I’m going to add another side of the discussion to the life of Nelson Mandela. He was larger than life and, I believe, one has to admire him for what he had been through and that he came out of jail with what appears to be a “malice toward none” approach to bringing his country together in racial reconciliation.
I had watched a lot of the news reports and the shows about his life. He has a very interesting background. His commitment to non violence parallels, or slightly predates, that of Martin Luther King, but yet succeeds Gandhi’s non violent resistance against the British. Perhaps he took a lesson from him.
I became more fascinated with his life as I learned more. I have to admit that I hadn’t really studied the man in the past. I didn’t know that in the beginning he was committed to non-violence as a means of change. His decision to change that would have been made by many leaders in similar circumstances.
What I remember most about him, at the time, is that when he was released form jail and was going to ride down the streets of S. Africa, he had to meet with the DeBeers people first before seeing the people on the streets, who waited in the hot sun to see this symbol of the anti apartheid struggle.
What went on in that meeting is crucial to the apartheid system because, in fact, it maintained the system, at least economically. The main engines of the economy, the Reserve Bank, the diamond and gold mines were kept with the same people who ran them under apartheid. In other words, they told Mandela that he can be president as long as he does what they want, economically.
The result is that although, socially, apartheid was dismantled, it was not economically, even to this day. There are still the townships with their poverty. The majority of land is owned by the, all white, few, as is the business sector. There is still a huge inequality of income and employment along racial lines, with no big change in site.
Mandela was operating within the constrains of the ‘hidden” apartheid system. As a result, the hopes of many South Africans have been dashed. Can you really have social freedom without economic freedom? I’m sure there are many saying something like ‘I like Mandela but I’m not much better off in the new system than I was in the old one.”
What would have happened to Mandela if he had nationalized the Reserve Bank and used it to create massive housing and infrastructure projects? What would have happened if he nationalized the gold and diamonds mines along the lines of the ANC Freedom Charter? The world would be honoring him in death, or not, differently today. Or, they may have been honoring his death much earlier.
I say this not to denigrate what he did, but to remind you of what he didn’t do. And, it’s not just him. All leaders today operate within the confines of the same big banks, corporations, monopolies and wealthy families which control most of the world economy. No politician will attempt to change that structure.
We have our own post apartheid (Segregation) system in the U.S. where Blacks, as a whole, are still at the bottom of the economic scale. Martin Luther King was starting to address the economics when he was assassinated in Tennessee while supporting better pay for the garbage workers there.
As I’ve written in a previous post, the last American president to challenge the aforementioned powers, was Kennedy, and we see what happened to him. So, all subsequent presidents know that, so they don’t even mention Kennedy’s economic policies. It’s an unwritten rule, as least in the U.S., to not even discuss them publicly even though the U.S. experienced incredible economic growth with just his three years in office. Imagine where the U.S. would be if he had had a full 8 years in office.
So, I give Mandela his due and I, frankly, admire the things that he’s done and the personal changes that he’s made, and excuse the things that he hasn’t done as one would have to wonder, ‘what would I have done in his shoes?’