The death of Nelson Mandela has prompted many attempts to assess and evaluate his life and works and achievements. On the day following his death my Facebook status/wall/timeline or whatever they call it now was filled with tributes from people around the world. Most were positive, especially those from South Africans.
The few negative responses I saw were mostly from American libertarians, which I think says more about American libertarians than it does about Nelson Mandela.
Some conspiracy theorists and malicious persons did their best to predict pogroms after his death, as described in this article Helter Skelter In South Africa? Alarmists Spread Fear That Whites Will Be Massacred After Nelson Mandela Dies.
But apart from American libertarians and the loony right (like this idiot, who compared Mandela with Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin, and Pol Pot) most people emphasised his positive achievements. Yes, the media tended to be hagiographical and uncritical, so that some suggested that they airbrushed his failings. But most of those who complained along these lines indicated as the “truth” the right-wing media that vilified him. There was a difference, though. The hagiographical articles can at least report things he actually said, even if somewhat selectively. In the time that the right-wing media vilified him, he could not be quoted, and the picture of him was coloured by the paranoia of the Security Police, who are also quoted in one of the more balanced articles of this type, here: Nelson Mandela: he was never simply the benign old man – Telegraph
But if we are thinking about what happens after Mandela, we already know. He retired as President and leader of the ANC nearly 15 years ago. We have seen what has happened. As my fellow blogger Macrina Walker puts it:
I suspect that one of the reasons many of us are so saddened at Madiba’s passing is that he was the last of a generation and represents an ideal that all-too-often appears to be crumbling. However much lip service people pay to a life of sacrifice and integrity, the reality is that such ideals are quickly undermined by the temptations of self-enrichment and easy pleasure. A virtuous life has never been easy, but it often seems as if we live in a world in which it is becoming more difficult.
The last of a generation
As someone pointed out on Twitter, three great trees fell at ten year intervals: Oliver Tambo in 1993, Walter Sisulu in 2003, and Nelson Mandela in 2013.
One is tempted to think that we will not see their like again.
As Zapiro put it in a cartoon in 2009:
Thabo Mbeki, for all his failings, was vastly better than some of his contemporaries, notably Tony Blair and George Bush.
But if we want to assess Nelson Mandela’s legacy, we need to look at the decade from 1989-1999.
1989 was the Annus Mirabilis, the wonderful year in which freedom was breaking out all over, and dictators fell in many countries, including South Africa. The seeds were sown a bit earlier when Mikhail Gorbachev in the USSR introduced policies of glasnost and perestroika, and in South Africa, with the fall of PW Botha in 1989, there was talk of Pretoriastroika. The release of Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of the ANC (and other opposition parties) in February 1990 opened the way for a new democratic era in South African politics.
There were bad things in that time too. There was a lot of political violence, and much of it was provoked by the so-called “Third Force”. Perhaps historians will eventually establish more clearly the nature of that violence, and the nature of the “Third Force”, but I don’t want to talk about that now.
My main memory of that period was that the ANC, in particular, seemed to be taking one of their own slogans seriously — that “the people shall govern”. A lot of energy and effort was put into soliciting public opinion and ideas on all kinds of things, from the content of the constitution to the promotion of education, art and culture. Conferences were held, submissions sought, and many of these things were subsequently incorporated into the constitution.
There was a feeling of “inclusiveness” in the best sense. If there were to be leaders, the leaders must be sensitive to the needs of the people, and must listen to the people. There was a Zulu proverb, that a chief is a chief because of the people. So there was a ferment of ideas, and a feeling that anything was possible.
This inclusiveness of was not the ideological western kind, but part of the African idea of ubuntu.
I had sometimes been at church synods that had been run along the lines of Western parliaments, where a motion was proposed and seconded and debated and amended and eventually a vote was taken, and the Ayes or the Noes had it. But sometimes black members of synod complained that this adversarial procedure was not in accord with African culture, where the matter was discussed until consensus was reached. And I saw this in a somewhat different setting, in the Anglican diocese of Zululand, where it happened. People would discuss something, and perhaps have different viewpoints, but when it had been thrashed out the bishop would sum up, and announce the decision. But it was not his decision alone, but that of the meeting. He was the voice of the people.
The first democratic election in South Africa was inclusive. There were no areas in which people were registered to vote. You could vote anywhere, and as long as you could prove that you were who you were, you could vote. There was the same spirit of inclusiveness in the Government of National Unity (GNU) that followed. Inkatha had threatened to boycott the election until the last minute, and as a result of their intransigence 700 people died. In the end they not only participated in the election, but in the GNU that followed. There was a deliberate effort to include them.
The only holdout was the Democratic Party, which was based on white culture, and wanted to be an opposition, and therefore to oppose everything the government of National Unity did, good or bad, because the job of an opposition was to oppose and therefore to oppose everything on principle. That was part of the adversarial principle of law and politics, the “Westminster system” that South Africa had inherited from the British Empire.
The Annus Mirablilis of 1989 therefore marked the beginning of a miraculous decade of freedom in South Africa. Whether it did the same in Romania, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Azerbajan and other countries that had been freed from dictatorship at the same time, I don’t know. But in South Africa it was a good time to be alive, to savour new-found freedom, a time of seemingly limitless possibilities.
And Nelson Mandela was the one at the helm during this time, and so became the symbol, the “icon” (as the media would have it) of our new-found freedom.
But such things never last. There is always the worm in the apple.
The 19th-century liberal historian, Lord Acton, once famously said that all power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Between 1990 and 1994 the ANC was not in power. It had no patronage, and so could freely promote the free flow of ideas. It encouraged the people to speak, and it listened to what the people said. Some people, so inured to the oppressive rule of the past, were still afraid to speak. Some, so brainwashed by National Party propaganda, were incapable of hearing the ANC’s invitation to speak. Some, like the dwarfs in CS Lewis’s story The last battle, were still convinced that they were in a dark stable theatened by a monster, and not in the open air of freedom. But some people did speak, and the ANC listened.
But all power tends to corrupt, and after 1994 the ANC had power. Certain people began to see that if they could get themselves elected to the committee of the local ANC branch, they could influence the choice of candidates for local government elections or provincial elections, and thus influence the people who controlled the budget, and so the tenderpreneur was born.
Some people in the ANC still listened to the voice of the people, or tried to, but for an increasing number the voice of money grew louder and louder, and drowned out the voice of the people.
Thabo Mbeki was aware of this, and he warned about it in his address to the 52nd National Conference of the ANC at Polokwane in December 2007. But he wasn’t even preaching to the choir, because by then most of the choristers were there because they had money, and not because they could sing.
But I don’t think of that as Mandela’s legacy. Mandela’s legacy was that miraculous decade of 1989 to 1999, when anything seemed possible. And perhaps there are still some people around who caught the vision, and will pass it on to others, who may, sometime, work to realise it.
And in the mean time, we sing, with Parchment:
Yesterday’s dream didn’t quite come true
We fought for our freedom, and what did it do?
Now no one can see where they stand.
So let there be light in the land,
Let there be light in the people
Let there be God in our lives fromj now on.
This article in the Daily Maverick says that South Africa needs radical reconciliation, because there is a correlation between race and class. SA needs ‘radical reconciliation’ | Daily Maverick:
This is very much the central theme of this year’s findings: that the gap between the rich and the poor in South Africa is seen as the biggest source of division in the country by its citizens. This in fact is not new; income disparity has been cited in this position consistently since 2003. Race is now seen as only the fourth most divisive issue: to quote the survey, “It seems that, in the perceptions of citizens, race relations are steadily improving as class relations get worse”.
But hold up, those who love to jump on class, rather than race, now being South Africa’s cause celebre. The survey’s findings also show that wealth disparity still happens overwhelmingly along racial lines. In terms of the living standards measure (LSM), there are a higher percentage of black South Africans in the lowest four LSM groups than any other race group. By contrast, fully 73,3% of white South Africans fall within the two highest LSM groups. The IJR spells it out clearly: “Material inequality is the biggest obstacle to national reconciliation, but the majority of the materially excluded are black South Africans”.
but it goes on to say:
To quote the survey: “White South Africans feel the least disempowered in the face of big business and the most disempowered in the face of local government. Conversely, black South Africans feel the most empowered in the face of local government, and the least empowered in the face of capital”.
I am reminded, once again, of an English friend who said, in the 1960s, “When South Africa has sorted out the problem of the blacks and the whites, it will only then come to face the real issue: the haves and the have-nots.”
The article is very interesting, and the findings of the survey seem to coincide with my perceptions and observations.
But for me that puts a big question mark over the solution suggested in the heading of the article, and the question is tentatively raised in the concluding paragraph:
Wale suggested at the Barometer’s launch that some of the early impetus around the notion of “reconciliation” itself is flagging. “During 1994 and the transition, people did a lot of work around citizen awareness of reconciliation,” she said. “There’s a bit of apathy now. I think that we still need to do that work of consciousness-raising on what the past means in the present, across race groups.”
The notion of “reconciliation” has been a rather ambiguous one for a long time, going back a long time before 1994. When people pointed out that apartheid was unjust, and that we needed therefore to struggle for justice, there were always some who thought that justice was too harsh, and that we should couple it with “reconciliation”. I’ve said quite a lot about that in another post, so I won’t repeat it all here.
I think that it is probably a good thing that the early impetus given to “reconciliation” is flagging, because there has been a lot of reconciliation, and reconciliation is not necessarily what is most urgently needed.
Though there is indeed a correlation between class and race, and most of the poorest people in the country are black, trying to shift the emphasis back on to race and reconciliation, as the article in the Daily Maverick does, could lead to people looking for the wrong solutions in the wrong places. By saying it’s still a racial thing, it is all to easy to think that if some government policy or programme is designed to benefit black people, it will therefore benefit the poor, because the majority of the poor are black. But that does not necessarily work like that. Most of the BEE programmes have not been Black Economic Empowerment, but Black Elite Enrichment.
And this can be seen in some parts of the article itself.
For the last 20 years the majority of white children have enjoyed a huge privilege that the majority of black children have not — going to school with children of other races. And I suspect that this is one of the factors that has led to race dropping to fourth place as the most divisive issue, with income disparity being number 1.
This does not mean that whites don’t need to change their attitudes — the survey found that “Almost 40% of white South Africans surveyed disagreed with the statement: The Apartheid government wrongly oppressed the majority of South Africans.”
But the majority of black children do not have the opportunity to meet children of other races at school. Twenty years after the end of apartheid, in most schools in the country, all the teachers, and all the pupils are black. And those are also the schools of the poor, in the poorest areas areas of the city, and the poorest rural areas. Those are the schools with the poorest equipment and other facilities.
Is their biggest need reconciliation?
And who or what do they need to be reconciled to?
I suspect that their biggest enemy is poverty; but poverty is not really what they need to be reconciled to.
The ANC came to power in 1994 with the slogan “the people shall govern” still fresh in the minds of the electorate.
But today in South Africa, as in the rest of the world, it is the 1% who govern.
One of the puzzling things about blogging is which posts seem to catch people’s attention, and which posts people read most.
Today the post that got most readers was Visitors from Romania. It’s been the most popular post of the last week. I posted that at the beginning of the year when there seemed to be an extraordinary number of visitors from Romania. At the time I wondered if it might be because the foundation stone of the new Romanian parish in Midrand was to be laid that week. But no, that got much fewer visitors, from Romania or anywhere else.
But though the Visitors from Romania page got the most visitors today (so far) there doesn’t seem to be a single visitor from Romania today. So why are non-Romanians so interested in visitors from Romania?
Something similar happened a few years ago, when another blogger noticed that the most common search term that brought people to her blog was “What to do on Sunday if your bored” [sic]. To test this, I wrote a post on the topic, and it did seem to attract more visitors than other posts that I thought were more interesting. But that was using search terms, and there don’t seem to be any search terms being used that would account for the number of non-Romanians interested in visitors from Romania today.
It’s one of those blogging mysteries that will probably never be solved.
This morning we went to Mamelodi East, as we do on alternate Sundays, for the Hours and Readers Service at Christina Mothapo’s house. But this time we just said a few prayers, and left, because they were busy trying to clean up the house after storm damage last Thursday.
A heavy hailstorm wept through Mamelodi East, and all the old township houses with corrugated asbestos roofs had holes in the roofs, including the Mothapo house.
We took the Malahlela family back home, and they had had several windows smashed by the hail, and nearly every building we passed had all the windows on the south side broken by the hailstones.
Mamelodi East is a working class area, and most of the people living there have no insurance. All the people in our congregation had suffered damage to their houses from the storm. The corrugated asbsetos roofs are particularly bad. They were erected in the apartheid time, as council houses for rent, but when apartheid ended people were given the option of freehold ownership. But now asbestos is seen as unsafe as building material, so when the asbestos roof sheets are broken, they are difficult to replace, which makes life even more difficult for people living in such houses.
We ourselves didn’t escape from storm damage.
Last night there was a rushing mighty wind at about 10:00 pm, with the trees doing an energetic dance that looked quite spectacular. Suddenly there were sounds of a dog fight, right outside the window, and there was a strange dog in our garden that our dogs had pounced on. We wondered how it had got in, and assumed it had been frightened by the storm, and run away, though that that point there was little thunder and lightning, and no rain, just the wind howling in the electric wires, and making the trees dance.
This morning we discovered how the dog had got in — the wind had blown down the wall between our garden and that of the neighbours.
We hope that the damage to this wall, unlike the roofs and windows of the people of Mamelodi East, will be covered by insurance.
On the way to Mamelodi we saw several other signs of the storms — mainly uprooted trees.
And when Val was taking Simon to work, there was a rather amusing sign — a Hummer stuck in the mud when it tried to cross the grass verge on to the main road instead of going around the proper way It seems that a Hummer isn’t actually an off-road vehicle, but was just made to look like one.
In the late night news on the SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation) on 22 November 1963 the main news item was that Hilgard Muller had replaced Eric Louw as South Africa’s Foreign Minister. And they broadcast Muller’s speech to mark the occasion. In the other news that followed, they noted that US president John F. Kennedy had been shot.
There was no way that the SABC was going to allow Hilgard Muller to be upstaged by the death of a US president, or that their listeners’ minds should be distracted from the important National Party propaganda message in his speech. I suppose they judged, probably rightly, that if they had broadcast the news of President Kennedy’s death first, no one would have paid the least attention to Hilgard Muller’s speech.
But Kennedy’s death also upstaged the deaths of two other people, who, as writers, were better-known than he was.
Three award-winning writers died on 22 November 1963, perhaps the most notable such coincidence since Cervantes and Shakespeare both died (or at least had their death recorded) on 23 April 1616. The fact that one of the trio was John F Kennedy, who had won a Pulitzer prize for Profiles in Courage, served to obscure the death of Aldous Huxley in California and CS Lewis in Oxford, and their obituaries were tardy. Fifty years on, a slew of books and TV programmes have inevitably been produced to mark the half-centenary of the presidential assassination, but this time one of the British authors has not been entirely eclipsed.
At that time I was a student at the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg, studying for the end-of-year exams. I knew both Huxley and Lewis primarily from their science fiction writings. I had read Huxley’s Brave new world in a Penguin edition when I was at school. In those days Penguin books didn’t have fancy eye-catching covers; they were plain orange, white and black. It was the title that caught my eye. We had been reading Shakespeare’s The tempest in class, and Miranda, brought up on a lonely island by an eccentic father, on meeting people from the outside world, exclaims, “O brave new world, that has such people in it.”
Huxley’s novel was set some 600 years in the future, in a dystopian society in which mass-produced people venerated the pioneer of mass-produced cars, Henry Ford.
At about the same time I read C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy, beginning with Perelandra. That did have an illustrated cover, and both the cover and title intrigued me.
When I left school and went to Wits University Brave new world was one of the English set works, as was another dystopian novel, William Golding’s Lord of the flies. The Wits University English department seemed to be big on dystopian novels at that time. I can’t remember if Orwell’s 1984 was also on the list, but I certainly read it about the same time, as it seemed to indicate the direction in which South Africa was heading.
At the University of Natal the English department, rather to my disappointment, had different priorities, so I hadn’t read any more of Huxley, and they were wedded to the school of literary criticism headed by F.R. Leavis, who was opposed to C.S. Lewis in many ways, so I didn’t hear much more of Lewis either. My mother had some of his books on Christian apologetics, which I found rather dull. A fellow student showed me a book called The lion, the witch and the wardrobe and recommended it, but I didn’t pay much attention, as I wasn’t into children’s books at the time.
It was only a couple of years later that I read The lion, the witch and the wardrobe, and then went on to read the rest of the Narnia stories as well. And it was then that I discovered that C.S. Lewis had died two years earlier.
After reading Brave new world about 4-5 times between the ages of 16 and 18, I re-read it some 35 years later, at the age of 54, and found it rather trite and disappointing. What had seemed a brilliant novel to me as a teenager and turned dull in middle age.
But I’ve re-read C.S. Lewis’s fiction several times over the years, and the last reading is as enjoyable as the first, sometimes even more so, because I see things that I never saw before.
I never read anything written by J.F. Kennedy, but as everyone seems to ask “What were you doing when you heard President Kennedy was shot?” here is an extract from my diary for 22 November 1963, when I had spent the evening in my room in the university residence (William O’Brien Hall) studying for the exams:
(I) typed out a lecture I had missed. I finished it at quarter to nine, and went to have coffee, and a lot of people were saying that President Kennedy of the USA had been shot three times. So I went back to listen to the news, and lo and behold, it was reported that the head of the diplomatic mission in London, Dr Muller, had been appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs, in place of Eric Louw, who has resigned, and they broadcast the speech made by this Muller creep. And then the announcer said he had just been given an urgent newsflash, saying that President Kennedy and the governor of Texas had been shot in a car, in Dallas, Texas, and that they had been rushed to hospital. Considering that it was common knowledge here in Maritzburg twenty minutes previously, it seems that the Broederbond-dominated SABC considers the speech of the new Minister of Foreign Affairs more important. Oh well, perhaps it is, but I don’t suppose he will be better than Louw. It reminds me of the shooting of Dr Verwoerd — it is no way of settling political arguments. No, I was wrong, about the SABC — this time. At five to ten John Stewart said that Kennedy was dead. John Daniel said he had heard it on the Voice of America. Five minutes later it was broadcast over the SABC, and they observed a minute’s silence, and now they are giving a eulogy. It seems that the days of the Wild West are not yet over, and it is still a common thing. Verwoerd and Lumumba in 1960, Casin, Diam and Kennedy in 1963, and Bandaranaike of Ceylon was assassinated not long ago. And the only thing that stands out about Kennedy in my memory is the balls-up he made in Cuba last year. It seems too hypocritical, considering the American atomic bases in Turkey, that they should object to Russian missiles in Cuba. But I was glad when he became president, because he was a Catholic. Prejudice, I suppose, but what would Nixon, a Quaker, have done — abolished the army? Probably not. So that made them almost equal.
So much for my opinionated 22-year-old self.
Five years later Nixon did become President, and five years after that the Watergate scandal broke. And still the American public re-elected him. But we South Africans don’t have much room to talk — we elected Zuma.
But of the three authors who died on that day, the one who has had the deepest and most lasting influence of my life has undoubtedly been C.S. Lewis.
If anyone reading this is interested in a discussion of Lewis’s life, works and literary influence, or that of his fellow members of the Inklings literary group, I invite you to join us on the Neoinklings discussion forum. which you can find at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/eldil/. To subscribe to it, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, but it is worth also visiting the web site, as there are facilities for uploading files and photos, creating polls and databases and more.