Brad Cibane
Brad Cibane

Mandela the Dalai Lama: A distorted narrative of black resistance

Black people — especially those among us who are still nursing wounds and raw apartheid pain — are being blackmailed into accepting a distorted narrative of black resistance.

Nelson Mandela — the fervent leader of the mass resistance movement, the founder of the African National Congress’s youth brigade, the calculated strategist who was part of the lot that deposed the formidable ANC president-general Dr AB Xuma in 1949, the first commander in chief of the revolutionary armed forces (the Spear of the Nation) — is being reduced into a mere campaigner for peace, an African Dalai Lama if you will.

It has become politically incorrect to speak of Mandela the militant freedom fighter, to speak of the ANC stalwart who, without trepidation, handed his freedom to the oppressor in order to free the nation. Mandela is being reduced to a monk who spent 27 years in prison meditating about peace.

Mandela was among the few that founded the ANC Youth League to be “brains-trust and power-station of the spirit of African nationalism”. The March 1944 Manifesto of the youth league declared that “Africans must struggle for development, progress and national liberation so as to occupy their rightful and honourable place among nations of the world”.

Instead, the narrative is now portrayed as being one of nation-building and reconciliation. The black struggle for equality and human dignity is rendered superfluous.

The endless courting of reconciliatory politics, in the context of the South African struggle for freedom and equality, is misplaced. Reconciliation assumes that there was conflict, what some term “racial conflict”. South Africa has never experienced race conflict. South Africans experienced oppressive domination on the basis of race. Therefore, what South Africans needed (and continued to need) is not peace and reconciliation, its freedom and equality.

The conflict that ensued between 1990 and 1994 was not race conflict, it was senseless violence among blacks.

The distortion has grave consequences. For, if one accepts that the black struggle was about peace and unity, then that struggle is over! The remnants of centuries of economic exclusion, of inferior education and land dispossession can be ignored.

In 1946, after the government had killed 12 striking miners and wounded 324 others, the ANC Youth League — under Mandela’s leadership — declared that the “mine workers’ struggle is our struggle … we demand a living wage for all African workers!”

Is this struggle over?

In an article published by Liberation in 1956, Mandela declared that “demanding the nationalisation of the banks, the gold mines and the land the [Freedom] Charter strikes a fatal blow at the financial and gold-mining monopolies and farming interests that have for centuries plundered the country and condemned its people to servitude”. He went on to explain that: “Such a step is absolutely imperative and necessary because the realisation of the Charter is inconceivable, in fact impossible, unless and until these monopolies are first smashed up and the national wealth of the country turned over to the people. The breaking up and democratisation of these monopolies will open up fresh fields for the development of a prosperous non-European bourgeois class.”

Have we achieved these objectives?

During his now-famed courtroom speech delivered from the dock in 1964, Mandela prophesised that “[the Freedom Charter] calls for redistribution, but not nationalisation, of land; it provides for nationalisation of mines, banks, and monopoly industry, because big monopolies are owned by one race only, and without such nationalisation racial domination would be perpetuated despite the spread of political power”.

During the same speech, Mandela took pains to explain that the African struggle was about “poverty and lack of human dignity”. Mandela noted that “The whites enjoy what may be the highest standard of living in the world, whilst Africans live in poverty and misery. Poverty goes hand in hand with malnutrition and disease. Tuberculosis, pellagra and scurvy bring death and destruction of health.” He declared that “Africans want to be paid a living wage.”

Yet, in a bizarre article published in her online newsletter SA Today, Democratic Alliance’s leader Helen Zille — writing during the farmworkers’ strike in the Western Cape – takes the opposite view, “As tough as it is to survive on the daily minimum wage, it is far tougher to earn nothing at all”.

Zille goes on to explain that “And so it is easy to see how the dominant (but entirely misleading) narrative arose: ‘heartless white farmers and labour brokers make super profits by using divide-and-rule tactics to drive down workers’ wages as their lives deteriorate’.” She dubs this narrative “a stereotype”.

For as long as we accept a narrative that reduces the black struggle to one of non-racism, or peace and unity, Africans will continue to live through pittance. The status quo will subsist and the black race will continue to be dominated by monopolists.

The black struggle has never been about race. Mandela said in 1964 that political division on the basis of race is “entirely artificial”. Instead, our struggle has always been about the “ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities”. It is this ideal, for which Mandela was prepared to die.

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