by Kevin Alexander Gray
Whatever verdict history decrees on three decades of nominal Black rule in South Africa, one thing is certain: Nelson Mandela is not the only person responsible. The unfinished struggle was a collective effort. “Moderates and radicals, ANC members and non-members, martyrs, marchers, clergy, secular, individuals and organizations made up the collective.” Indeed, lots of the change-makers weren’t even South African.
Nelson Mandela and Collective Power
by Kevin Alexander Gray
“The discovery of America, and that of a passage to the East Indies by the Cape of Good Hope, are the two greatest and most important events recorded in the history of mankind. Their consequences already have been very great; but, in the short period of between two and three centuries which has elapsed since these discoveries were made, it is impossible that the whole extent of their consequences can have been seen. What benefits, or what misfortunes to mankind may hereafter result from those great events, no human wisdom can foresee. By uniting, in some measure, the most distant parts of the world, by enabling them to relieve one another’s wants, to increase one another’s enjoyments, and to encourage one another’s industry, their general tendency would seem to be beneficial. To the natives however…” – Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776)
“The “great man” or singular individual rising above his or her circumstance is a familiar trope to diminish the power of a collective of people working together for a singular goal.”
Reflecting on his life in 2000, Nelson Mandela said, “I just wanted to be remembered as part of a team, and I would like my contribution to be assessed as somebody who carried out decisions taken by that collective… an organized and disciplined struggle by our organization and the international community.”
For me, those are the most important words he left behind.
In early fall of 2013, while in New York I spotted a Foundation for a Better Life ‘Pass It On!’ message board with Mandela’s picture on it. It read: “What can one person do? Inspiration. Pass It On!”
The message stuck me as wrong. It should have read: “’What many people did?’ ’Amandla!’ – ‘Ngawethu!’ means ‘Power!’ – ‘To the People!’" It was the call and response of collective of people fighting to end apartheid for one and all.
Mandela was the consensus symbol of a movement. It might have been different if he hadn’t been in prison. Still, he wasn’t fighting alone, arrested alone, a lone captive, nor was he “president for life” as seems to be the case with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. He didn’t want the office and ruling just to be about him. He proved it by only serving as South Africa’s president from 1994 to 1999.
He organized, fought and did time alongside Walter Sisulu (whose wife Albertina was a leader in her own right), Govan Mbeki, Denis Golberg, Raymond Mhlaba, Ahmed Kathrada, Elias Motsoaledi, Tokyo Sexwale, Khehla Shubane, Florence Matomela and all those imprisoned not just at Robben Island’s maximum security jail (where about 1000 other men were in locked up with him), Leeuwkop, Modder B, Pollsmoor, Victor Verster, but at other prisons, jails, torture sites and those trapped in bantustans.
The “great man” or singular individual rising above his or her circumstance is a familiar trope to diminish the power of a collective of people working together for a singular goal. It reduces the people to supporting cast in Mandela’s “long walk to freedom.” It also reduces Mandela to a fantastical figure, erasing the man with both strengths and weaknesses, who was a hero but who did what other flesh and blood humans have done and are capable of doing again.
Mandela said in his autobiography: “I led a thoroughly immoral life…” Maybe he was talking about his three marriages. First to law partner Oliver Tambo’s cousin Evelyn Mase, who rarely gets mentioned though she bore him four children – one of who died young, then Winnie who shared the world stage with him and Graça Machel, widow of former Mozambican President Samora Machel, who was most likely killed by the same sinister forces that imprisoned Mandela and his compatriots? It could be something else. Like whether or not he fathered two other daughters by two other women while married to Mase? Even so, his admission speaks to those who want or ought to fight back but think they have to be without stain to stand up.
President Barack Obama remarked: “… they don't make folk like Mandela any more.” I disagree.
The striking Marikana miners back in 2012 are “folk like Mandela.” So are Chelsea Manning, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier, Albert Woodfox, Marie Mason, Sister Megan Rice, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed. So are those in exile like Edward Snowden and Assata Shakur. And the captives at the Guantánamo Bay gulag and places we don’t yet know about. They’re among the hundreds of thousands of inmates in jails and prisons due to the war on drugs, serving unjust sentences or doing time for crimes they didn’t commit. And those “undocumented” human beings held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities. They’re among those guilty of petty or heinous crimes.
“From the start the Khoikhoi (Bushmen and Hottentots) fought the Dutch who settled on the Cape via the Dutch East India Company in 1652.”
Mandela knew the struggle against unjust power didn’t begin, wasn’t all about and didn’t end with him. And that blacks didn’t compliantly accept white power without a fight until he came along or until the 1980’s when the international anti-apartheid movement was at its peak.
The fight for “Tina Sizwe” – “the black nation” – is old as the 12th century tales of Prester John, one of the earliest Europeans to set foot in Africa. Portugal’s Bartolomeu Dias’ “discovery” of the Cape of Good Hope in 1488 and Vasco da Gama’s contact with the Xhosa people 10 years later sped up the misery. From the start the Khoikhoi (Bushmen and Hottentots) fought the Dutch who settled on the Cape via the Dutch East India Company in 1652. French Huguenots and German immigrant later joined them. The amalgam was the original Afrikaaners. British rule followed the Napoleonic wars in the 1800s. Anglicization brought English as the official language, restrictive laws on slavery, its eventual abolition (with compensation to slave owners), repeal of pass laws imposed on Africans by Afrikaaners and equality before law for “all free persons of color.”
In response about 12,000 Dutch-speaking Afrikaaners – Voortrekkers – spurred “liberal” British rule by migrating eastward and northeastward into the southern Africa interior to set up an independent homeland. The Afrikaaners’ (also called Boers) “Great Trek” (1835-46) into the future Natal, Orange Free State and Transvaal regions meant invasion, bloodshed, land seizure and coerced or slave labor.
The Griqua, Kora, Rolong and Tlokwa tribesmen helped trekkers drive the Ndebele from their path. The Boers set up treaties with others such as the Tlokwa. The pioneers defeated the Zulu led by Dingane, Shaka Zulu’s successor, and took their land. Britain stunted the Boers’ movement by annexing Natal in 1843. A decade later trekkers set up two independent republics: the South African Republic (1852), also known as the Transvaal Republic, and the Orange Free State (1854) prohibiting slavery, but codifying racial separatism in their constitutions. The diamond and gold rush in the 1860s made the Transvaal the richest nation in southern Africa and spurred an immigrant (uitlanders) influx from Britain. Immigrants began outnumbering Boers. They demanded voting rights, representation in governance, control of the gold mining industry, and pushed the republics to become a British controlled federation. The Boers were also waging war on the Pedi people over labor and land and there was ongoing tension with King Cetshwayo and the Zulus. Cetshwayo had over 40,000 warriors with modern weapons. He had kicked European missionaries from his land and urged other natives to rebel against the invaders. So the Boers couldn’t fight a two front war when the British annexed Transvaal in 1877. A year later the Brits did them a favor by demanding that Cetshwayo give up his throne, disband his army and accept British oversight. The British defeated the Zulu and the Pedi in 1879 and consolidated their power over Natal, Transvaal, and the once- independent Zulu kingdom.
A year and a half later in December 1880, the Boers declared war on the United Kingdom in the ten week 1st Boer War over the Transvaal. After British battle defeats, the Boers won self-rule in the Transvaal under British oversight. Eight years later the 2nd Boer War (1899) erupted after the Boers demanded the British withdraw troops from the Transvaal and along Orange Free’s borders. In addition, finding the world's largest deposit of gold-bearing ore in 1886 made it worth going back to war for both settler groups. The Brits wanted the Zulu to stay out of the “white man's war” but they and the Swazis wanted to reclaim land taken by the Boers. As the war went on about 20,000-armed Africans fought with the British. The British won the war with a “scorched earth” policy of destroying crops, burning homes, and poisoning wells. Around 75,000 died including 20-28,000 Boer civilians (mainly women and children) and 20,000 black Africans that died on the battlefield and in “concentration camps” due to starvation, disease and exposure. The Boers signed a peace treaty in 1902. The most resistant Boers, called "bittereinders," many who later built the white supremacist Nationalist Party, chose exile over allegiance to Britain. The two republics were absorbed into the British Empire with the Cape and Natal colonies, compensated for reconstruction and got limited self-government in 1906 and 1907. Three years later in 1910, the Boers’ republics became the Union of South Africa, a Commonwealth “dominion’ of the U.K. like Canada.
“The white pioneers defeated the Zulu led by Dingane, Shaka Zulu’s successor, and took their land.”
The ANC, founded as the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) on January 8, 1912, emerged as even though the Boers’ lost the war, Africans paid the cost in the continued loss of their rights. More radical elements outside the SANNC fought the Afrikaaner‘s secret, Klan-like Hitler-admiring Broederbond (brotherhood) and waged organized and unorganized political and criminal acts against whites. SANNC’s organizers, John Langalibalele Dube, a Zulu, Oberlin-educated poet, educator, son of a Christian minister and devotee of Booker T. Washington and intellectual Solomon Plaatje, a Tswana[n] linguist who was the first black South African to write a novel in English, had both traveled to the U.S. with Plaatje meeting both W.E.B. Dubois and Marcus Garvey. Plaatje was the organization’s first General Secretary and Dube was its president. Plaatje, from Cape Colony, could vote when he turned 21 in 1897 only to lose it when British rule ended. From its beginnings to its name change to the ANC in 1923, the group took on “separate development” laws that prevented blacks from buying land and pushed for changes to “limited franchise,” without demanding universal suffrage. At first, they focused on holding the status quo in the Cape Province where qualification was based on education and wealth and “coloured” and blacks could vote. The new government ended that and much more including making Afrikaans the official language in 1926 alongside Dutch, where they co-existed until the 1960s. Today the country has 11 official languages.
Britain ended its legal authority over South Africa in 1931 and the rise of the Nationalist Party was in full play. During WWII, many Afrikaaners, such as future National Party leaders and prime ministers Daniel François Malan, Hendrik ‘H.F.’ Verwoerd and John Vorster were sympathetic to Nazi Germany. Verwoerd even complained about German Jews coming to South Africa fleeing persecution. Apartheid, which literally translated means “apart-ness” and is pronounced “apart-hate,” was first used by Malan, a Dutch Reform clergyman, in 1943 to describe the goals of his party and the system of government it was setting up. Verwoerd, minister of native affairs in the ‘50s, is often called “the architect of apartheid” that some say was patterned after the Jim Crow system in the U.S.; Verwoerd called it a "policy of good neighborliness."
The ANC didn’t become radicalized until Mandela, Tambo, Sisulu, Ashley Peter Mda and Anton Lembede, as its first president, formed the ANC Youth League in the 1940s. Lembede died in 1947 at 33 of a heart attack. The 1948 election saw the Nationalist Party together with the Afrikaner Party winning the general elections. The two parties merged in 1951 into the National Party. In the meantime, by 1949 the Youth League controlled the ANC. The younger men saw the old leaders as "a body of gentlemen with clean hands.” Before his death Lembede called for a "Program of Action" in tandem with the Transvaal Indian Congress’ call for a “Decade of Defiance.” Thus began decades of civil disobedience, strikes and armed action in protest of the hundreds of apartheid laws such as Verwoerd’s Group Areas Act that excluded non-whites from living in the most developed areas, which were restricted to whites causing blacks to travel large distances from home to work. Non-whites were forcibly removed for living in the "wrong" areas and restricted to smaller and smaller areas to live in. Non-whites had to carry pass books to enter the “white” parts of the country and vice-versa. Nationalists also stripped the right of coloureds to vote in the main South African Parliament replaced with a separate, segregated, and largely powerless assembly.
The government met the protest with more laws and more force. 1950 saw the passage of the Immorality Act that forbade all sex between “Europeans” and “non-Europeans” (prohibition against mixed marriages was passed a year earlier), the Population Registration Act requiring individuals to be classified and registered according to race, and the Suppression of Communism Act that made the Communist Party of South Africa (SACP) illegal and led to the banning of communist politician Sam Kahn and Yusef Dadoo, a Muslim Indian and chair of both the SACP and South African Indian Congress (SAIC).
“Non-whites were forcibly removed for living in the ‘wrong’ areas and restricted to smaller and smaller areas to live in.”
Yet it was Florence Matomela, a school teacher with five kids who kicked off protest at the beginning of 1950 leading a demonstration in Port Elizabeth of protesters burning their passes. Matomela, an organizer with the ANC Women’s League and the Federation of South African Women was one of the first women volunteers in the Defiance Campaign. The “Defend Free Speech Conference” followed it in March that set May 1st as “Freedom Day.” A general strike was called for the day that resulted in 18 blacks being killed and other protestors, including Mandela, jailed and beaten for their opposition to the government. By the end of the year the UN passed a resolution calling apartheid “racial segregation” based on “doctrines of racial discrimination.”
Two years later Chief Albert Luthuli, a teacher and politician, who joined the ANC in 1944, became president-general of the organization from 1952–1967 replacing trade unionist Allison Champion who only served one year as the group’s leader. The Pan Africanist Congress’ Potlkako Kitchener Leballo nominated Luthuli. Leballo was active in the ANC Youth League until he and other radical leaders including Robert Sobukwe were expelled from the ANC and went on to form the PAC. After taking office the government demanded that he withdraw his membership in ANC or give up being tribal chief. Refusing to do either Luthuli was stripped of his chieftainship and slapped with two two-year movement bans.
The first years of Luthuli's term marked the dispute between "Africanists" and "Charterists." Luthuli, a believer in non-violence, didn’t see the Freedom Charter before it was adopted in 1955 but said he accepted it to counter the radical Africanists, although they split from the ANC in 1959 anyway. In the Charter the young leaders passed the section entitled: “The Land Shall be Shared Among Those Who Work It!”:
* Restrictions of land ownership on a racial basis shall be ended, and all the land re-divided amongst those who work it …
* The state shall help the peasants with implements, seed, tractors and dams …
* Freedom of movement (abolition of pass laws) shall be guaranteed to all who work on the land;
* All shall have the right to occupy land wherever they choose.
The “Africanists’” position was "one settler one bullet." The Charterists saw the ANC as a "disciplined force of the left” against white supremacy but its alternative was not black supremacy.
“The ideological creed of the ANC is, and always has been, the creed of African Nationalism. It is not the concept of African Nationalism expressed in the cry, 'Drive the White man into the sea'. The African Nationalism for which the ANC stands is the concept of freedom and fulfillment for the African people in their own land.” ~ Nelson Mandela, Rivonia Trial, Pretoria Supreme Court, April 20, 1964.
As Luthuli’s second ban expired in 1956 the government removed all remaining suffrage rights for "non-whites.” Luthuli attended an ANC conference only to be arrested and charged with treason a few months later, along with 155 others. Matomela was also among the original 156 defendants in the 1956 Treason Trial that included her Federation of South African Women, almost the ANC’s entire executive committee (including Mandela), SACP, South African Indian Congress, South African Congress of Trade Unions, Coloured People’s Congress and the South African Congress of Democrats. In all, 105 Africans, 21 Indians, 23 whites, 7 coloured members of the Congress and 10 women were charged with high treason in a trial that lasted until 1961.
“The Charterists saw the ANC as a ‘disciplined force of the left’ against white supremacy but its alternative was not black supremacy.”
In December 1957, after nearly a year in custody, Luthuli was released and charges against him and sixty-four others were dropped. Charges against all others were eventually “dropped” in 1961 with judges finding “no evidence of communist infiltration of the ANC.”
Verwoerd became Union prime minister (1958) as Luthuli led the ANC. Verwoerd’s aim was clear: “…We want to keep South Africa white – keeping it white can only mean one thing, namely white domination, not leadership, not guidance, but control, supremacy.” For starters, in 1959 he pushed through the Bantu Self-Government Act classifying blacks into eight ethnic groups and restricting them to “homelands” and the University Education Act putting an end to black students attending white universities and creating separate institutions for the different races.
Events took another critical turn 10 days before the ANC was to kick off a nationwide campaign against the pass laws. On March 21, 1960, Sharpeville township police fired into a crowd of 5,000 to 10,000 PAC-led protestors that had converged on their headquarters killing 69 people including 8 women and 10 children, and wounding 180, including 31 women and 19 children. Many were shot in the back as they ran away. The country declared a state of emergency on March 30, detained 2000 ANC leaders including Mandela, arrested 20,000 and sent thousands to prison or work camps after secret trials. 30,000 Africans marched on Capetown led by PAC’s Philip Kgosana. A week or so later, police in the Transkei attacked protesters, killing 11 and hanging 20. The UN condemns the government.
The Sharpeville massacre led to the banning of the PAC and ANC and activation of the ANC’s military wing, MK- Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) led by Mandela, and Leballo’s Azanian People's Liberation Army (APLA), originally called Poqo, as the military wing of the PAC. Poqo’s slogan: "drive the whites into the sea.”
Luthuli, who had just been unbanned, was arrested for publicly burning his pass following Sharpeville. He was found guilty, fined, given a suspended jail sentence, and returned to Groutville. Upon his release from jail Mandela went underground.
The Union narrowly became the “Republic of South Africa” after a “fraudulent” all-white referendum in 1961. Along with it came expulsion from the Commonwealth. English, Afrikaans and Dutch became the official languages. Verwoerd became Prime Minister, serving until his assassination in 1966, in Cape Town, by a mixed-race (Greek and Mozambican), uniformed parliamentary messenger and alleged Communist Party member named Dimitri Tsafendas.
Luthuli was allowed to travel to Norway to receive a Nobel Peace Prize on December 11, 1961. He was the first person outside of Europe or the U.S. to get the award. Six days later, Mandela, now a fugitive on various charges including inciting strikes and leaving the country, launched MK with two acts of sabotage in Capetown and Johannesburg. Some say he launched MK without Luthuli’s sanction but evidence proves otherwise. MK’s manifesto announced “planned attacks against government installations and “a break from the past”:
The government policy of force, repression and violence will no longer be met with non-violent resistance … The choice is not ours; it has been made by the Nationalist government which has rejected … every … peaceable demand … with force and yet more force!
The following year Luthuli and Martin Luther King, Jr. issued a joint statement calling for an international sanctions campaign. Meanwhile, fugitive Mandela travels to Ethiopia, Morocco, Algeria and Britain, meeting with Haile Selassie, Julius Nyerere and other African leaders. When he returned from military training in Addis Ababa he’s met in Bechuanaland (now Botswana) by a British-born, white, gay, MK member Cecil Williams. They worked together until 1962 when Mandela was arrested posing as Williams’ chauffer, David Motsamayi. The two drive to Johannesburg to see Luthuli immediately upon his return.
“The Sharpeville massacre led to the banning of the PAC and ANC and activation of the ANC’s military wing, MK- Umkhonto we Sizwe.”
Even though he denied it, Mandela was a member of the SACP, serving in the Central Committee at the time of his arrest. Mandela had close relationships with Lionel “Rusty” Bernstein, son of European-Jewish émigrés, Harold Wolpe, a Lithuanian-Jew and Arthur Goldreich, a South African-Israeli. All were Communist Party members. Wolpe was a lawyer, sociologist, and political economist known for both his theory on cheap labor in South Africa and his legal work on behalf of political detainees. He was arrested and put in prison in 1963 but escaped and spent 30 years in exile in the United Kingdom. Goldreich was an abstract painter who saw “Israel as closer to the white regime he fought against...”
In 1961, Wolpe and Arthur Goldreich purchased Lilliesleaf Farm in Rivonia as headquarters and safe house for the underground Communist Party and the ANC. Goldreich and his family pretended to be the owners of a farm on the outskirts of Johannesburg. When Mandela needed a safe house, he stayed there under his assumed name pretending to be a worker. Bernstein, Goldreich and Wolpe also helped locate sabotage sites for MK, and helped draft a disciplinary code for guerillas entitled "Umkhonto we Sizwe: We are at War!”:
"Our men are armed and trained freedom fighters not terrorists.
We are fighting for democracy—majority rule—the right of the Africans to rule Africa.
We are fighting for a South Africa in which there will be peace and harmony and equal rights for all people.
We are not racialists, as the white oppressors are. The African National Congress has a message of freedom for all who live in our country."
Poqo, on the other hand, had no problem with killing settlers with bullets or hatchets. The PAC’s goal was to foment a mass uprising.
Even so, Mandela called himself a “loyal and obedient servant” of the ANC opting for, as the SACP bemoaned, “reform in the name of multi-racialism which upheld bourgeois property relations and the fundamental institutions of the capitalist state.”
On July 11, 1963, security police raided Lilliesleaf Farm and captured 19 members of the underground, charging them with sabotage. The raid led to the Rivonia Trial that made Mandela a worldwide name. He was already in prison having been arrested the previous year. Police find documents during the raid incriminating Mandela. As a result he was charged with 193 acts of sabotage and brought to trial with others. The trial, which ran from October 1963 to June 1964, led to life sentences for eight of the accused.
Mandela was spared. Maybe the apartheid government and U.S. interest were smart enough not to make him a martyr after he was arrested in August 1962 while driving through the town of Howick, in Natal. Then President John F. Kennedy opposed the apartheid regime and had an arms embargo on the government. Still, it wasn't out of bounds for the U.S. to kill a foreign leader threatening to its interest. And they didn’t want a successful nationalist movement threatening a friendly government. The U.S. and Belgian governments green-lighted the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) back on January 17, 1961. But when Mandela, disguised as David Motsamayi, went to meet a CIA officer working out of the Consulate in Durban, instead of meeting, the operative told the South African Security branch where and when they could grab Mandela. He was their captive until his release in February 1990.
Many others didn’t get off with prison or exile. There were over 50-recorded deaths of people in detention under security laws from 1963 to 1982. The majority of reported deaths were either “suicide by hanging” or “jumping out a window.” Nicodemus Kgoathe, held in a Pretoria jail in early February 1969, died after he “slipped in the shower.” At the end of the month, Solomon Modipane died after he “slipped on a bar of soap” in the same prison.
“The PAC’s goal was to foment a mass uprising.”
Nationalists didn’t care about making martyrs out of well-known activists, as were the fates of Vernon Nkadimeng, Chris Hani, David Webster, Dulcie September and Suliman Saloojee. Saloojee was a member of group called the Picasso Club that painted political posters. He was thrown from the 7th floor of the Johannesburg police station.
Student activist Abram Onkgopotse Tiro, founder of the South African Student Organization (SASO) killed on February 4, 1974 while in Botswana and Joe Slovo’s wife Ruth First killed on August 17, 1982 while in Maputo, Mozambique were both assassinated by the drones of their day, parcel bombs.
Many know Steve Bantu Biko, leader of the Black Consciousness Movement killed by the Pretoria police on September 12, 1977. Fewer know Dr. Neil Aggett, a young white trade union organizer who “committed suicide by hanging himself” with a pajama cord in his cell at Johannesburg’s John Vorster Square police headquarters in 1982. Aggett’s 1981 arrest under the Internal Security Act and his death while in custody sparked outrage among white citizens in S.A. and was a factor in the formation of the Detainees’ Parents Support Committee (DPSC) that with the support of international church groups took on S.A. security forces abuses and murders of political detainees from 1963-83.
Biko’s more than a character played by Denzel Washington in the 1987 movie Cry Freedom or a Peter Gabriel song. Biko’s stature lies in his ideological link to Njabulo Ndebele, Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael and other voices of diasporic African, Pan Africanism and the black consciousness movement which connects blacks to their past, present and future. The ideological connections Biko and others spoke of in the 70s weren’t new. In the U.S. they reached throughout the 20th century through Hubert Henry Harrison, Marcus Garvey, Harry Haywood and W.E.B. Dubois and Jack O’Dell. All made "the connection between local and global dimensions of antiracism" with Dubois calling out “white supremacy and imperialism as causes for turmoil in the world.” O’Dell weaved the connection from King and the civil rights movement through Jesse Jackson’s 1984 and -88 presidential campaigns. On the American side of the ocean blacks organized around the legacy and consequences of being kidnapped from their land, reduced to chattel, having their labor exploited by whites with no political power or franchise to fight back. On the African side of the ocean Robert Sobukwe and the nationalist PAC organized around stolen land, being reduced to chattel in their own land, exploited by whites, having no political power but having the numbers to fight back.
Mandela’s law partner Tambo became ANC president after Luthuli, still living under a 5-year travel ban, was stuck by a train near his home in Groutville in 1967. Tambo served until 1991. Tambo carried out the ANC’s armed struggle mandate. Following the Rivonia verdict, Luthuli said:
“The African National Congress never abandoned its method of militant, non-violent struggle. However, in the face of the uncompromising White refusal to abandon a policy which denies the African and other oppressed South Africans their rightful heritage freedom - no one can blame brave, just men for seeking justice by use of violent methods; nor could they be blamed if they tried to create an organized force in order to establish ultimately peace and racial harmony.”
In the late 1960s, Luthuli’s daughter, Thandi Luthuli-Gcabashe, went into exile organizing in the U.S. for the African Friends Service Committee (Quakers). In 1981 she was named director of the Quakers’ Southern Peace Education Program in Atlanta, Georgia, a post she held for 15 years.
“There were over 50-recorded deaths of people in detention under security laws from 1963 to 1982.”
Tambo spent 30 years in exile (1960–90) yet was head of the ANC in its most militant period. In the late 60’s, students in Soweto, South Africa’s largest black township put their bodies on the line refusing to submit to Afrikaans – the language the white Afrikaaners – being imposed on them as the dominant language and punished for speaking Xhosa, their native language. Then came the Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act of 1970 forcing 3 million blacks to resettle and become citizens in one of the ten self-governing territories or 'homelands' or Bantustans: Transkei, Venda, Ciskei, Bophutatswana, Gazankulu, KaNgwane, KwaNdebele, KwaZulu, Lebowa and QwaQwa. At the time, South African Interior Minister Connie Mulder said: "No Black person will eventually qualify [for South African nationality and the right to work or live in South Africa] because they will all be aliens…”
Student protest over “Bantu Education policy” led to the Soweto Uprising of ’76. Groups such as the Congress of South African Students (COSAS), Tiro’s South African Students’ Organization (SASO), South Africa Students Movement (SASM), Soweto Students Representative Council (SSRC), and the Soweto Students’ League (SSL) keep the movement intergenerational. School-aged exiles spread across the globe, organizing in countries that took them in and preparing for the day they would go home. Less than a decade later, from 1984-86, high school students pulled off a two-year boycott of school and year end exams throughout South Africa.
Moderates and radicals, ANC members and non-members, martyrs, marchers, clergy, secular, individuals and organizations made up the collective. People like Helen Suzman, Mary Benson, Dorothy Nyembe, Sister Bernard Ncube, Cyril Ramaphosa, Desmond Tutu, Beyers Naudé, Allan Boesak and a host of others.
Doubtless, the ANC and Tambo carried the weight. It was Tambo and his chief of staff Slovo who approved the 1983 Church Street bombing in Pretoria, the largest para-military attack by the ANC. The bombing killed 19 including two ANC members, Freddie Shangwe and Ezekial Maseko, and wounded 217 others. The target was South African Air Force headquarters. The ANC told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission the building was a military target with 11 of the casualties SAAF personnel and that it was a response to a South African cross-border raid into Lesotho in December 1982 which killed 42 ANC supporters and civilians as well as the assassination of Ruth First.
From 1985-1995, approximately 20,000-30,000 people died in the tumult to include fighting between ANC and United Democratic Front (UDF) supporters against Zulu Inkatha movement supporters. The 1985-86 uprising in the black townships resulted in the deaths of between 2,000 and 3,000 people—including the hundreds who were “necklaced,” or burnt to death with a flaming tire around their necks, by pro-ANC township youths.
Young militants in the Azanian People's Organization (AZAPO) put singer Paul Simon on their assassination list in 1984 for breaking the cultural boycott “to publicize his record” "Graceland" – recording part of it with black musicians Ladysmith Black Mambazo and others in Johannesburg. Harry Belafonte asked Simon not to go without talking with the ANC, which he disregarded. E-Street Band member Steven Van Zandt recalled Simon approaching him about Mandela asking: “What are you doing, defending this communist?!” Information he claimed to have gotten from Henry Kissinger. Others, like The Special A.K.A sang “Free Nelson Mandela.”
The ANC never called for Simon’s death, but in 1985 Tambo said: "… the ANC will not deliberately take innocent life. But now, looking at what is happening in South Africa, it is difficult to say civilians are not going to die."
“The 1985-86 uprising in the black townships resulted in the deaths of between 2,000 and 3,000 people.”
Meanwhile, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the 35 unions it represented begun withholding their labor. Organized labor rejected the Sullivan Principles that called for wage hikes and better treatment while on the job and then-President Ronald Reagan’s policy of “constructive engagement” which maintained the status quo. Labor argued that the problems of workers extended beyond the workplace, which was shortcoming of the Sullivan Principles. “Changes at the workplace can improve the life of the worker from 8:00 until 5:00; beyond that point … The person still has to carry a pass (regulating movement in the country) and lives in a community that is chosen for him by the government. … If you cannot live with your family, according to law, then that becomes an economic as well as a political issue…”
And though folks weren’t beating on drums or hollow logs in the jungle to spread the word, there was a cosmic drumbeat that musicians Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson channeled with From South Africa to South Carolina, released in1976 with the songs "Johannesburg" and “Let Me See Your I.D.” In the 80s many credit “Artists Against Apartheid,” led by filmmaker/journalist Danny Schechter and Van Zandt and his song "Sun City" in solidifying the artists’ boycott of the rouge nation.
My son and nephew, now in their 30s, called me after Mandela’s death. They grew up with posters of Winnie with her fist in the air, her husband, Biko and Machel on their walls. The anti-apartheid movement was their indoctrination to the worldwide freedom struggle. My son Brian reminded me of his friendship with Nkosinathi Mncube, a black South African from Johannesburg, now living in D.C. who came to the U.S. in 2004 to study dance. When they met “Nathi” was surprised of Brian’s awareness of his homeland. Later on as we were driving and talking my son rolled up his sleeve to show me the tattoo on his arm. It was the name his friend gave him, “Sipho”, which means, “gift” in Xhosa.
At first I was indifferent to obits praising Mandela for “reconciliation,” “forgiving” or “freeing his jailers” but then Brian, who now works at a community college, told me of his female colleague, a white South African émigré. She was tearful after hearing Mandela was gone. She credits Mandela in “allowing the world to see white South Africans different.”
Yet with all the talk of forgiveness, Winnie Mandela is scorned by many as a torturer, murderer, thief, adulteress and an on-off bitter ex-wife and delegitimized widow.
Despite it all, Winnie’s still seen as “the mother of a nation.” Jesse Jackson said in her defense: “When it was real dark she was the light that carried people across the river.” In 1969, she was held in solitary confinement for 13 months on terrorism charges. In ‘73 she did another six months in jail. During the ’76 Soweto Uprising she told the young people to "fight to the bitter end." She was locked up for five months as the mastermind of the insurrection, banned from speaking publicly and banished to the rural town of Brandfort for seven years. In 1986, a time when suspected traitors were being burned alive in the townships, she declared that blacks would be “freed with our matchboxes."
In 1986, I participated in pickets of the University of South Carolina’s Educational Foundation to pressure the university to disclose and withdraw their holdings with companies doing business with South Africa. Every Friday we faced a young white, fundamentalist Christian, supporter of the apartheid government who stood amongst us with a tire around her neck.
Mandela once said he was “fortunate to have been in prison” so he “didn’t have to spill blood.” Yet he supported it saying: “Our mandate was to wage acts of violence against the state… Our intention was to begin with what was least violent to individuals but most damaging to the state.” Tambo did just that. Others, like Winnie, went further, just like their oppressors.
Doubtless, the deaths of “Stompie” Moeketsi, Lolo Sono, Sibuniso Tshabalala and the many others who died at the hands of her Mandela United Football Club should haunt Winnie. I don’t care about her relationship woes. Her husband was in prison for 27 years. As for forgiveness, people often forgive killers who are kin or on their side of the fight. And many of Winnie detractors never had to fight or kill for their freedom.
“Despite it all, Winnie’s still seen as ‘the mother of a nation.’”
In the wake of Mandela’s death mainstream media did its best at recasting some of history’s actors on the good side of the “arc of the moral universe,” or they left some of history’s culprits out of the picture.
One of the images on TV after Mandela’s death was the NBC evening news leading with Reagan in 1990 saying Mandela should be included in talks about the future of South Africa.
They could have led with Ron Dellums (who introduced an anti-apartheid bill in 1972), Maxine Waters, Bill Gray, Parren Mitchell, Mervyn Dymally, Walter Fauntroy and other Congressional Black Caucus members that fought the early legislative battle. Or maybe Caroline Hunter, the Polaroid Corporation chemist who in 1970 stumbled upon evidence that her employer was providing the camera system to the South African government to produce photos for the infamous pass books. She and Ken Williams formed the Polaroid Workers Revolutionary Movement to campaign for a boycott. By 1977, Polaroid withdrew from South Africa.
The U.S activists’ history includes familiar names like TransAfrica and its then-leader Randall Robinson who in the 80s organized “civil disobedience that led to jailings for over a year.” Groups targeted local and national banks to force them to stop selling the South African gold “kruggerrand” coins. Legal advocacy groups raised money and provided assistance defending individuals and group inside the racist regime.
From Massachusetts to New Mexico, by 1985, 12 states and the District of Columbia, over 25 cities, counties and the Virgin Islands had enacted divestment legislation, withdrawing more than $5 billion from U.S. corporations that had investments in South Africa.
That same year, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility kicked off a campaign against twelve U.S. corporations, whom they called the “Dirty Dozen” that were key investors in apartheid. They included: Burroughs, Chevron, Citicorp, Control Data, Flour, Ford, General Electric, General Motors, IBM, Mobil, Newmont Mining and Texaco. Others companies targeted were Coke, Standard Oil, Shell, TWA, Honeywell, Exxon, ITT, RCA, Chase, Firestone, International Harvester, Union Carbide, 3M, American Express, Dow, Pillsbury, Continental Bank, Morgan, First National Bank and others.
The boycott-sanctions-divestment movement forced over 70 colleges and universities to partially or fully divest $411 million from companies that did business with South Africa.
Jimmy Carter imposed economic sanctions on the apartheid government. Reagan removed them and called the Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 "immoral" and "utterly repugnant." Samora Machel was returning from a summit in Zambia, called to put pressure on Zairean dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, over his support for the Angolan opposition movement UNITA led by Jonas Sivimbi, who Ronald Reagan called “freedom fighters,” when his plane crashed in 1986 killing him along with 33 others.
Prior to 1990, the Reagan administration violated a U.N. arms embargo against the regime, vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would've imposed economic sanctions, and endorsed a billion-dollar IMF loan to the racist government. His administration considered Mandela a “terrorist” and put the ANC on the terrorism watch list. Reagan insisted that the 16 percent minority white population in power were "strategically essential to the free world," although the 84 percent majority of black South Africa's citizens (to include Coloureds and Asians) were be violently kept un-free. His British ally PM Margaret Thatcher followed suit, calling Mandela a “terrorist” while simultaneously selling arms and military equipment to the apartheid regime.
Conservative hardliners like South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond, Phil Gramm of Texas and Jesse Helms of North Carolina, and others, to include future Vice President Dick Cheney, then a Republican congressman from Wyoming, supported Reagan. Helms filibustered the sanctions bill. Cheney said he made the right decision in 86: “I don't have any problems at all with the vote I cast 20 years ago.”
On Sept. 29, 1986 the House voted 313-83 to override Reagan’s veto of the economic sanctions Act. The Senate followed suit, voting 78-21 to override. For the first time in the 20th century, lawmakers overturned a presidential veto of a foreign policy issue. In the Senate, 31 Republicans broke with Reagan.
All the major daily paper in my hometown of Columbia could offer the world after Mandela’s death was a 1998 picture of a 95-year-old Thurmond holding up Mandela’s arm as though he’d just won a prizefight. The photo was snapped during Mandela’s visit to Washington to receive the Congressional Gold Medal.
“Reagan insisted that the 16 percent minority white population in power were "strategically essential to the free world."
Maybe someone thought the photo of Thurmond was funny or ironic. Maybe the person who posted the picture was at best, ignorant of history or, at worst trying to revise history by giving the photographic impression that Thurmond supported Mandela and the anti-apartheid cause. It would have been more accurate to post a picture or write something about Senator Ernest F. Hollings’ efforts. Hollings co-sponsored the failed 1985 anti-apartheid bill but succeeded in having an anti-apartheid plank added to the Democrat’s platform in ‘84 and ’88.
Opponents to black self-determination didn’t give up until then South African President F.W. de Klerk’s government and the ANC agreed to maintain the economic status quo – or, as singer Miriam Makeba put it: "We got the flag, but they got to keep the money."
Another reason could be that de Klerk’s government had nuclear weapons that Israel helped them build as leverage. Neither the white regime nor Western powers wanted a black-led nation to have nuclear weapons. And the racist leaders made it clear that they would maintain a “buffer” from other Frontline States. Many felt that if pushed they’d use their weapons on its own people. Who knows what individuals in and out of the government got for dismantling their nuclear weapons? Nonetheless, shortly after Mandela’s release from prison and the unbanning of the ANC, the PAC and the South African Communist Party, de Klerk’s government began destroying the country’s military facilities, ballistics missiles and dismantling their nuclear weapons.
Some suggest that the ANC’s real failure was not taking over through a bloody revolution even with nuclear weapons in the mix. Or how could a “racist, violent, and brutal oppression white apartheid regime be trusted with nuclear weapons yet a black and democratically elected regime not?” Some believe the country would be stronger today if it had kept its nukes. Other say it was “honorable” that white and black negotiators “believed in a vision of an Africa free of nuclear weapons.”
Nonetheless, the politics of dealing with people who wish you dead is a tricky thing.
The goal was “to break apartheid rule through negotiation, rather than a bloody civil war.” Moreover, the 80s anti-apartheid movement remains the last successful global human rights battle since the anti-Vietnam War and Civil Rights efforts ended.
After Mandela’s death Bill Clinton tweeted: “I will never forget my friend Madiba.” Someone tweeted back: “Then why didn’t you take him off the terrorist watch list?” Mandela wasn’t removed from the list until 2008 when then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked George Bush to do so.
The Clinton Administration endorsed S.A.’s multi-party, proportional representation voting system and sent observers to monitor the election that put Mandela in office. Ironically, it’s the same electoral set up Clinton dumped Lani Guinier from consideration for the Justice Department’s Office of Civil Rights over.
And Clinton’s concern over Mandela’s friendship with his “brother” Fidel Castro is as fake as Cuba’s anti-apartheid history is real. As far back as ’61, Che Guevara called apartheid an “inhuman and fascist policy.” Mandela replied saying that the Cuban “defeat of the racist [South African] army” at Cuito Cuanavale in 1988 “made it possible for him to be [president].”
Mandela critics, including his ex-wife Winnie, often blame him for what the people didn’t get after the change in government. They say he “betrayed the revolution.” That he appeased Western powers and was overly loyal to those who stood with him in the past, turning a blind eye to their corruption – during and after he left office.
Doubtless, the hope that the economic enfranchisement of poor landless blacks written into the Freedom Charter hasn’t become real:
“… [The Freedom Charter] is by no means a blueprint for a socialist state. It calls for redistribution, but not nationalization, of land; it provides for nationalization of mines, banks, and monopoly industry, because monopolies, big monopolies are owned by one race only, and without such nationalization racial domination would be perpetuated despite the spread of political power. It would be a hollow gesture to repeal the Gold Law prohibitions against Africans when all gold mines are owned by European companies … the ANC's policy corresponds with the old policy of the present Nationalist Party, which, for many years, had as part of its program the nationalization of the gold mines, which, at that time, were controlled by foreign capital. Under the Freedom Charter, nationalization would take place in an economy based on private enterprise… The ANC has never at any period of its history advocated a revolutionary change in the economic structure of the country, nor has it, to the best of my recollection, ever condemned capitalist society…” ~ Nelson Mandela, Rivonia Trial, Pretoria Supreme Court, April 20, 1964.
Radical social change and wealth redistribution has been replaced by racial diversity window dressing with black faces helping to run the old colonial turned corporatist-neo-liberal structure.
The existing wealth disparities and the fact that whites and relatively new small black elite have all the money remains at the core of the nation’s problem. Today, whites make up about 9 percent of South Africa’s 51.8 million population, down from 16 percent in the 80s. Blacks are about 80 percent of the population. Yet whites earn six times more than blacks. Poverty in South Africa has increased over the last decade with the unemployment rate among blacks as high as 45 percent. 26.3% of blacks live below the food poverty line. 10.7% of the population lives on less than $1.25 per day and 36.4% live below the $2.50 per day poverty line.
Economic conditions, government corruption, land reform and a longing for some type of black African nationalism to solve those problems is why Zuma was booed at Mandela’s national memorial. Yet Zimbabwe’s one-man rule is no model to follow.
The most powerful part of Mandela’s homegoing was Zuma leading mourners at Qunu singing “Tina Sizwe.” The heartfelt call and response was a far different reaction for him than at the public memorial. Zuma’s race solidarity bamboozlery over Mandela’s coffin was an attempt to quiet charges of corruption and the failures of the ANC. Still, the song is bigger than Zuma. The voices posed the question: what comes next?
"Tina Sizwe" (Zulu)
Tina sizwe, tina sizwe esinsundu,
Sikhalela, sikhalela izwelethu
Elathathwa, elathathwa ngabamhlope
Mabayeke, mabayek’umhlaba wethu
Abantwana, abantwana be Africa
Bakhalela, bakhalela izwe labo
Elathathwa, elathathwa ngabamhlope
Mabayeke, mabayek’umhlaba wethu
“We the Nation” (translation)
We the nation, we the black nation,
we mourn, we mourn for our land
Stolen from us, stolen from us by the white man.
They must leave our land alone
They must leave our land alone
We, the children of Africa,
Are crying for Africa
That was taken by the white people.
They must leave our land alone
They must leave our land alone
Early on Mandela said he was “attracted by the idea of a classless society… The land, then the main means of production, belonged to the tribe. There was no rich or poor and there was no exploitation... I should tie myself to no particular system of society other than that of socialism.” As time passed he offered, “I must leave myself free to borrow the best from West and from the East.” Another Nobel Peace Prize winner, Martin Luther King offered: “… the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism but in a higher synthesis … a higher synthesis that combines the truths of both.”
Whether or not South Africa becomes a ‘Black,’ or ‘Rainbow’ or a truly egalitarian socialist nation, or if neo-liberal, neo-colonialism continues to trump economic restitution and redistribution, is still up in the air. The "unfinished business" of restorative justice for stolen lives, land and labor and the evolution or revolution that pushes back against the inhumanity of power goes on in South Africa, the United States and scores of countries around the world.
That fight takes a collective of people.
Kevin Alexander Gray is a civil rights organizer in South Carolina and author of Waiting for Lightning to Strike! The Fundamentals of Black Politics, published by AK Press / CounterPunch Books. He can be reached at [email protected].