It’s an uncomfortable question, but one that bears asking, because it has far reaching implications for the future of South Africa.

The battle for Nelson Mandela’s legacy has begun, even before his death.

In an interview published by the London Evening Standard, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela had no doubts as to where her ex-husband stood. “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.”

How did this happen?

A few weeks ago Black Consciousness expert Andile Mngxitama wrote in a column about some bizarre aspects of the Freedom Charter. For example, he asks how, at the height of the struggle, the Freedom Charter demands equal voting powers to all when it was clear that the main area of disenfranchisement were land and freedom. Paint it in any colour you want, it is obscene that 85% of the population were forced on to 13% of the available land. That fact is simply indefensible.

A quick aside: you may wonder why anyone bothers with a document written over 50 years ago, and seems to be, for all intents, dead and forgotten. The reality is, when it’s convenient for the ANC to remember it, the Freedom Charter is trucked out and paraded as a pillar document of the National Democratic Revolution and even our Constitution. Take, for example, the ongoing debate regarding the nationalisation of the mines. The Freedom Charter unambiguously states that “the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and the monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people (socialist-speak for “the State”) as a whole.” Julius Malema likes to remind everyone that when Mandela left prison, nationalisation was almost a given for him. But by the time he ascended to power, he was strangely mute on the subject. We’ve got to the point where the current government unequivocally states that nationalisation of the mines will not happen. I’m not complaining, mind you. Just making an observation.

When Mandela was released from prison, he put into place steps that would eventually lead to the present state of events, where not much has changed for the average black South African, who remains economically sidelined. The current system only benefits the connected few, the Sexwales, the Ramaphosas and the Motsepes of this country. Let’s not forget the Malemas as well. Is this what the struggle was about? Did thousands of people die, tens of thousands more suffer countless horrors so that a select few could live in decadence?

Mandela (and Mbeki) lead us away from a path of greater economical parity, our dialogue being directed away from a question of economic distribution, and towards a system that culminated in cronyism, meaningless tokenism and even more suffering for the majority of South Africans. T Osiame Molefe puts it more forcefully, “Instead, and admittedly reasonably, but I contend cowardly, an uneasy compromise was reached. Black South Africa would be allowed to phase in reclaiming what they’d waited for, in exchange, white South Africa, the beneficiaries of apartheid, would keep their ill-gotten gains.”

Before you leap on your high, “Oh, but look at what happened in Zimbabwe” horse, consider this: the tragic situation in Zimbabwe is an extreme example. In fact, it’s what is definitely going to happen within the next 50 years if we don’t fix our situation now.

Whenever the topic of economic redistribution gets raised, people point at Zimbabwe and claim that we’ll end up like that if we even contemplate the idea of sharing the economy more equally with everyone. That is absolutely not true. I can’t state that more vehemently. The reason why we seem to think Zim is the only end point of economical parity is because we’ve never had the debate. We’ve never discussed, as a nation, what the options are. We’ve never seriously contemplated how everyone in the country can benefit from democracy. We’ve been content to let a few fat cats stuff themselves, and the poor could go to hell for all we (yes, we) cared.

I agree with Mondli Makhanya that land redistribution as it is occuring now isn’t the best option, given that the trend is towards urbanisation. Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti only recently conceded that most of the repossessed farms are not functional. Leave farming to those who really want to do it.

A democratic movement that sought to implement meaningful change may have been lost as far back as 1955 when the Freedom Charter was penned (the whys and hows are a debate for another blog post). Mandela may have just laid the final brick by selling out on the struggle to achieve his dream of political victory. A dream which is fast becoming our nightmare. We need to have this debate, and soon, before the truly disenfranchised decide to do something drastic about their worthless freedom. Because then we’ll really have Zimbabwe on our hands.

[email protected]


  • Sipho Hlongwane is a journalist and columnist for the Daily Maverick. He is an avid fan of jelly beans, Top Gear, Arsenal and thinks that South Africans tend to take themselves a little too seriously. [email protected]


Sipho Hlongwane

Sipho Hlongwane is a journalist and columnist for the Daily Maverick. He is an avid fan of jelly beans, Top Gear, Arsenal and thinks that South Africans tend to take themselves a little too seriously....

Leave a comment