before the prison years. This account is by no means exhaustive, only a snapshot; but you get the picture.

Mandel was also a great president although this is scarcely mentioned. As President of South Africa (1994 – 1999) he put the country in the right path for economic, social and political growth. As South Africa’s first democratically elected president he initiated and implemented measures that form the solid bedrock that South Africa now sits on as it strives to improve the lives of its citizens. As president there were no incidents of massive corruption as is the case with other African countries. His presidency was a true government of the people by the people for the people.

Upon assuming office Mandela voluntarily promised to serve only one term, a rare occurrence in Africa. South Africa’s 1996 constitution limited the president to two consecutive five-year terms yet Mandela chose to serve only one term. Unlike one of Nigeria’s former presidents who did not want to leave office when his two consecutive terms were up and attempted to amend Nigeria’s constitution in order to serve a third term, Mandela did not attempt any such nonsense. He gave his farewell speech March 29, 1999, and retired thereafter.

As president many thought Mandela might seek revenge on operatives of the government that put him in prison. Instead, he sought national reconciliation and made his government to be broad and inclusive of those who had orchestrated his incarceration. Presiding over the transition from apartheid minority rule to a multicultural democracy he made national reconciliation a cornerstone task of his presidency. As a political activist he witnessed how other post-colonial African economies got damaged by the departure of white colonial masters. Mandela didn’t want this to happen to South Africa so he worked hard in making sure that South Africa’s white population was protected and represented in post-apartheid South Africa.

Accounts of other successful domestic initiatives abound. His administration inherited a country with a huge disparity in wealth and services between white and black communities. With a population of 40 million, about 23 million lacked electricity or adequate sanitation, 12 million lacked clean water, 2 million children not in school and a third of the population illiterate. At the unset of his presidency there was 33% unemployment, and just under 20 million lived below poverty line.

What’s more, government financial reserves were about exhausted when Mandela took power, a fifth of the national budget being spent on debt repayment, meaning that the extent of the promised Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP) was scaled back, with none of the proposed nationalization or job creation. But the Mandela administration did not buckle, instead it promoted liberal economic policies which were intended to promote foreign investment and adhering to the “Washington consensus” advocated by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Depending on your political leaning you might find the following as good or bad news. Under Mandela’s presidency, welfare spending increased by 13% in 1996/97, 13% in 1997/98, and 7% in 1998/99. His government introduced parity in grants for communities, including disability grants, child maintenance grants, and old-age pensions, which had previously been set at different levels for South Africa’s different racial groups.

Further, in 1994 free healthcare was introduced for children under six and pregnant women, a provision extended to all those using primary level public sector health care services in 1996. By the 1999 election, the ANC could boast that due to their policies, 3 million people were connected to telephone lines, 1.5 million children were brought into the education system, 500 clinics were upgraded or constructed, 2 million people were connected to the electricity grid, water access was extended to 3 million people, and 750,000 houses were constructed to benefit about 3 million people.

South Africa’s Land Restitution Act of 1994 under Mandela enabled people who had lost their property as a result of the Natives Land Act of 1913 to reclaim their land, leading to the settlement of tens of thousands of land claims. Furthermore, the Land Reform Act 3 of 1996 safeguarded the rights of labor tenants who live and grow crops or graze livestock on farms. This legislation ensured that such tenants could not be evicted without a court order or if they were over the age of sixty-five.

In 1998 and with Mandela as president a Skills Development Act was introduced. Titled The Skills Development Act of 1998 it provided for the establishment of mechanisms to finance and promote skills development at the workplace.

Another accomplishment of Mandela was The Labor Relations Act of 1995 which was created to promoted workplace democracy, orderly collective bargaining, and labor disputes resolution. The Basic Conditions of Employment Act of 1997 improved enforcement mechanisms while extending a “floor” of rights to all workers. In 1998 an Employment Equity Act was passed to put an end to unfair discrimination and ensure the implementation of affirmative action in South African workplace.

On foreign policy Mandela favored and encouraged diplomacy and reconciliation to resolving differences and conflicts amongst nations. Regarding African foreign policy, he echoed Mbeki’s calls for an “African Renaissance” and was concerned about political fighting and rivalry within and between nations of the African continent. A case in point was the draconian regime of Nigeria’s Sani Abacha from 1993 – 1998 in which Mandela initially took a soft diplomatic approach in resolving political and human rights abuse issues under that regime but later became a leading voice in calling for sanctions against Nigeria when Abacha’s regime drastically increased human rights abuses which culminated to the killing of Ken Sarowiwa. Sarowiwa was a Nigerian-born writer, television producer, environmental activist, and winner of the Right Livelihood Award and the Golden Environmental Prize.

Furthermore, in 1996 Mandela was appointed Chairman of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and he used the platform to initiate negotiations to end the first Congo war in Zaire. The negotiation was unsuccessful. In September 1998 he ordered troops into Lestho to protect the government of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili after a disputed election led to political uprising. That initiative is considered South Africa’s first post-apartheid military operation.

In September 1998, Mandela was appointed Secretary-General of the Non-Aligned Movement. During one of its annual conference held in Durban he used the event to criticize Israel for what he called the “narrow, chauvinistic interests” of the Israeli government in stalling negotiations to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He also called on India and Pakistan to negotiate to end the Kashmir conflict. His criticism did not go down well with Israel and India as both countries criticized him for the comments.

Mandela sought greater economic relations with East Asia, in particular with Malaysia, although this was undermined by the 1997 Asian financial crisis. He attracted controversy for his close relationship with Indonesian President Suharto, whose regime was responsible for mass human rights abuses, although privately he urged him to withdraw from the occupation of East Timor.

He also faced similar criticism from the West for his personal friendships with Fidel Castro and Muammar Gaddafi. Shortly after his release from prison one of the first foreign visits Mandela embarked upon was to Cuba in 1991 where he met with Castro. Later in 1998 Castro returned the favor by visiting Mandela in South Africa. He also met Gaddafi in Libya to award him the Order of Good Hope, South Africa’s award for foreigners for promoting international relations and the interests of South Africa. When some Western governments and media organs criticized these visits, Mandela pushed back by stating that such criticisms had racist undertones.

Mandela also hoped to resolve the protracted dispute between Libya, the U.S, and Britain over bringing to trial two Libyans, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, indicted November 1991 over the terrorist bombing of Pan Am 103 flight in Lockerbie, Scotland. Mandela proposed that the suspects be tried in a separate country other than the U.S, Britain or Libya. This was agreed upon by all parties involved. Governed by Scots law, the trial held at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands April 1999. When it was over one of the accused men was found guilty.

Such was Mandela. To pass him off as the greatest forgiver since Christ, Buddha, or Gandhi is a disservice to him and his legacy. The best way to pay tribute to an icon as Mandela is to present him from more than one angle for that is the only way to fully understand the man. If you don’t fully understand the man, in vain is your attempt to appreciate him.

Adieu Madiba.

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