Why Zimbabwe's Herald is wrong about Mandela

Vusi Mavimbela says advanced industries need to be transformed without destroying them

Don't burn down the house to make a braai

I am always astounded by the persistent references in the Zimbabwe's The Herald newspaper together with its sister publications to former president Nelson Mandela as simply nothing more than what the African Americans call Uncle Tom or house nigger.

A recent example of this is contained in the article in The Herald, 11 January 2012, under the heading "Kill the Boer Indeed!" The article boldly proclaims, "But the question is why Westerners embark on this charade of celebrating Mandela as if they believed in his cause? ... The answer is simple Madiba, after taking the baton from the other nine ANC presidents before him, did not upset the apple cart. He was content to have the crown without the crown jewels, and in so doing became the typical good African who does not pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to US foreign policy unlike his counterpart north of the Limpopo".

A similar sentiment was expressed the following day, 12 January 2012, in the same newspaper about the ANC political leadership under the title 'The day after the ANC centennial party'. The article says, "South Africa's infantile disorder as it takes the young adult's step into the real world of increasingly competitive globalised economy, is that it appears it has chosen to comfort itself with the child's soothing medicine of economic justice. There is no economic justice in world economy".

Given the limited print space I have, I can only sketch out a few considerations that I suggest must be born in mind in any assessment of the South African liberation project. It is my hope that this sketch might help to temper, if not remove, the gross denigration of the liberation credentials of Mandela post his release from prison and the liberation project he so selflessly and heroically championed.

The UN described apartheid as the crime against humanity. The world body recognized it as one of the most inhumane forms of oppression and discrimination the modern world has ever seen. It created a society that was not only divided against itself and physically and psychologically torn apart but also sought to create a multitude of black Africans that were less than human. This is the society Mandela inherited in 1994.

In recognition of this reality Mandela made nation building and reconciliation one of the corner stones of his five-year term in office. He recognized that for the new nation to move forward on a solid foundation he needed to forge a common nationhood and a shared sense of belonging. It is under Mandela's stewardship that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was constituted. He knew that it was not possible to reconcile the past with the present, to forge the shared future without exorcising the gory atrocities of the past.

His nation-building and reconciliation crusade helped to neutralize the extreme Afrikaner rightwing that had earlier on crashed and bulldozed the World Trade Center, the venue for negotiations, with military armored cars. His approach had disarmed those extreme rightwing Afrikaners who were exploding bombs and wantonly massacring black people in trains, townships and in the villages. The negotiations had been salvaged from the precipice of possible racial conflagration because he operated as a crafty reconciler.

Mandela is a Sigmund Freud who compelled us to recount the atrocities of the past, both as liberators and as erstwhile oppressors. He knew that he gory atrocities and sins of the past have the stubborn way always to come back to haunt the present. Today the South African experience of the TRC draws people from many post-conflict countries around the world to come and learn from its historic richness.

The other traumatic reality that Mandela inherited in 1994 was the all-pervasive legacy of Bantu Education. It was introduced by Verwoerd in 1953 to manufacture an army of black people for the unskilled labour market. The ascension into power of the National Party in 1948 had already damaged education of black Africans. The Act however helped to codify this reality into law.

It was a coldly calculated mental genocide, a racial cleansing of all faculties of the mind. It systematically and deliberately excluded a number of key subjects like mathematics, engineering, physical sciences, actuarial sciences, architecture and others from the majority of black public learning institutions. Even in those subjects they were allowed to offer there was a categorization: an 'A' grade reserved for whites and an inferior 'B' grade reserved for blacks.

The consequence of this reality is that even the commitment of the black democratic govern that came into office in 1994 to introduce these subjects on a massive scale was severely hampered by the extreme scarcity of the teaching fraternity that could offer these subjects. The limited number that could was itself grossly under-qualified. So if we consider that to produce an adequately qualified teacher or lecturer to offer these subjects requires on average a good seventeen years, it means the inferior system kept on reproducing itself over many years after 1994.

To overhaul the entire Bantu Education system needed drastic measures, yet there can't be any shortcut to that mission. Every educationist will attest that to produce a solid learner, teacher and lecture, requires solid formative primary school years in literacy and numeracy. That is where the entire project to overhaul the system had to begin.

One of the few measures that the democratic government took to ameliorate the situation was to import a great number of foreign teachers and lecturers without driving those that Bantu Education had produced into massive unemployment. That explains why a great number of the teachers and lectures in these subjects in South Africa even today come from other African countries like Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and beyond. The other measure was to retrain those that Bantu Education had produced. But if we consider that we need an average of seventeen years to produce the best, that in itself, could only be an inadequate stopgap measure.

South Africa is today in its seventeenth year of political liberation but we are still dealing with the vestiges of that genocide and racial cleansing of the black mind. The desired speedy transformation of the economy suffered the similar fate. In the early years of the democratic order it became extremely difficult to find enough skilled and qualified South African black people to take over the commanding levers of the machinery of the South African sophisticated economy.

There was an extremely limited number of chartered accountants, engineers, etc. because it needs solid mathematics and physical sciences to produce them. It partly explains why even some of the most successful black empowerment companies were for years chaired by South African black owners but employed white people as CEOs or CFOs.

One of the initiatives the government took was to deliberately second black individuals to understudy white executive personnel mainly in state institutions and to compel the corporate sector to comply with empowerment scorecards even at executive levels. That partly explains why Mandela could not really "kill the boer indeed" in his five years in office.

The additional measure the government took was to put in place immigration laws that encourage the importation of scarce skills. It explains why government has recruited so many Cuban medical doctors into rural hospitals. There is hardly any higher academic institution of note in South Africa that does not employ at least one Nigerian academic. There is hardly any big corporate finance institution that does not employ at least one Zimbabwean financial literate. A black Zimbabwean fund manager in South Africa quizzed me the other day; "A lot of us indigenous Zimbabweans have become black African Jews building other nation's economies in the Diaspora".

The liberation struggle led by the ANC was primarily premised on political mass mobalisation of the people to force the regime to accede to a national democratic convention to decide on the nature of the South African society we desire. The element of armed struggle, important as it was, was largely limited to armed propaganda meant to bolster the mass political struggle.

There are several reasons why the ANC adopted this political strategy. The ANC military struggle was pitted against the most advanced and sophisticated military machine in the whole continent. By 1979 South Africa already had highly enriched uranium for the production of nuclear weapon systems. Because of reprisals from the regime, the support from friendly forces sharing the border with the South Africa was always conditional and mainly limited to political solidarity and refugee settlements.

This level of mass mobilization and politicization of South Africa that the ANC achieved was unprecedented in the entire history and experience of liberation movements in the African continent. The reason for that achievement is not simply that the ANC was the oldest liberation movement in the continent. Nor simply that mass mobilisation was the ANC's primary strategy. It was also that South Africa was the most developed and most industrialized economy in the continent. This meant that it also had the most industrialized and most unionized workforce in Africa.

The consequence of all this is that Mandela in 1994 inherited highly mobilised and highly politicized mass formations that, whilst they were all anti-Apartheid, but were different formations with different expectations of what liberation meant for them. Democracy exercised at this level is very expensive because it has other consequences we need to appreciate. The most important of those is that there is a constant imperative to navigate, negotiate and balance many competing sectarian interests, thus slowing down the pace of decision-making and implementation.

There is very little room for short-circuiting and shortchanging people's democracy and commandeering policy decisions. For example, since 1994, many economic policies and implementation methods of the ANC have been contested and at times thrown back by the very Trade Unions and other civil society formations that have always and continue to vote for the ANC.

The ANC political leadership is the first one to admit that some mistakes have been made in the first seventeen years of political liberation. Indeed to admit that the pace of transformation of the economy and empowering of the black majority needs to be accelerated. It will also certainly admit that "there is no economic justice in world economy". However it will argue that we should all strive for economic justice in our own national economies. It is my understanding that the land and the indigenization policies in Zimbabwe are premised on the quest to achieve economic justice for all the people of Zimbabwe, black and white.

Similarly, the South African policies on land redistribution and broad- based economic empowerment are an attempt to achieve economic justice for all the people of South Africa, black and white. Economic justice includes redressing economic injustices of the past. How we all get there is dictated by our own different historical and material conditions as well as experiences. Mistakes will inevitably be made on the way.

In South Africa we also recognize that there are many sectors of our economy that are technically world class and have produced many world-beating innovations. The country created the lowly but ubiquitous swimming pool-cleaning creepy crawler, it is world leader in producing radioactive isotopes critical in medical diagnoses and treatment, leads the world in many engineering technologies including deep-level mining, designs world class defense missile systems, etc.

The challenge is how to transform these advanced service and smart industries without destroying their global competitive urge and catapult our economy backwards for decades. Like a Zimbabwean friend of mine put it to me recently, "You don't have to burn down the house to make a braai". The fact is that whilst we continue to empower the people, we at the same time have to continue with the task of eradicating the negative legacies that Mandela inherited in order to build on a more solid foundation for posterity.

>> Vusi Mavimbela is our South African Ambassador in the Republic of Zimbabwe. This article first appeared in the ANC's weekly online newsletter, ANC Today.

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