Mandela: myths vs. facts

landman_christoby Christo Landman

The ceremonies and media propaganda around the death of Nelson Mandela, cost millions of rands.  Those rands were to a large extent paid by taxpayers of whom the large majority are white.  By means of social grants, they also have to financially support 17 million people, the vast majority of whom are black.

The propaganda wave surrounding the life and death of the then President Mandela is a blend of myth and fact. Khehla Shubane of the Centre for Policy Studies verbalized the Mandela mythology on CNN, which hasnow  become the official Mandela mythology.

But Shimon Peres, a former Prime Minister of Israel, once said of the Israeli and Palestinian disputes: “Personally, I have very little patience for history. I believe that to imagine is more important than to remember.”  Myths are figments of the imagination, but to remember is the recollection of facts.

Imagination is the fertile ground in which myths flourish. Imagine what Mandela was thinking as he looked through the bars of his prison window overlooking Table Mountain.  The myth developed that he had had a Damascene experience and converted from a man who planned violence as the only way to achieve his political objectives, to a man who rejects all forms of violence and instead embraces reconciliation, forgiveness, tolerance and accommodating interpersonal and group differences.

Imagination became perception, which grew into mythical proportions to be finally presented as historical fact.  It is true that he was a skillful politician and a worthy opponent, who never allowed side issues to influence the core issues on the table. It was a fact that during his five-year tenure as the country’s first black president, he achieved more for peace and harmony in a deeply divided South Africa than Mbeki and Zuma, who succeeded him during the fifteen years thereafter. The success of his policy of accommodating differences between cultural groups during his reign supported the growing myth of the saintly Madiba.

But the historical facts that emerged since his retirement do not support the notion of Mandela’s fundamental sense of righteousness and moral values. During the fifteen years since his retirement he never ever pronounced his displeasure at the way the ANC had converted from a liberation movement to a plundering national mafia.  Did he condone what his successors were doing?  Did he condone their immoral return to outdated tribal customs in the face of the need for a unified South Africa, where one race group is not superior to another? Or did he merely lack the courage to defend his moral convictions such as Archbishop Tutu so often does?

That failure on his part drew a line through the Mandela myth and has exposed him as a shrewd political strategist and not the moralist he is made out to be. The world conveniently has conveniently forgotten about the last fifteen years of Mandela’s life on earth before catapulting him as a saint into future mythology.

It is therefore fitting to review the actual historical facts of South Africa in order to gain a perspective to evaluate the pre- and post-Mandela era.

It seems that mythmaking is a fact of life in the history of countries and peoples.  South Africa is no exception.

  • Among Afrikaners the myth is accepted as fact that the Dutch came to RSA with the godly purpose to Christianize blacks. In fact, they came to the Cape of Good Hope to open a trade mission between Europe and India.
  • On the other hand, blacks believe sincerely that they were indigenous to RSA and that their land was stolen by whites. The fact is that the black tribes originated in the central parts of Africa and moved to the south in three great streams. In Southern Africa different language groups occupied different geographical areas. This is still so! The constitution of SA 1996 lists the following black language communities:  Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwazi, Tshivenga, Xitsonga, isiNdebele, isiXhoas and isiZulu. In the 1993/4 financial year the government spent R650 mill on 4 554 tribal leaders, which included 18 kings and queens.

The further fact is that the Dutch occupied land at the Cape which was deemed to be “no-man’s-land”. Here and there nomadic Khoi and San tribes were found but what was absent was a government over an identifiable territory with fixed borders and with its own administration.

Another severe problem is that the original history of the black peoples of Southern Africa is not a written one, but a verbal one — so that mythmaking is obviously at the order of the day. The history of the whites is a written one, of which the facts are verifiable. Some of these facts include the following:

  • Dutch temporary occupation was a business transaction and when the Free Burger farmers emerged and moved to the interior, the occupation of the Cape in international law obtained a permanent character.
  •  The numbers of the Dutch were strengthened by the French Huguenots and by some Germans and later, after the first and second British occupation of the Cape, by some English and Scots.
  • White civilization over a period of 2 700 years grew through the following phases: organized agriculture, education, mining, technological innovations, industrialization and an electronic revolution. Differently said: through a pre-modern society to modernism and rationalism to post-modernism!
  • On the other hand, when the first contacts of the whites with blacks other than the Khoi and San “first peoples” took place in 1675, their agricultural tradition was not organized at all and land ownership was the collective property of the tribal king … as is still the case in many of the tribal communities today.
  •  As a matter of fact, the land ownership at Qunu, where Nelson Mandela is buried, is owned by the Tembu King who is the trustee of land ownership. This is the case in many a Southern African country, such as Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and others. In RSA there are strong forces at work to abolish private ownership of land.

Ideologically speaking, the divide between white and black is just as strong. British colonialism made a huge impact on Afrikaners and the black peoples. In the case of the Afrikaners British colonialism tried to impose the British way of life on them. Those Afrikaners and black elite groups who adopted the English life-style were in a limited way integrated. Hence, the British influence in RSA actually laid the foundation for a class system; which system is now, after the demise of a policy of ethnic diversity, dominant.

The Afrikaners, on the other hand, advocated the Republican system of government.  British liberalism based on the advancement of individual rights, as manifested in Chapter 2 of the Constitution of SA 1996, had a great impact on Afrikaner political thinking. As a matter of fact, a dominant group of Afrikaners now vote for the Democratic Alliance, which Alliance adopts liberal democracy as the only viable alternative to ANC collectivism and the workings of social democracy.

Black political thinking in the leadership of the so-called liberation movements was heavily influenced and supported by the philosophy of Marxism and Soviet Communism whose ideological thinking was closer to the collectivism of the traditional social organization of the various black ethnic groups.

The political development of SA since 1652 developed in various phases:

  • Since 1652 the Dutch forefathers of the Afrikaners established themselves in the Cape as a permanent settlement.
  • This was followed by two occupations by the United Kingdom, which led to the advancement of the Voortrekkers to the interior.
  • It was during their move to the interior that the Vootrekkers encountered the AmaXhosa.
  • The British introduced segregation of the races to supplement the segregation of a social class system.
  • The Voortrekkers established themselves in two main Republics: of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.
  • The gold rush to the Witwatersrand in the Transvaal Republic inspired British colonialism to occupy the Transvaal Republic as well as of the Orange Free State.
  •  The British were defeated in the First War of Liberation.
  • During the second War of Liberation, British colonialism became famous for its concentration camp policy whereby 27 000 Afrikaner women and children (one third of all children in the Boer Republics) died of starvation and diseases.

In 1910 the Union of SA came into being which resulted in the amalgamation of four provinces and a large number of traditional tribal authorities. However, Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana, although politically part of British SA and geographically part of Southern Africa, were given the option to remain outside the Union, which they did. In so doing they created three ethnic sovereign states.  The other language communities found themselves in subordinate positions as part of the Union. In 1913 their territorial bases were acknowledged by law.

The underdeveloped status of the tribal authorities and the gold rush led to an unprecedented influx of blacks to the four (European-style) provinces. To such an extent that the European-style governments in the provinces introduced extraordinary measures to protect Western standards in policies which became known as “petty apartheid”.

In 1948, when the Afrikaners took over the power of government, they tried to unscramble the egg, made by British colonialism and imperialism.  “Petty apartheid” then became only the object of a broader policy of territorially based nation states. In 1960 SA became a Republic outside the British Commonwealth.  The so-called TBVC states (Transkei, Botswana, Venda and Ciskei) opted for independence, but lacked recognition by the international community. The role of the Marxist-inspired liberation movements, such as the African National Congress, as a tool of communist expansionism in the cold war, cannot be emphasized enough.

Eventually apartheid and Zionism were declared racist ideologies by the UN. The propaganda onslaught against the policy of separate but equal development became notorious. In the meantime SA was plagued by terrorist acts, such as the Rivonia case, in which outcome Nelson Mandela and others were given life sentences. The fact remains that the then government of SA was never defeated by acts of violence. In his later years the Mandela groups could have been released much earlier, if only they were prepared to renounce violence.

In the end both the ruling National Party of SA and the liberation groups had to negotiate a peaceful settlement. The settlement comprised the following:

  • 34 constitutional principles for state formation, of which principle 12 read that collective self-determination be acknowledged.
  • An interim Constitution of 1993.
  • A final Constitution of 1996.

The 1993 Constitution provided for the Afrikaners a Volkstaat Council to investigate forms or models of self-determination. It also included a non-diminution clause for the protection of the Afrikaans language.

The 1996 Constitution included the following clauses to enhance the right of self-determination of (language) communities:

  • Internal autonomy for organs of civil society [s.31(1)(b)].
  • Constitutional councils for the protection and promotion of the collective rights of (language, religious, cultural and other) communities (s.185)
  • Territorial self-determination for blacks on their collectively owned tribal lands (s.211 and 212)
  • Territorial self-determination for communities other than communities based on customary law (s.235)
  • A (constitutional) Commission for the Promotion and the Protection of the Rights of Language, Religious, Cultural and other Communities (s.185)

In other words, to a large extent, the ANC is party to a constitution which recognizes many of the principles now post facto discredited as apartheid measures. However, the constitution says one thing, but in practice the ANC-government governs SA as if a negotiated settlement never occurred.

Economically speaking, the development of the so-called homelands is still stunted, due to the non-cooperation of the tribes with the economic system of border industries and industries in the tribal lands on an agency basis.  It is also a best-kept secret that white South Africans simply had no rights within the tribal lands, but a lot of propaganda is being made regarding “petty apartheid” measures in the then four provinces.

In conclusion: because of the resistance of the liberation movements to adopting the policies of separate but equal development, the tribal lands are still underdeveloped and their people pre-modern in their outlook. What we see in SA after the failure of so-called apartheid is new colonialism of a special kind: namely the imposition of African collectivism on inter alia the white population with their European heritage. It is an invasion of masses of Africans, and the creation of innumerable so-called informal settlements in conditions of poverty around the cities. It is estimated that about 8 million illegal immigrants from other African countries invaded the liberated South African society. At the same time what we observe is a class of super-rich Blacks with their limos and then 17 million Blacks on social welfare. The real catastrophe facing SA is when the declining economy of the country becomes incapable of paying social grants; a condition which will start a fire that will burn down SA as well as all the myths on which the present de facto government is based.

The Mandela myth would then have failed to liberate the country, as it ignored the hard realities of a developing state with the need for an economy based on sound principles of modernity, competitiveness and hard work.

Dr. Christo Landman is a former South African diplomat and currently active in Afrikaner cultural organisations. His columns in Afrikaans may be read here.