Nelson Mandela and Robert Mugabe

(Two faces of the unfinished freedom struggle in Africa)


By Ariyawansa Ranaweera

"He was not a saint; he was just a man, but he was the right at the right time"

- Gwen Dyer on Mandela

Now that the dust has settled down on the uproar over the demise of Nelson Mandela, time has come to cast a sober glance over the real achievement won by the African people in their struggle to free themselves from the Colonial yorke ; a movement in which Mandela played a significant role.

Out of mostly adulatory articles on Mandela which appeared in your esteemed paper, three writers' contributions on this issue caught my eye. They were Rajan Phillip's article titled 'To honour Mandela is to Learn from his example' and Rohana Wasala's article and Gwen Dyer's article on Mandela's role. While giving due recognition to the Mandela's role in the struggle against the Apartheid regime in South Africa, they also gave us some glimpses in to the chinks in his armour as a national leader.

No one can gainsay the immense courage, dedication and perseverance of Nelson Mandela displayed in the freedom struggle against the supremacist white regime, which hid its ugly face under a noxious theory called 'Apartheid'.

This word reminds me of an interview, I had to face, for the entry in to Ceylon Overseas Service way back in the 60s. The Board of interview was headed by the late Baku Mahadewa. One of the questions he paused to me was what do you mean by Apartheid? I answered promptly that Apartheid is a system adopted by the white supremacists to suppress and exploit South Africa's black majority. Then he asked again "yes, but what is the theory behind it?" Frankly I did not know at that time that there was a theory behind this ugly sounding word. Later on I realized that this theory was the so called - theory of separate development for the two communities, keeping them apart from having any social ties with one another. A mere smoke screen to ostracize the black majority, while exploiting their labour to the core. Well that question would have cost me dear ; and clipped my wings from embarking overseas! Be that as it may be, was Mandela's mission half accomplished? Did hard realities of real politic stopped him on his tracks?

When Mandela along with his equally dedicated colleagues launched the independent struggle, their objective was not only to topple the oppressive regime politically, but also to destroy the economic superstructure of the white minority, in order to create a society where the black majority would enjoy the economic benefits that would accrue to them by such an exercise.

Although A. N. U., the party which led the struggle was not avowedly a Communist party, A. N. U. was thoroughly influenced by the socialist winds blowing across the continent. Communist party of South Africa has publicly declared that Nelson Mandela was a member of the South African Communist party. The objectives of the socialists were not only to achieve political freedom. But also to achieve economic re-distributive justice as well.

South African freedom struggle cannot be, assessed in isolation by distancing it from many such struggles spread over the African continent at that time. These movements gave strength, solidity and sustenance to the South African movement. Frelimo of Mozambique, Zanu of Rhodesia, struggles in Zambia, Senagal, Ithiopia, were such movement in the neighbouring African states. All these movement was mostly socialist oriented, and cherished the double objective of - political freedom and economic justice.

South Africa's white regime realized the dangers that could affect, their interests, if they allowed these freedom struggle to flourish. Therefore they did their utmost to supress them before their impact would endanger their country. They spread their tentacles to, nip them in the bud, by even sending their mercenary armies to crush them. Had they succeeded they would have certainly entrenched themselves, in their positions, and there would never have been a change, of their determination not to give way to the Blacks.

To quote from the article titled - "Mandela and the African liberation struggle" by Dr. Horace G. Campbell visiting professor of International relations Chinhua University Beijing. "Those who branded Mandela as a terrorist are seeking to programme the minds of the youth to see Mandela as some sort of a visionary leader " Dropped from heaven" without links to real struggle of humans everywhere".

The terrorist army of Aparthied killed more than 2 million people in the neighbouring states according to Professor Campbell.

In Angola a decisive battle was fought at a place called Cuito Cunavale, where the S. A. D. F. (South African Army) was soundly beaten by the Fralimo with Cuban assistance, like what happened to the French in Dien Beinphu in Vietnam. This defeat turned the tide against the Aparthied regime. Fidel Castro famously said "History of Africa will be written as that of before Cunavale and after".

All these movements were inspired by socialist aspirations. To rid the country of imperial plunderers and establish a society where, exploitation would disappear and peace and equality would reign. Overthrowing the Colonial masters was only the first step in this endeavour. But establishing and egalitarian society was the other equally or sometimes more difficult task. For that the entrenched economic stranglehold of the foreign and local bourgeoisie had to be dismantled. Julius Nyrere the president of Tanzania, who embarked on this arduous task says "while struggling for freedom the objectives were clear, but it was another thing when you have to remove your own people from the position of exploiters".

Prof. Campbell is more explicit on this situation in South Africa "Nelson Mandela's walk to freedom in 1990 represented a major step in the people of the world, for a new system after Aparthied. However those who owned the banks the mines, the insurance companies and the land were planning for a white minority along with black allies. International capital had grasped the full implications of black partners in societies like Kenya, Zimbabwe, Cammroons, Algeria and Nigeria. The nature of inequalities in South Africa today demostrate the success of the plan to create back allies".

Surely Mandela was not an isolated phenomenon. He was moulded within the total atmosphere of the African struggle to form a new society. After gaining freedom the vast majority expected to enjoy the benefits of the hard earned freedom. But what actually happened is vividly explained by Prof. Campbell. "The African national congress and its tripartite alliance of the Communist party, the congress of the South African trade unions (cosatu) has fashioned a theoretical basis for enrichment of the few by arguing that, before South Africa could enter the face of transformation beyond capitalism, there has to be the development of productive forces. Nelson Mandela was caught in 1994 in the midst of the alliance and within 5 years sought to extricate himself by stepping down as president in 1999 after one term" This passage is very revealing as it concludes by saying Mandela spurned the presidentship after one term as he was trapped in the new dispensation of the tripartite alliance, to continue with the status quo by hiding under a pseudo-theory.

One can fathom here what possibly could have been Mandela's dilemma. The common struggle led by Mandela, assisted by other leaders like, Z. K. Mathiew, Govan Mbeke, Oliver Tambo, Joshuo Nkomo, Desmond Tutu, had been able to win power for the downtrodden black majority; but that was only mission haft accomplished ; the more difficult part was to empower them socially and economically, which they failed to do. Was Mandela hamstrung in this endeavour by prevailing circumstances? Was he forced to accept the status quo in the name of reconciliation? Mandela is praised for the creation of a rainbow nation where harmony and mutual understanding between the two races prevail. But the fact of the matter is without radically changing the stranglehold of the Whites and their black allies it was impossible to bequeath economic and social benefits to the vast majority.

Was this the reason which made him to relinquish presidentship after only one term? Was he not prepared to go down in history as a failure? Gwen Dyer says even in his first term as the president he was only going through the motions. Not resorting to radical measures. Gwen Dyer says further "Then after the first free election in 1994, Mandela became the president and frankly he was not very good at that. Thombo Mbeki did most of the hard administrative work, behind the scenes during Mandela's presidency".

Rohana Wasala says in this article that Mandela's legacy cannot be replicated elsewhere. It is because according to him, the Mandela's exercise is the ultimate result of the special nature of South African politics. While agreeing with him it should be emphasized that his legacy is not worth replicating, as he was not able to take his exercise in to its ultimate conclusion.

If will be interesting to compare notes with Zimbabwe (Former Rhodesia). Which was able to win power to the black majority, toppling and equally rapacious white regime. Robert Mugabe gave leadership to Gurerilla bush war against this regime, using the neighbouring Mozombique as its base. Like Mandela, Mugabe was also arrested by the white regime and was incarcerated for 10 years. He was not alone in this struggle. Ndabangi, Sithole, Nkomo were other leaders who were with him in this struggle. After a prolong war which spanned from 1979 - 1980 the white regime was forced by the former Colonial power, United Kingdom to transfer power to the majority 1990. This was done under an agreement called - The Lancater Agreement, between the two parties. Ian Smith, the outgoing white prime minister signed for the whites and the Mugabe Nkomo and Zvabgo signed for the blacks. This agreements was a compromise. A power sharing device according to which in the new parliament to be set up 20% of the seats had to be set apart for the whites who constituted only 1% of the population. More ominously the black party had to agree to a ten year moratorium which precluded any constitutional changes and economic re-adjustments. That effectively ensured the protection of the rights of the minority whites, at least for 10 years. But there was one redeeming proviso, where if a white land owner wished to sell his lands, to the locals, the U.K. government agreed to pay the compensation to the white owner. This arrangement was called "willing buyers, willing sellers." Apparently this arrangement envisaged a peaceful transformation of land ownership.

At the time of independence, 46.5% of the arable lands were owned by 6000 commercial white farmers. This was only 1% of the total population. They cultivated cash crops for exports. The black majority were relegated to marginal lands, to eke out and existence through subsistence farming. Redistribution of land was blocked for 10 years under the Lancaster Agreement.

It should be mentioned here that Mugabe was running the country from 1990 onwards to this day. He won elections in 19990, 1993, 2002 and 2008 through fair means or foul. But what is to be taken in to account is, if he was to sustain his power he could no longer prevaricate in his pledge to effect land reforms. This was the first step in dismantling of the economic superstructure of the whites.

To make matters worse in 1997 Tony Blair's labour government stopped the agreement of paying, compensation to the white land owners who were willing to sell their lands. This was a big body blow to the peaceful transformation of land ownership. The intention of the labour government was to effect a regime change by making Mugabe unpopular.

Mugabe's hands were forced to take drastic action because of this British ploy. It was only after this his followers started invading the white owned farms, and evicting the owners forcibly ; sometimes resorting to bodily harm.

In 1991 Mugabe said "A new progressive society could not be constructed on the foundations of the past and that they would have to destroy most of what had been built after 1900, before a new society based on subsistence and peasant values could be constructed".

In, March 2008 Mugabe signed the Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Bill in to law. He said " The indigenization and Empowerment drive will continue unabated, in order to ensure that indigenous Zimbabweans enjoy a larger share of countries resources". He also told at a public rally to mark the annual Defense Forces day "This policy is the final phase of liberation struggle. Final phase of total independence".

Expropriating the white exploiters took and accelerated pace. Reaction from the former imperial powers were swift. U. S. A. freezed all foreign assets of Zimbabwe. Imposed a travel ban or Mugabe and his colleagues. European Union imposed strict trade sanctions.

Tony Blair once called Mugabe a modern day Hitler. Mugabe retorted at a public rally "I am still Hitler of the time, this Hitler has only one objective; justice for his own people, recognition of the independence of his people and the right to their resources. If that is Hitler let me be the Hitler two fold, four fold. But that is what we stand for".

The repercussions of trade sanctions and other restrictions have brought Zimbabwe to dire economic disaster. A country of reasonable prosperity at the time of independence is now reeling in an economic catastrophe. Hiper inflation has reduced the entire monitory system to shambles. It is said that Zimbabwean dollar has suffered from the second highest inflation rate of any country in modern times. Economic growth is at a standstill. The suffering of the masses is enormous.

What is the moral behind this sad state of affairs? We witness that South Africa deciding to keep the state quo, thereby denying the economic benefits to the majority, keeping them more or less in the same miserable status, before independence! Zimbabwe under Mugabe taking the plunge and deciding to go the whole hog and being punished heavily by the former colonial powers and reducing that country's economic in to tatters.

What is the way out of this conundrum? Professor John H. Soul of York University Canada in his article titled "Socialism in Africa" says "A socialist aspiration of some kind, a challenge to the illogic of actually existing capitalism, both globally and as it works its malign purposes on the African Continent itself must, it seems to me be at the core of any meaningful response that Africa is eventually to make to the crisis in which it find itself. But as that aspiration re-emerges, it must be for a more democratic project than Africa has witnessed in the name of socialism".

Is this also another wishful thinking? A never achievable Utopia?

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