Nelson Mandela welcomed Bantustans

The NP under FW de Klerk started the negotiations with Nelson Mandela “well”, but abandoned most white demands in September 1992, leading to the current growing assault on property rights, says Hermann Giliomee. He recently gave a lecture in honour of Richard Elphick at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Conn, USA.

In 1960 Mandela along with mostly white communists decided to form an armed body, later called Umkhonto we Sizwe, to embark on a campaign of sabotage and terror against whites and black moderates, now euphemistically called the “armed struggle”.

Albert Luthuli, the incumbent ANC president was firmly opposed the ANC embarking on a terror campaign.

Two Russian historians, Irina Filatova and Apollon Davidson, in The Hidden Thread; Russia and South Africa in the Soviet Era (Jonathan Ball), write that Mandela was present as a member of the SACP’s central committee:

Using the ANC’s distinction between members of the SACP, i.e. communists, and members of the ANC proper, or nationalists, the two [Russian] historians conclude there was no nationalist present when the SACP decided to embark on an armed struggle.

The controversy intensified when the Mandela Foundation released the 627 page original manuscript of Mandela’s account of his life, which was smuggled out of jail. It now appears that some very interesting passages was expurgated from the prison manuscript in producing the printed version of Mandela’s autobiography A Long Walk to Freedom (1994).

The unexpurgated prison manuscript include detail particularly on how Mandela wanted to deal with the Bantustans.

From the mid-1970s the tide turned against the white regimes in Southern Africa. The economy became bogged down by the sudden jump in oil prices together with a slump in commodity prices and growing demands from a much more assertive black work force.

The collapse of the dictatorship of Portugal in 1974 was the start of rapid withdrawal of Portugal from its Southern African colonies. Soviet-aligned regimes came to power in Mozambique and Angola. A South African attempt to intervene in Angola misfired badly. The Soviet government airlifted some 30 000 Cuban troops to the country. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger warned Vorster that due to opposition in the American Congress the Ford administration would not be able to counter further Soviet intervention in southern Africa.

In June 1976 a major uprising erupted in Soweto, near Johannesburg, and quickly spread to townships across the country. The political isolation of the white community was starkly exposed. The situation was so serious that on 8 August 1976 the Vorster cabinet had on its agenda the issue of the release of Nelson Mandela, which was by then twelve years in jail. There is no record of the decision.

What would have happened if Mandela were indeed released in 1976? Neville Alexander records that in 1971 he and Mandela debated using the apartheid channels, flawed as they were. Two years earlier, in 1974, Mandela had written a secret memorandum, entitled “Clear the obstacles and confront the enemy”, that was smuggled out.

In this document Mandela confronted the fact that the government of the Transkei, which was the putative homeland of most Xhosa, had opted to take the apartheid style independence in 1976. In terms of a 1971 law, Mandela who was born in the Transkei, would lose his South African citizenship.

Undeterred, Mandela wrote in his 1974 memorandum that the ANC faced an entirely new development: the independence of the Transkei, which was sure to be followed by other Bantustans. Mandela wrote: “The Transkei will have an independent legislature, judiciary and executive and may control its foreign relations” and then added:
“For the first time since conquest the people will run their own affairs. Now Africans will be able to be judges, magistrates, attorneys-general, inspectors of education, postmasters, army and police officers, and they will occupy other top positions in the civil service. Would it not be far better to consider independence as an accomplished fact and then call upon the people in these so-called free territories to help in the fight for a democratic South Africa?”

If a free Mandela had pushed for this policy of recognising the Transkei’s independence the strains in the ANC may well have become too great to contain. A major split may well have occurred in the movement, putting South Africa on a quite different course than one it took between 1976 and 1990.