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The Judging of Nelson Mandela

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The Judging of Nelson Mandela

12th September 2018

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1.

"It is an ideal for which I am prepared to die", said the resolute prisoner in the dock.

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He stood firm in his revolutionary convictions, potentially facing the gallows of Apartheid tyranny.

The prisoner and his comrades were sentenced to life imprisonment on an island of shame with Robben Island its name.

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They endured the hell of Apartheid's abyss for 27 long years.

2.

Nelson Mandela walked free on that early February day in 1990.

His years of incarceration did not dilute his revolutionary ideals.

His beloved organisation, the African National Congress with him at the helm now dealt with an enemy hell-bent of sowing the seeds of mayhem.

He stood resolute.
He stood principled.

Nelson Mandela and his comrades negotiated the path which realised the objectives of a free and non-racial and democratic South Africa.

Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress had to make many compromises, in the quid pro quo of negotiating with an enemy busy in the process of fomenting a civil war.

This did not make him a sell-out.

This did not render him toothless.

This did not mean he had capitulated on his revolutionary ideals.

Nelson Mandela and his comrades faced a stark reality - a negotiated peaceful settlement with the Apartheid state or the prospect of further bloodshed and the implosion of South Africa.

This did not render him impotent.

This did not temper his revolutionary fire.

3.

Nelson Mandela and his comrades realised that the white minority regime would not simply relinquish power.

The Apartheid state was already actively engaged in the stoking of wanton acts of violence in order to derail the process of transforming South Africa into a democratic country where all human beings regardless of race would be granted the right to vote and to be no longer being relegated to second class citizens in the land of their ancestors.

There were difficult compromises to be made, there were bitter pills that had to be swallowed.

The enemy would not simply give up the privileges of the white minority without a fight.

Nelson Mandela and his comrades understood that reality.

The cold harsh reality of facing a protracted war of attrition or the birth of a new democratic South Africa from the clutches of Apartheid hegemony.

4.

Nelson Mandela and his comrades in the African National Congress made the hard choices.

They laid to rest the prospect of a civil war, while making gut-wrenching decisions in order to achieve the first goal of bringing to fruition a free and democratic South Africa.

Many were displeased.

Many were embittered.

Many thought this the abandoning of the true principles of the struggle.

They were not wrong.

They had good reason to believe that far too many concessions were made.

They who fought on the frontlines were not being unreasonable.

They faced Apartheid's bullets and truncheons and torture for years.

Yet Nelson Mandela did not shut them out, but brought them in and invited them to be a part of the hard work that lay ahead in the creation of a new democratic country.

5.

Today, we look back.

Today, we judge Nelson Mandela and his comrades for a revolution denied.

Today, with the hindsight of history, we damn the negotiated settlement.

Today, the failures of the democratic governments that have followed Nelson Mandela's one term as President, are coldly and conveniently laid at the feet of Nelson Mandela.

Nelson Mandela did not crave power nor status. President Nelson Mandela was a human being, a man of flesh and blood, with his share of faults.

Nelson Mandela never shied away from acknowledging his faults.

6.

Today we dismiss Nelson Mandela as one who sold out the revolution.

Today we condemn Nelson Mandela for the greed and corruption that keeps millions in poverty and the majority of the population who have no access to dignified health care and education and housing and employment.

Today we judge Nelson Mandela as the one who watered down every ideal and principle of the struggle for freedom and for human emancipation.

7.

Nelson Mandela stepped down as President in 1999 after serving one term in office.

Today we are in 2018.

How convenient to subtly paint Nelson Mandela as the one who sowed the seeds of all that is wrong in our country today.

8.

How very convenient.

9.

Nelson Mandela was not the prisoner-set-free to to assume the Presidency of the African National Congress and rule by dictatorial edicts and by personal decree.

The African National Congress and its National Executive Committee (NEC), the ANC's Armed Wing Umkhonto-we-Sizwe (MK), as well the ANC's Tripartite Alliance partners, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) played an integral part in the negotiated settlement that resulted from the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA).

Leaders and political activists like Walter Sisulu, Chris Hani, Joe Slovo, Cyril Ramaphosa, Jacob Zuma, Andrew Mlangeni, Ahmed Kathrada, and many other individuals who spent years in Apartheid prisons and in exile were part of the decision making process.

To hold Nelson Mandela solely responsible for the negotiated settlement that led to the creation of a democratic South Africa in 1994 is both disingenuous and ignores historical facts.

The African National Congress structures on the ground were part of often heated debates as Nelson Mandela and his comrades navigated the treacherous waters of negotiating with a government that was in power and had the army at its disposal and was conducting bloody covert operations in order to derail the efforts to reach a peaceful solution for the dissolution of Apartheid and the birth of a new South African nation.

If Nelson Mandela is to be regarded as a 'sell-out', then he cannot be honestly judged alone for the failures of successive ANC governments from 1999 to 2018.

It is a simplistic reading of history to come to the conclusion that Nelson Mandela stood alone as a "sell-out" while once again conveniently ignoring the many other factors that played a part in the transition of South Africa from a racist, tyrannical state to a free and democratic new nation.

10.

Once again, how very convenient.

 

Afzal Moolla was born in Delhi, India while his parents were in exile, working as political exiles against Apartheid in South Africa. He then travelled wherever his parent’s work took them, spending time in Egypt, Finland, and Iran. Afzal works and lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.

This poem was first published on Afzal Moolla's personal blog. 

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