Anorak | Nelson Mandela: The Best Anti-Guff Tributes

Nelson Mandela: The Best Anti-Guff Tributes

by | 10th, December 2013



WHEN Nelson Mandela died, the tribute industry went into overdrive. Words were said. Acres of newsprint filled. Hours of television focused on one man. He is praised rightly for his strength of character in facing down a brutal, humiliating and dehumanising system underpinned by the fraud of white supremacy. And then John Simpson, the BBC reporter, said that Mandela’s death at 95 left him feeling orphaned. The white BBC man was orphaned by the death of the 95-year-old black South African? They had shared blood, as father to son?

We looked around. Was anyone else rolling their eyes? Yes.


Musa Okwonga



Mark Steel:

Many of the official tributes to Nelson Mandela, such as the one from David Cameron, have emphasised his ability to forgive, and his apparent rejection of bitterness is part of what made him extraordinary. But the reason his capacity for forgiveness towards the rulers of apartheid mattered, was that he’d organised opposition to it, took up arms against it and overthrew it. If he hadn’t, if his notable side was forgiveness, he would simply have been a kindly chap who’d passed away with no one outside his family taking much notice.

Few people now defend apartheid, but someone must have liked it at the time or it wouldn’t have been such a nuisance to destroy. Margaret Thatcher, idol of many who made tributes to Mandela, bragged with a fervour that actually made her look drunk, that she’d rejected sanctions against the regime, as the ANC was a “typical terrorist organisation.” Many sportsmen and musicians broke the boycott, repeating the sentiments of Dennis Thatcher who said “we play our rugby where we like”. There were the ‘Hang Mandela’ t-shirts, and countless commentators and politicians who belittled the demonstrations and boycotts…

…the real reason he was remarkable is that he took on its wealth and weaponry and brutality, its distinguished friends and its air of impregnable authority, he became the figure of a global movement and he beat it…

During the campaign against apartheid Nelson Mandela was a distant figure, locked away but a name on mugs, posters and student union halls, barely more real than Batman. But the De Klerks and Bothas were alarmingly real, an air of menace in their presence, like the bouncer that orders around the other bouncers.

Now the hazy figure is revered above all, and the defenders of apartheid have to scramble in his shadow for a space to declare that really they admired him, and the people they helped to torture.

The precise nature of his legacy will be debated for centuries. His capacity for forgiveness was impressive, and perhaps it isn’t surprising if that’s emphasised by some paying tribute, rather than his role in overturning inequality, as they’re now arranging inequality of their own.


Rod Liddle :

Look; I’m sorry Nelson Mandela is dead. It happens quite often to people in their 90s who have been very ill, even famous people, but I’m sure that doesn’t lessen the sadness for many of us. I never met the man but, on balance, I came to the conclusion that he was a force for good rather than ill. I think I came to that rather banal and broad brush conclusion twenty years ago, or maybe fifteen. So, I’m sorry he’s dead, I wish it were otherwise.

But for Christ’s sake BBC, give it a bloody break for five minutes, will you? It’s as if the poor bugger now has to bear your entire self-flagellating white post-colonial bien pensant guilt; look! Famous nice black man dies! Let’s re-run the entire history of South Africa. That’s better than watching the country we’re in being flattened by a storm.


Charles Longford:

Mandela eventually trained as a lawyer and became a representative of a small emerging educated black middle class in the 1940s… By 1944, Mandela and some of the ‘Young Lions’ the name given to the increasingly frustrated younger black middle-class professionals joining the ANC established the Congress Youth League, which would eventually radicalise the ANC and set it upon a course of mass defiance before it was banned after Sharpeville. That the league had fewer than 200 founding members exposed the lack of social power this small group had in South Africa at the time.

Yet while Mandela and the new frustrated black professionals were seen as radical in contrast with the older ANC guard, the writings of Mandela in this period, indeed much of his defence during the numerous trials he was subjected to before being imprisoned for life, reveal just how pro-capitalist and conservative his politics really were.

During the Rivonia Trial, for example, Mandela went to great lengths to explain that the Freedom Charter, the most important political document adopted by the ANC, was ‘by no means a blueprint for a socialist state’. Its call for redistribution, not nationalisation, of land was justified on the basis of accepting the need for ‘an economy based on private enterprise’. For Mandela, ‘the realisation of the Freedom Charter would open up fresh fields for a prosperous African population of all classes, including the middle class’. This vision, he explained, actually corresponded with ‘the old policy of the Afrikaner Nationalist Party which, for many years, had as part of its programme the nationalisation of the gold mines which, at that time, were controlled by foreign capital’.

To make things even clearer, Mandela stated that ‘the ANC has never at any period of its history advocated a revolutionary change in the economic structure of the country, nor has it, to the best of my recollection, ever condemned capitalist society’. Mandela was even prepared to countenance some form of qualified franchise rather than black majority rule, as a means of placating white concerns about the ANC’s political aspirations at the time.

As an insignificant social force, removed from the black working classes and poor, Mandela and the ANC stood little chance of generating any meaningful political pressure that might affect change… This is why they turned to the South African Communist Party.

The SACP was able to give the ANC the radical credentials it needed in order to mobilise the black masses. Caught between its own insignificance as a social force and the uncompromising Apartheid regime, the ANC felt it had no choice but to embrace Stalinism. This quite opportunistic linking-up of two divergent forces would have immense and disastrous consequences for the black masses. Tethered to a movement that appeared to be radical and represent their interests, little did they understand that the ANC’s

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Posted: 10th, December 2013 | In: Key Posts, News, Politicians Comment (1) | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink