Was Mandela a saint or a sell-out? It reads like blasphemy but with the state of South African economics, it is an important question. Some blacks in South Africa feel they got the raw end of the deal when apartheid was abolished. It seems apartheid in its essence was done away with as a socio-political problem but its economic ravages are still a reality of present day South Africa. On average, USA Today reported that one white household earns six times more than a black one. Who is blamed for the inequality? It may come as a surprise but a growing number of youths feel it is the late Nobel Prize Laureate, Nelson Mandela.
In a Speaking Tour in the U.K., Julius Malema, firebrand leader of the Economic Freedom Front packaged the message quite concisely: “The Nelson we celebrate now is a stage-managed Mandela who compromised the principles of the revolution, which are captured in the Freedom Charter.”
Post-apartheid, the young nation of South Africa seemed to have found its mojo. Young South Africans were hopeful but almost three decades later, it seems hope remains just that - hope. Executives in corporations are still pre-dominantly whites who make up less than 15% of the population. The land promised to the black populace is still in the hands of whites. Means of production are still in the hands of whites while blacks remain the maids and gardeners in households. It would seem when the ANC negotiated the current settlement with the De Klerk regime, economics just did not make the agenda. The promises of the Freedom Charter had to be foregone for some reason and now more than ever, that strategy has become a bone of contention.
In 2010, speaking to Nadira Naipaul, Mandela’s ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela said, “Mandela let us down.”
She went on, “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 must mean that during negotiations, political and economic power were separated yet they should have been dealt with like the Siamese twins they are. In an Opinion piece for News24, a “Youngster” claimed Mandela sold “out of minerals and land to the imperialists”. How, you ask? He alleged the former President had a suspicious relationship with big-white-capital. He had several meetings with former chairman of mining-giants Anglo-American and De Beers, Harry Oppenheimer.
“Shortly after the 1994 election, you even submitted the ANC’s economic program to Oppenheimer for approval and made several key revisions to address his concerns, as well as those of other top industrialists.” He goes on to cry foul over the decision to allow the Reserve Bank to be privately owned.
In coming up with a competent verdict on Mandela’s sainthood, it is necessary to answer the question; Did the father of South African democracy have an option? It would seem foolish that he would spend twenty-seven years in prison for a cause that would serve the oppressors’ end. The world should not forget that Mandela went to the negotiating table with an imminent threat of civil war. Zakes Mda in a piece for The Guardian wrote, “Mandela saved my country from a bloodbath, but his focus on the symbols of reconciliation was at the expense of real economic reform in South Africa.”
In essence, he had to choose between peace and economic shares. The economic shares could not have been ceded without war and violence. The Jerusalem Post argues that Mandela could not have won economic gains without force. Madiba therefore signed a “Faustian Pact” with global capital to preserve peace. Claiming he sold out is tantamount to saying lives come second to economics.
A further influence on the Mandela-led ANC’s decisions on the negotiating table may have been the risk of “white capital flight”. Zimbabwe and many other countries know way too much about this phenomenon. Where white capital is threatened by nationalist policies, it withdraws to safer places with less threats. Africa cannot pretend it does not need white, black, mixed capital - all hands on deck.
Noah Feldman, a law professor at Harvard University then wrote for Bloomberg, “….like almost all constitutions, South Africa’s founding pact was born in the sin of compromise. Compromise is sin because people don’t get what they deserve. But that sin is necessary, because after it’s committed, people are better off than they would be without it.”
So what was Mandela? Villain or super-hero? Mandela was human. He was a politician with imperfections like the rest of the world and he cannot be deified without conveniently ignoring the mistakes he might have made like any mortal man would. Steven Friedman, director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, writes in South Africa’s Business Day that in the talks that ended apartheid, “political elites agreed on what they could agree on and delayed indefinitely the real task – tackling race and inequality”. It might have been a mistake on the ANC’s part but it was either that or a failed state and they had to make a choice. South Africa’s Gini coefficient consistently ranges from about 0.660 to 0.696 (0 is perfect equality while 1 is the ultimate state of inequality). Inequality is the elephant in the room. Mandela could not have done everything, he was no superhuman. It is now upon the young to fully utilise their freedom and peace to renegotiate the economy. One man could not have done everything. Mandela; saint or sell-out? Neither. He was just an ordinary man in extra ordinary circumstances trying his best.