FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Second Death of Nelson Mandela

by STEPHEN W. SMITH

Nelson Mandela’s death, at the age of 95, comes as a relief. He should have been allowed the dignity of only dying once. In the past two years, in and out of hospital, he seldom recognised his wife Graça Machel, his former wife Winnie, his children or his old comrades from the ANC.

What is more, since the end of his presidency in 1999, the ‘rainbow nation’ had been dying with him. Mandela’s successor, Thabo Mbeki, a champion of the ‘African Renaissance’, was an ideologue whose beliefs cost the lives of 300,000 HIV-positive South Africans: he denied them access to antiretroviral drugs.

The current head of state, Jacob Zuma, is most flatteringly referred to as ‘a man of the people’ – Chinua Achebe’s postcolonial curse. He presides over a republic of grifters and grafters.

The recently excluded leader of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema, is not even a remote heir to the Mandela legacy, though Mandela was a ‘young Turk’ of the party in his day: Malema is a hard man doubling as an agent provocateur.

Until his 70th birthday in 1988 and the Wembley solidarity concert, which turned the negative ‘Down with apartheid!’ into the positive ‘Free Mandela!’, the man on Robben Island was regarded by Western governments as a terrorist. In detention he was forgotten in the early 1970s and then eclipsed by Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement.

He was resurrected as the figurehead of a mass movement, largely thanks to Winnie Mandela’s combativeness, and became the grand old man of the ANC – a role Walter Sisulu or Govan Mbeki could also have played.

In the end, Mandela was and wasn’t the embodiment of the ANC. He led the country in a peaceful post-apartheid settlement – a political miracle – but behind his back and even before he left the presidential office, party stalwarts and the ‘comrades in business’ had begun to exercise their muscle.

Mandela took the hero’s approach to adversity. In 1963, having been held incommunicado for 90 days during which the police had assured them that they would all be hanged, the leadership of the ANC finally met with their lawyers only to be told they should ‘prepare for the worst’.

In his four-hour closing statement at the Rivonia trial, Mandela pleaded guilty in the name of his ideal of ‘a democratic society with equal opportunities for all’. When he sat down again on the bench, he tried to cheer up his co-defendants: ‘I don’t want to die but if this leads to death, the first thing I’ll do on arrival is to join the local branch of the ANC.’

The remark would have been impossible in his last moments, half a century on.

Stephen W. Smith teaches African studies and cultural anthropology at Duke University. He is a former Africa editor of Libération and of Le Monde. He writes regularly  for London Review of Books, where this essay originally appeared.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castille’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
Gregory Barrett
“Realpolitik” in Berlin: Merkel Fawns Over Kissinger
Louis Yako
The Road to Understanding Syria Goes Through Iraq
Graham Peebles
Grenfell Tower: A Disaster Waiting to Happen
Ezra Rosser
The Poverty State of Mind and the State’s Obligations to the Poor
Ron Jacobs
Andrew Jackson and the American Psyche
Pepe Escobar
Fear and Loathing on the Afghan Silk Road
Lawrence Davidson
On Hidden Cultural Corruptors
Andre Vltchek
Why I Reject Western Courts and Justice
Christopher Brauchli
The Routinization of Mass Shootings in America
Missy Comley Beattie
The Poor Need Not Apply
Martin Billheimer
White Man’s Country and the Iron Room
Joseph Natoli
What to Wonder Now
Tom Clifford
Hong Kong: the Chinese Meant Business
Thomas Knapp
The Castile Doctrine: Cops Without Consequences
Nyla Ali Khan
Borders Versus Memory
Binoy Kampmark
Death on the Road: Memory in Tim Winton’s Shrine
Tony McKenna
The Oily Politics of Unity: Owen Smith as Northern Ireland Shadow Secretary
Nizar Visram
If North Korea Didn’t Exist US Would Create It
John Carroll Md
At St. Catherine’s Hospital, Cite Soleil, Haiti
Kenneth Surin
Brief Impressions of the Singaporean Conjucture
Paul C. Bermanzohn
Trump: the Birth of the Hero
Jill Richardson
Trump on Cuba: If Obama Did It, It’s Bad
Olivia Alperstein
Our President’s Word Wars
REZA FIYOUZAT
Useless Idiots or Useful Collaborators?
Clark T. Scott
Parallel in Significance
Louis Proyect
Hitler and the Lone Wolf Assassin
Julian Vigo
Theresa May Can’t Win for Losing
Richard Klin
Prog Rock: Pomp and Circumstance
Charles R. Larson
Review: Malin Persson Giolito’s “Quicksand”
David Yearsley
RIP: Pomp and Circumstance
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail