"When I have control of Native education I will reform it so that Natives will be taught from childhood to realize that equality with Europeans is not for them . . . People who believe in equality are not desirable teachers for Natives. When my Department controls Native education it will know for what class of higher education a Native is fitted, and whether he will have a chance in life to use his knowledge." 1953 quote from the 1964 President Of South Africa and fascist Charles Robberts Swart, as cited by Nelson Mandela in his Rivonia trial statement, 1964
Inevitable that when a giant passes, the pipsqueaks will scurry out of the woodwork and try and claim him as one of their own, like the mice swarming over Aslan, only now not seeking their fallen god's dignity or liberation, only to parasitize his legend for their own benefit. You’ve probably already had a pre-emptive bilious attack regarding the cant and hypocrisy that will be emitted by our great and good in the coming days. The claims that will be made for Madiba as a ‘fellow humanitarian’, the dizzying slew of well-meaning platitudes that will ensure that all kinds of surprising quarters will claim Mandela spoke ‘for them’, shared their ‘values’, was emblematic of a tolerance that includes everyone (even Tories). A duplicitous disassembling multitude of hypocrisies that effectively seeks to neuter Mandela’s more uncomfortable conclusions, that seeks to safely kick his ideas into touch as addressing a problem that no longer exists. Mandela the champion, the victor, the hero who defeated racism, that unfortunate side-effect and relic from the colonial past that can have no place in our new free-flowing neoliberal realities.
I would suggest firstly that all of this negates the reality of Mandela’s deterioration – that he was still a victim of the Apartheid regime, and his death still a direct result of their incarceration of him in subhuman conditions. More crucially what needs recalling is that Mandela, despite his stardom, despite his co-option by those seeking to benefit themselves by standing in his shadow IS SIMPLY NOT THEIRS TO MOURN. It doesn't matter what they do, and their mendacious manoeuvring shouldn’t hoodwink us at this time. The Coalition’s real tears this year have been shed for Thatcher, who opposed sanctions against Apartheid all the way for commercial interest, and whose govt. called it 'cloud cuckoo land' to imagine the ANC ("a typical terrorist organisation") gaining power , a govt that muttered in private that he ‘should be shot’. Many of the bleeding-heartless who’ll bow heads and sidle sidelong into the funeral-cortege in coming days were part of the Federation Of Conservative Students in the 80s who famously peddled ‘Hang Nelson Mandela’ t-shirts and tabled motions calling for his execution. Some, including our erstwhile prime minister, travelled with pro-Apartheid lobbying firms attempting to shore up the strong mercenary relations between the UK and P.W.Botha’s regime. Mandela was unequivocal about this – when praising British people for helping to end apartheid it has been precisely the trade-unions, the workers organisations, the socialist and communist groups that constantly agitated for sanctions against South Africa from the 60s onwards, that he’s thanked - the grassroots supporters of anti-racism who found themselves constantly stymied by intransigence from their cowardly politicians. Subsequent governments, Labour and Tory, rejected such sanctions with the old reasoning that they would be ineffective, that the South African situation didn’t constitute a global threat to security, that the sanctions would ‘damage those that the sanctions were trying to help’. Shamefully, while the British people overwhelmingly wanted change & action, our politicians, isolated from the rest of the UN & EU, tacitly condoned and approved of a regime that was shooting, killing, torturing, starving and brutalising 70% of its population. Whoever is fooled by what the likes of Cameron & Osborne do in coming days deserves to be fooled but beyond those obvious ways our elites have revealed their true feeling about Mandela in the past what needs re-iterating is how revolutionary his message was and remains, how antithetical to current notions of race as personalized single-incident ‘issue’ his ideas were. This is what our leaders will find difficult to stomach, what they’ll try and ignore. If this young lawyer was working in the UK right now, he’d be gunning for THEM.
"Today I am attracted by the idea of a classless society, an attraction which springs in part from Marxist reading and, in part, from my admiration of the structure and organization of early African societies in this country. The land, then the main means of production, belonged to the tribe. There were no rich or poor and there was no exploitation."
Of course it’s inevitable that neo-liberal politicians would try and crowbar Mandela into their self-portrayals – they’re fond of anointing themselves with the balm of anti-racism, anti-sexism and anti-homophobia to grease themselves along while they slowly commodify & destroy the poor of all nations but aside from the oddity of hearing politicians hail Mandela who would just as soon utterly condemn his essentially socialist beliefs, it’s doubly odd to hear it from the same British politicians who routinely use the glory of Empire, the ‘buccaneering’ spirit so often invoked by Cameron, Johnson & Osborne, as some sort of avatar and chimera of future Britain, a dream worth returning to and a flag worth saluting as we crawl, expiring, along the global racetrack. Cameron of course, doesn’t need to tease apart the historical fragilities and contradictions in what he says, his blathering remains in the main uncriticised by a press who lap up such patriotic confidence. But those of us without swinging bricks in our heads have to apprehend that Cecil Rhodes & Winston Churchill, two men who doubtless conform to Cameron’s vision of Great British Heroes, are the men who destroyed democracy in the Cape, who solved the ‘native problem’ by effectively disenfranchising black south Africans for generations through Act of Parliament, washing their hands of securing any social or political freedom for the black population, leaving things in the hands of racist Afrikaner politicians. Apartheid did not arrive from outer space in 1948, did not tighten its hold & increase its brutality as time went on without knowing that it was essentially only refining laws that were already extant pre-48, laws steadily built on laws passed by British parliament a generation earlier, laws that limited love, life and survival for black South Africans, laws consistently ignored and unopposed by the UK parliament because they’d created the space for such laws to become enacted. In the same parliament that the young lawyer and freedom fighter had so much respect for.
"It is true, as I have already stated, that I have been influenced by Marxist thought. But this is also true of many of the leaders of the new independent States. Such widely different persons as Gandhi, Nehru, Nkrumah, and Nasser all acknowledge this fact. We all accept the need for some form of socialism to enable our people to catch up with the advanced countries of this world and to overcome their legacy of extreme poverty. But this does not mean we are Marxists. From my reading of Marxist literature and from conversations with Marxists, I have gained the impression that communists regard the parliamentary system of the West as undemocratic and reactionary. But, on the contrary, I am an admirer of such a system.
The Magna Carta, the Petition of Rights, and the Bill of Rights are documents which are held in veneration by democrats throughout the world. I have great respect for British political institutions, and for the country`s system of justice. I regard the British Parliament as the most democratic institution in the world, and the independence and impartiality of its judiciary never fail to arouse my admiration. The American Congress, that country`s doctrine of separation of powers, as well as the independence of its judiciary, arouses in me similar sentiments. I have been influenced in my thinking by both West and East. All this has led me to feel that in my search for a political formula, I should be absolutely impartial and objective. I should tie myself to no particular system of society other than of socialism. I must leave myself free to borrow the best from the West and from the East . . ."
This is anathema to many of those crocodile-sobbing today. Mandela was righteously determined for his people to be able to explore both the history of their identity but also forge a new identity out of the changing intellectual, technological and political realities that surrounded them – crucially, he was important to so many of us who found ourselves at the wrong end of Britain’s racial equations because he was a hero without bitterness, one who offered a way of seeing racism that turned anger into action, gave focus to an inchoate fury a lot of us have felt all our lives. As a kid growing up reading & hearing him what shone through to me was his analysis of racism as a systematic thing that affected everybody, that everyone was in some sense a product of. It was that non-personalised picture of a sickness that infected all institutions and all within them that stuck, and it needs recalling in an age where racism seems to mainly be talked about when mistakenly tweeted by an MP, celebrity or footballer, when reduced to detective work and denials and condemnations. No pettiness, no vengeance in Mandela even after such horrific treatment of him and his people by such an evil regime, only a clear sight of what needed to be done before his country could move on and an unerring eye for injustice all over the world. We’ve lost an important & valuable fighter, and a fighter too smart to think the fight was ever over, far too sharp to ever be lulled into thinking history could be written in the terms of the oppressor, as the inevitable capitalist-liberal total victory of ideas of ‘tolerance’ over superannuated colonial ideas of division and racial superiority. Mandela knew that wherever and whenever groups of people are designated a problem, wherever groups of people are deemed ‘inferior’ or ‘not the kind of people we want’, wherever people are reduced to their economic worth, told they must ‘aspire’ while having the structure of their lives constantly torn apart, what you have going on is racism, brute and simple. Our current government’s outward public fear of (& private keen-ness to exploit) our new auslanders, the hatred of those of our own natives who seem unwilling to ‘help themselves’ would have been familiar to Mandela. Our current leaders posture & point fingers, as so many governments have in the past, away from themselves, blame the victim for their victimisation. In 1992 addressing the U.N, Mandela nailed such laziness and scapegoating, and let no one off the hook.
“It will forever remain an indelible blight on human history that the apartheid crime ever occurred. It will forever remain an accusation and a challenge to all men and women of conscience that it took as long as it has, before all of us stood up to say enough is enough. Future generations will surely enquire – what error was made that this system established itself in the aftermath of the trials at Nuremberg? The UN first discussed the South African question in 1946. It was the determination of all humanity never again to permit racist theory and practice to dragoon the world into the deathly clutches of war and genocide. And yet for all that, a racist tyranny established itself in our country. As they knew would happen, who refused to treat this matter as a quaint historical aberration, this tyranny has claimed its own conclave of victims. It has established its own brutal worth by the number of children it has killed and the orphans , the widows and widowers it can claim as its unique creation. And still it lives on, provoking strange and monstrous debates about the means that its victims are obliged to use to rid themselves of this intolerable scourge, eliciting arguments from those who choose not to act, that to do nothing must be accepted as the very essence of civilised opposition to tyranny.”
Be under no illusions. A great fighter has passed. The fight must go on. Frequently against precisely those who would try to adopt the freedom-fighters garb in order to justify their on-going destructions of our freedoms. Madiba, you set our minds on fire. It is in love and respect to you, and an awareness of how your ideas are still so pertinent, that we will keep on burning. Not theirs to mourn. Ours to emulate. RIP.