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Reflections on Nelson Mandela Day

18 July 2019

Today is Nelson Mandela Day and I’m spending 67 minutes preparing and writing this blog post.

One of the things the self-styled “mainstream” media were doing 25 years ago, just after Nelson Mandela had become South Africa’s first democratically-elected president, was saying that the ANC must make the transition from being a liberation movement to being a regular political party.

And now, 25 years later, I think that we can safely say that the ANC has made that transition, though I do not think the ANC, or South Africa are any better off as a result.

One thing I am fairly certain of is that if Nelson Mandela were to stand for election as president of the ANC today he wouldn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of being elected, because the ANC is no longer a liberation movement, but a regular political party. Nelson Mandela became leader of the ANC precisely because it was a liberation movement and not a political party.

Leading a liberation movement and leading a regular political party require completely different sets of skills.

To lead a liberation movement one needs, first of all a vision of and a commitment to liberation, and an ability to inspire other people to pursue and achieve that goal.

To lead a political party one needs the skills of building alliances and a personal support base, One needs to have something to offer people in return for political support. One needs skill in political wheeling and dealing. One needs the will and resources to reward supporters and punish detractors.

Nelson Mandela did not have the skills needed to lead a political party. He did have the skills needed for leading a liberation movement.

The leader of a political party needs the skills to put down the opposition, both personal and to the party.

Nelson Mandela’s leadership was inclusive. As the leader of a liberation movement he sought to include people in a government of national unity. This inclusiveness is not merely characteristic of a liberation movement, it is also part of the concept of ubuntu, the principle of valuing all human beings.

Back in 1994 the Democratic Party, led by Tony Leon, was the biggest opposition party, and it saw its job as to oppose anything, good or bad, done by the Government of National Unity (GNU). It was a regular political party, and not a liberation movement. In its whiteness, it did not understand or appreciate the inclusiveness of ubuntu. I wonder if the subsequent history of South Africa might have been different if the Democratic Party had embraced ubuntu and joined the GNU. Its failure to do so enabled outfits like Bell Pottinger to spread their narrative of White Monopoly Capital and to portray the crony capitalism of the Zuptas as “Radical Economic Transformation”.

And the “mainstream” media also helped this process along. In their reporting they emphasised personalities rather than policies. It was always a matter of who was being supported by whom rather than what they were supporting. And that kind of reporting encouraged the kind of wheeling and dealing rivalry that belonged to regular political parties rather than the inclusiveness and ubuntu of a liberation movement. At one point we got so sick of the personality cults in the Sunday Independent that we switched to City Press as our Sunday newspaper of choice, but it wasn’t long before they too were engaging in the same personality over policy reporting. Now we hardly buy Sunday newspapers at all.

Nelson Mandela, they say, showed the difference between a politician and a statesman. And that is perhaps also related to the difference between a political party and a liberation movement.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. M. Anthony Rossouw permalink
    18 July 2019 2:07 pm

    You’ve hit the nail right on the head, Steve!

  2. 26 July 2019 5:30 pm

    On the spot

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