I’ve taken time recently to research around the issue of whether or not Nelson Mandela “sold out” as some African radicals have suggested in the recent past.
According to reports, sometime in 2010, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela told a British Publication that Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu had “sold out” to the whites.
“Mandela let us down. He agreed to a bad deal for the blacks. Economically, we are still on the outside. The economy is very much ‘white’. It has a few token blacks, but so many who gave their life in the struggle have died unrewarded,” Madikizela-Mandela told the London Evening Standard.
Also, elsewhere, Julius Malema stated that former president Nelson Mandela turned his back on parts of the revolution after being released from prison- whatever that means.
It has also been reported that certain of South Africa’s cabinet ministers alongside certain African presidents also share this sentiment.
Perhaps when one says that “Mandela sold out,” one means that the late statesman didn’t do enough to take the means of production and economic wealth out of the hands of the minority, and systematically transfer both political and economic power into the majority black hands.
I suppose that this is what many radical-cum-populist-politicians think the struggle against apartheid and colonialism was all about.
Nonetheless, I beg to differ.
Perhaps the debate about former president Mandela’s legacy should not be about what he didn’t do, but rather, about what he did do.
For those who would care to know, here are some interesting facts about South Africa’s democracy today which we can still accredit to Madiba.
Firstly, South Africa has strong institutions that support the notions of accountability, equity and rule of law. This is in contrast to many African countries which hide behind radical rhetoric and colonial finger-pointing in order to justify unaccountability and oppression.
Secondly, South Africa is one of Africa’s “big three” economies alongside Egypt and Nigeria. In fact in 2016, South Africa’s GDP stood at approximately 295 billion dollars. To put this into perspective, consider that Botswana (a country with a population of 2.2 million people) had a GDP of around 15 billion USD in 2016, while the self-proclaimed “regional revolutionary,” Zimbabwe had an inconsequential GDP of around 16 billion USD in 2016.
All in all South Africa represents 61% of SADC’S regional GDP while the so called “revolutionary” countries like Zimbabwe are underperformers given their vast mineral and agricultural potential.
Inevitably the question arises, why is it that Nelson Mandela is labelled a sell-out when the economy that he presided over is still institutionally strong and growing (albeit minimally), whereas other “revolutionary” states in SADC remain economic non-entities?
Perhaps the answer lies in the dynastic ambitions of avaricious African leaders.
Allow me to explain.
“It is not easy for a person to do any great harm when his tenure of office is short, whereas long possession begets tyranny.” Aristotle
To be honest, Nelson Mandela deserves every iota of respect that he has earned as a statesman. It’s not that he was perfect, because no man is perfect, and I know that I’m certainly not perfect.
However, after studying politics and African politicians for many years, I can safely conclude that Nelson Mandela did not “sell out” as some would have us to believe.
Instead, he took the straight and narrow political path of a single term in office and brutal accountability which is unlike many of his African political counterparts who cannot comprehend the meaning of the terms “step down” or “transparency.”
Here are some interesting observations.
In 2015, Togo, a country of approximately 7 million people voted for incumbent President Faure Gnassingbé for a third time.
Gnassingbé is the son and immediate successor of Togo’s fifth president—Gnassingbé Eyadema—and, once he serves out his third term, his family will have run Togo for 48 years.
Of course, this was not taken lying down by the Togolese public, and today in 2017, there are increasing calls and protests for President Faure Gnassingbé to step down. To date, it is reported that up to 13 people have been killed and hundreds of people have been rounded up, in what appears to be a crackdown on anti-dynasty protests. Elsewhere, In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Kabila dynasty was established after a bloody coup d’état in 1997, when the Laurent Kabila militarily overthrew the long-ruling despot Mobutu Sese Seko.
That dynasty almost ended when Kabila senior was assassinated in January 2001. Since then Kabila’s son Joseph has been at the helm of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and consequently he has presided over a nation characterized by repression instability and volatility.
Now that Joseph Kabila’s second term is over, he is refusing to step down, and as a result he is facing increasing protests and opposition to his continued stay in office.
Contemporary voters detest dynasties. Period. In fact, public resistance to dynastic political projects is not uniquely African either.
In the United States Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump partly because of the abhorrence society has for political dynasties. The bottom line is that in the modern world the people don’t like political dynasties.
Conceivably, in his political wisdom, Nelson Mandela caught this revelation.
I mean had he wanted to, he could have orchestrated his own dynasty. It’s not that he couldn’t have done it-He could.
In fact, He had the charisma, he had global support, he had the power, and he had the intellect to do so. But instead he chose the politically straight and narrow path, and not the wide road of profligacy, wanton power, repression and egocentrism.
The fact that today so many African migrants live in South Africa is a testimony to Mandela’s legacy, and that is corroborating evidence that he in fact did not sell out, and instead believed that strong institutions, constitutionalism and accountability were the building blocks of a better South Africa.
Those who denounce him as a sell-out today, do so because his legacy of constitutionalism limits their liberty to loot.
Nevertheless it remains, as illustrated earlier that contemporary voters do not appreciate dynasties.
Now, with the ANC elective congress fast approaching, I perceive that the ruling African National Congress is caught between a rock and a hard place.
On the one hand, Dr. Nkosasana Dlamini Zuma is a revered and an experienced politician who has served well both nationally and internationally and perhaps would make a brilliant state and party president.
On the other hand, despite her positive attributes, as the ex-wife of sitting President Jacob Zuma, she is perceived as a pawn in a greater political dynastic agenda, and as mentioned earlier, contemporary voters do not respond positively to political dynasties.
Look at Togo, look at DRC, go ahead and ask Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush- in contemporary politics the dynastic agenda is bad for national business.
If anything, I would hope that the frontrunners in the ANC presidential race heed this warning and consider that the voting South African Public will not respond well to the Zuma dynasty political agenda- especially not in the context of a fledging economy, student protests, social problems and a slow growth. If the ANC pursues its dynastic political agenda in December, it risks losing everything come the 2019 elections.
Already, the 2016 municipal election results show us that voters are unhappy with the ANC. The dynastic politics president Zuma is currently pursuing will only worsen the discontent.
The same can be said of ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe. If reports are true that President Mugabe is pursuing a dynastic political agenda, then ZANU-PF should prepare for perpetual political unrest in Zimbabwe, just like we are seeing it in Togo and the DRC.
At the end of the day this is what is clear to me: the politician that walks in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela will prosper.
He was a politician’s politician, and his legacy lives through the strong institutions that he fought for.
Forward with democracy. Down with dynasty.