‘Mandela led from the front’

By Dumisani Muleya

If there is one leader of Africa’s anti-colonial struggles who led from the front; starting as a student, then as a lawyer doing some pro bono work to push the struggle ahead, activist leading protests in the streets, skipped the border, secretly went for military training and then disappeared underground in a relentless manoeuvre to fight for freedom and equality;And got arrested, and then ended up in jail for almost three decades, emerged to lead his country after some long and protracted negotiations, but with his head up and unbroken in his spirit (long walk to freedom); that is Nelson Mandela.A true legend of a historic anti-colonial struggle who was very brave to lead from the front (not from hotels, apartments and boardrooms like some champagne revolutionaries that we know who fought for power and self-aggrandisement), made selfless sacrifices at great personal risk for the majority of his people to be free and pursue their own dreams and aspirations.People can debate Mandela’s legacy and its meaning all they want today, but what’s not in doubt is that he did what he had to do: lead from the front row in the fight against apartheid and remove it at the political level, at least. The apartheid regime was defeated, but the vestiges of colonialism, balkanisation and discrimination are still there.That his rich legacy has been variously interpreted by different people: Mandela means different things to different people is only natural.At one level Mandela has been hero-worshipped by many; hence commonplace monumentalisation and memoralisation of his legacy globally (UN Mandela Day today, for instance) to an extent of canonisation by some bordering on Sainthood.Some have even appropriated Mandela’s legacy and dislocated him from his historical context and mission of fighting and liberating the African people in a bid to develop a new image and narratives about him to suit their own interests: The Mandela of forgiveness who is not bitter about his suffering (as if he wasn’t human) and the one canonised as a Saint.That has alienated Mandela from his historic time and space, mission of fighting and struggling for the poor, marginalised black majority. Yet the real Mandela is the initial one who went to jail and fought his way back to reconnect with his people, not the global marketing and self-righteous icon that some later made him to become, which he wasn’t.Economic structural transformation and change as well as related issues in SA are the new generation’s challenge, not Mandela’s.As Fanon said, every generation must discover its own mission and either fulfill or betray it. So don’t pass the burden of economic transformation in SA to Madiba.Mandela achieved his historic mission: that is to fight and defeat the apartheid regime at a political level. So let others fight and defeat economic apartheid, but not only that, also achieve economic transformation and change. The narrative by self-righteous and holier-than-thou elements (most of them fake revolutionaries) that he sold out is clearly revisionist, not sustainable at all. The outcome of any negotiations is largely based on power relations (and indeed political will in this case), not wishes and dreams. The balance of forces on the ground internally in SA then simply didn’t favour the ANC and Mandela during the Codesa talks; they didn’t have leverage. The ANC was then negotiating with an entrenched and stubborn nuclear power-wielding racist regime facing an existential threat. It just wasn’t easy.Granted, Mandela had shortcomings like everyone and so he made mistakes, many of them at that. Hence he must be criticised and his legacy critiqued, but then again he did his job very well – fulfilled, not betrayed, his historic and generational mission.  #MandelaDay