By Lukhona Mnguni
Those of us who are born in July are growingly becoming either miserable or jealous over Madiba. There is hardly a fuss about anyone’s birthday but that of Nelson Mandela’s in July. However, this is not really the main point of protest over this Mandelafication of the month of July.
It is difficult to disagree with or criticise the legacy of Nelson Mandela without opening up yourself to all kinds of insult. The minute people detect that “oh that’s anti-Mandela”, they often lose all rationality and go on the insulting tirade. He is after all the “father” of the nation. Reality is that there is a growing resistance towards this transformation of Mandela’s legacy into some form of “religious” practice.
There is truth to the claim that Mandela’s legacy, in particular his legacy post his 27 years in prison, is an obstruction to the economic upliftment of black people. It should be worrying that racism and non-racism proponents alike can confidently feel that they are custodians of this legacy. We are made to believe that this is the case because this legacy is truly that of reconciliation and integration of these two forces. This claim lacks truth.
The Mandela who went to Robben Island (radical, pro-black, non-racialism advocate etc) is different to the Mandela who was sworn in as the first black president of South Africa (a pacifist, half pro-black, reconciliation proponent etc). As a result, people choose to conveniently embrace this latter legacy of Mandela, one that is devoid of claims for nationalisation and other radical utterances that are “a threat’ to white capital. What Mandela preached in 1994 going forward was reconciliation without placing focus on the real causes of racism in South Africa. Racism in its conception is about the economy. You cannot focus on reconciling the oppressor and the oppressed without dealing with the cause of oppression, which is segregation to alienate one race from living equally with the other race.
In 1970, Steve Biko wrote, “Let me hasten to say that I am not claiming that segregation is necessarily the natural order; however, given the facts of the situation where a group experiences privilege at the expense of others, then it becomes obvious that a hastily arranged integration cannot be the solution to the problem.” The legacy of Mandela that we celebrate today is one of “hastily arranged integration” and it poses a serious threat. It is this legacy that made the white community feel that it had no obligation to pay some form of reparations to the black community for decades of colonialism and afterwards equally brutal decades of apartheid.
Today the DA embraces Mandela because his post 1994 legacy is in line with their liberalist dream for South Africa, which advocates “an equal-opportunity society”. Why do they not embrace the legacy of Robert Sobukwe who was also a proponent on non-racism? The truth is that the liberalist legacy of Mandela and the Africanist legacy of Sobukwe present different routes to the same desired destiny of a free and non-racial society. Apartheid deliberately subjugated the majority (black people) in this country, so that all the economic wealth of this country could be developed and enjoyed by the white community. In order for the realisation of freedom to be real, the restructuring of the economy and redistribution of wealth would have to take centre stage. The legacy of Mandela that we celebrate today does not allow for this.
We are made to believe that, today black and white are equal, simply because they can now all vote and choose their government. Yet, when you discuss the calamitous state of education in Limpopo whereby textbooks were not delivered for six months, you are dealing with the lives of black children. Then you hear suggestions that these deprived learners should have used libraries and then one must deal with the reality that about 70%-75% of public schools are without libraries and the bulk of them are in settlements where you find black people. When you look at unemployment statistics, the contrast of the unemployed blacks versus that of unemployed whites is telling. This means that even in the free South Africa, the lives of black people have still not changed.
This snail pace to change can easily be attributed to the democratic government for its inadequacies, growing corruption and lack of commitment to good governance. If we accept this, we must also accept that Mandela himself led an administration that gave birth to some of today’s problem. Of course, the white racists among us will begin their blame from Mbeki’s tenure and the black racists will blame everything on apartheid and not hold the black government accountable. There is unwritten consensus that the five-year period of Mandela’s presidency cannot be interrogated. This is the cause of today’s structural failures.
The bridge (ie Mandela) that was meant to transit South Africa from a painful and horrendous past to a prosperous future was not well-equipped to handle the traffic of complexities. As a result, Mandela’s focus became narrow and focused on reconciliation of the “elite” through the TRC chaired by Desmond Tutu and this worked because the elite of the National Party and the ANC even agreed to a merger of the two parties, by the NP collapsing some of its members into the ANC. What project did Mandela start to bring about reconciliation of the ordinary masses? What closure did the black masses that were forced to live in slums and rural places; in destitution and economic deprivation get? That project remains deferred and people refer you to Mandela’s legacy when you bring it up. It is for this reason that I cannot celebrate Mandela’s legacy. I can only acknowledge it. Racism is not dead in this country and it is not about to die because we were hastily arranged to non-existent integration. Black people were forced to forgive white people who never showed remorse nor asked for forgiveness.
Lukhona Mnguni, UKZN student, community and development studies.