Until recently, this question had always been a subject of taboo in South Africa. Nelson Mandela is one of the greatly revered African revolutionaries in Africa and in the world. When South Africa got its independence in 1994, others have been of the opinion which says Mandela sold out the black South Africans.
Presently, twenty-three years after South Africa got its independence marking an end to apartheid rule, the majority of black South Africans find themselves in a precarious position and in a position of permanent insecurity. The economy is predominantly white, with the majority of South Africa's biggest companies in the hands of whites. Black South Africans still remain economically marginalized, and the torrid lives they experience are unbearable. The income inequality between the blacks and whites is utterly unspeakable.
This undesirable scenario has led many to be of the assertion that Nelson Mandala agreed to a bad deal for the black South Africans when he negotiated for independence in 1994, thus rendering him more as a sell-out rather that a genuine and compassionate liberator who had the interests of his people at heart. His ex-wife Winnie Madikizile-Mandela spoke in 2013 that her ex-husband assented to a bad deal for the black South Africans since the majority of them are still living in deplorable and degrading conditions of human existence.
Mandela; saint or sell-out? Neither. He was just a shrewd politician.
“Mandela let us down. He agreed to a bad deal for the blacks. Economically, we are still on the outside. The economy is very much ‘white’. It has a few token blacks, but so many who gave their life in the struggle have died unrewarded," this is what Winnie told the London Evening Standard. Her view towards the position of her ex-husband was unequivocal. De Klerk, who was the ruler at the height of the negotiations had always insisted that he would negotiate himself out of power. This has led many to be of the view that any "deal" that would be brought to the fore only served the effect of not fully empowering the blacks, and that the blacks were led into this trap by Nelson Mandela. The whites only gave in to a deal that ensured their interests would be served.
There were tow sides of the matter to the negotiations; the other was political while the other was economical. Mandela is purported to have focused only at the political aspect of the negotiations while he ignored the crucial part of the economic aspect that entailed the transfer of wealth into the hands of the black people. Since at the time the literacy levels in South Africa were very low, the majority of the black South Africans were primarily concerned with the political negotiations. Mandela should have at least informed the people about the economic side and put the same attention he thrust on the political side to the economic side too. In the Freedom Charter, the nationalization of some of the white-owned wealth was supposed to be implemented but Mandela did not give serious attention to that aspect.
The ownership of the South Africa Reserve Bank has been a contentious issue. Presently, the central bank is privately owned, with about 650 shareholders, the majority of whom are whites. The ownership of the reserve bank could have been transferred in the hands of black people, thus empowering them all the more. The notion of South Africa being a "rainbow nation" has come under scrutiny. It is often said that this is a concept that was only and is still an illusion, a concept that pleased the whites so that they could forget about the pains they inflicted on blacks and that alone has perpetuated the injustice that blacks still suffer under the hands of some whites in South Africa. While that concept was very much essential, it further corrupted the minds of some white South Africans who only view Mandela as a hero while the rest of blacks are viewed as criminals, vagabonds, thieves and so forth.
Economic redistribution is that area where black South Africans are particularly aware of the betrayal they suffered under the hands of Mandela. Whenever the issue is raised in South Africa, some say they will end up like Zimbabwe. The dialogue of radical economic transformation in South Africa has gained a lot of traction now, and it reveals how Mandela failed in that aspect. Instead of assuming that they will end up like Zimbabwe, South Africa needs to learn from the mistakes that Zimbabwe did when it came to land distribution that was chaotic.
Mandela had the potential of doing a lot for South Africa. He particularly failed the black South Africans in economic terms. He availed political freedom, but economic freedom for the majority of black South Africans remains an elusive dream. For what he achieved, he ought to be praised, and where he went wrong, he ought to be criticized and new solutions must be put forward.