Mandela's enemies, and his legacy
HOW considerate of Nelson Mandela to the end, to time his departure so that David Cameron, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and John Major can escape the British winter to attend his funeral. I won't join the vulgar types expressing unpleasant wishes for their journey or return, it is not nice, and besides the immediate replacements would be just as bad, or worse.
Nor will I dwell overlong on the hypocrisy of some of those paying tribute to the African leader (and incidentally I see Israeli premier Netanyahu is not going,blaming the cost of security, though probably fearing hostile protests, besides which he must regret the precedent set by South Africa's white rulers in freeing Mandela let alone letting him take their place peacefully. Aging President Shimon Peres has been diagnosed with a convenient dose of 'flu and advised not to travel, so memories will not be stirred of his role in for instance Israeli nuclear co-operation with the Apartheid regime.)
Here in Britain, like lots of people, I remember the way demonstrators demanding the release of Nelson Mandela and other Apartheid prisoners were harassed by police outside South Africa House; the use of British-made Alvis Saladin armoured vehicles in killing and repressing Africans at Sharpeville and Soweto; and the jolly "Hang Nelson Mandela!" tee shirts adopted by young British Tories.
The tee shirts were particularly associated with the Federation of Conservative Students(FCS), dubbed "Maggie's Militant Tendency" in a BBC Panorama programme that was sued for libel and disowned by the BBC under Tory pressure. Later, in 1986, Norman Tebbit disbanded the FCS, not because of their nasty tee shirts about Mandela but for an article attacking Harold Macmillan. Harry Phibbs who wrote the article went on to join the Evening Standard as a columnist, and is today a leading Tory councillor in Hammersmith. House of Commons Speaker John Bercow MP has regretted the right-wing views he associated with in the FCS.
Former MP Terry Dicks however, now a member of Runnymede district council in Surrey,stands by his denunciation of Nelson Mandela as a "black terrorist" who had, what's more, insulted Margaret Thatcher by declining to see her on his 1990 trip to Britain. Fortunately the electors of Hayes and Harlington are no longer saddled with Terry Dicks as their MP, his place having been taken by left-wing Labourite John McDonnell MP. That's as far a swing from right to left as you could get in British parliamentary politics!
Although the Tory students acquired a reputation for racially abusing bar staff during their boozy beanos, and one since prominent as a blogger has been upset by revelations of his attempts to woo the BNP, they were not strictly dogmatic in their racialist alignments. A black leader like Jonas Savimbi could be their hero, since his Unita movement in Angola was an ally to the South African regime.
Even after the big vested interests that run South Africa had decided to dump Apartheid, and the process which made Mandela president was under way, some Tories in Britain, and perhaps some elements in the secret state, were ready to back anyone, black(Buthelezi) or white(Clive Derby-Lewis) who might seem able to stop what now seems inevitable from taking place. Derby-Lewis, who visited London and became vice-president of the right-wing Western Goals network, is serving time in South Africa for hs part in the assassination of South African Communist party leader Chris Hani Maybe one day the whole story will be told.
On the left, reactions to Mandela's death have ranged from those, not all of the same persuasion, who have spoken only of the ANC leaders; greatness to some who see only the 'sell out' of a potential socialist revolution for Stalinist "stages theory". Many refer more concretely to the way in which miner's union leader and ANC vice president Cyril Ramaphosa became a multi-millionaire mine owner, while miners were left in poverty and squalor alongside the immense wealth they extract, and striking platinum miners shot down by police at the Marekana mine.
It is a far cry from the day soon after Apartheid fell, when thousands gathered for a triumphal rally with MPs and churchmen in Hyde Park, and I stood outside selling, or trying to sell, my Workers Press, with its front-page reporting South African police using dogs to attack striking shopworkers, and faced the hostile glares of those for whom the workers should be grateful for their freedom and the new South African regime, ven with the same old South African police, could do no wrong.
That was nothing to the hostility, or at best cold indifference, faced by comrades - former freedom fighters, ex-prisoners, active trade unionists who'd defied death threats -who came here from Namibia or South Africa to seek support for their struggles and warn against trusting the new regimes.
But things have changed.
Here, introducing his autobiography, Armed and Dangerous, is Ronnie Kasrils, a leading member of both the ANC and the Communist Party, who became a minister in Mandela's government. Kasrils, who says the 1960 Sharpeville massacre led him to join the ANC, was shocked by the killing of 34 workers at the Marekana mine into looking at where they had gone wrong:
South Africa's liberation struggle reached a high point but not its zenith when we overcame apartheid rule. Back then, our hopes were high for our country given its modern industrial economy, strategic mineral resources (not only gold and diamonds), and a working class and organised trade union movement with a rich tradition of struggle. But that optimism overlooked the tenacity of the international capitalist system. From 1991 to 1996 the battle for the ANC's soul got under way, and was eventually lost to corporate power: we were entrapped by the neoliberal economy – or, as some today cry out, we "sold our people down the river".
What I call our Faustian moment came when we took an IMF loan on the eve of our first democratic election. That loan, with strings attached that precluded a radical economic agenda, was considered a necessary evil, as were concessions to keep negotiations on track and take delivery of the promised land for our people. Doubt had come to reign supreme: we believed, wrongly, there was no other option; that we had to be cautious, since by 1991 our once powerful ally, the Soviet union, bankrupted by the arms race, had collapsed. Inexcusably, we had lost faith in the ability of our own revolutionary masses to overcome all obstacles. Whatever the threats to isolate a radicalising South Africa, the world could not have done without our vast reserves of minerals.
To lose our nerve was not necessary or inevitable. The ANC leadership needed to remain determined, united and free of corruption – and, above all, to hold on to its revolutionary will. Instead, we chickened out. The ANC leadership needed to remain true to its commitment of serving the people. This would have given it the hegemony it required not only over the entrenched capitalist class but over emergent elitists, many of whom would seek wealth through black economic empowerment, corrupt practices and selling political influence.
To break apartheid rule through negotiation, rather than a bloody civil war, seemed then an option too good to be ignored. However, at that time, the balance of power was with the ANC, and conditions were favourable for more radical change at the negotiating table than we ultimately accepted. It is by no means certain that the old order, apart from isolated rightist extremists, had the will or capability to resort to the bloody repression envisaged by Mandela's leadership. If we had held our nerve, we could have pressed forward without making the concessions we did.
PS SOMETHING I'd just like to add from the days when Mandela was a fugitive fighter for freedom, but some recognised him early as a great man.
Back in 1962 Nelson Mandela spent 11 days in June in London before returning to South Africa and almost certain arrest. The then secretary of Willesden trades council, Tom Durkin, thought it would be a pity not to take advantage of the African leader's visit, and invited Mandela to address the trades council. It was probably the last public meeting Mandela did before he was locked up by the Apartheid regime.
Unfortunately the NW London trades unionists were not the only people interested in Mandela. We now know that the CIA helped the South African authorities lift Mandela after his return to the country.
Willesden and Wembley merged to form Brent Trades Union Council, better known for backing the Grunwick strikers, but we are just as proud of our predecessor's initiative in holding that historic meeting with Mandela, just another example of the important function trades union councils can play. Think globally, act locally -and make sure your branch affiliates to the local trades union council!