I Miss Nelson Mandela


“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Through his heritage, Nelson Mandela was blessed with a reasonably good education in spite of the political circumstances in which he grew up. When he became an attorney at law, he did not end his education in the court room. Long after he was banished to Robben Eiland, Mr Mandela continued to learn and further his studies well into a pensionable age. When he became South Africa’s first democratically elected state president, he continued to read. And through many vehicles, he encouraged and gave mostly young children the opportunity to acquire a decent education.

During his short term as state president, and for many years afterwards, his government did not provide the children of South Africa with a decent education. The state broadcaster’s boss, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, dismissed the importance of having a basic matric by referring to its certificate as “a piece of paper.” He made reference to a university degree as “that other piece of paper.”

The country’s current president, Jacob Zuma, unashamedly declares that he does not have an education.

“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”

History has spoken for itself. Mr Mandela spent his whole life fighting on behalf of those who had been denied the most basic human rights. Such as education, housing, water and electricity. When he became president, the whole world celebrated and laughed joyfully, most of Africa did too. He welcomed them to our country with open arms and appealed to them to do business with us.

Some tried, but failed. Today, thousands of poor foreigners who fled from their own homes to escape similar atrocities are hounded by pockets of South Africans who loot their dry goods stores. Even members of the country’s police services have joined in this orgy of theft. It is argued that there are no opportunities for the South Africans. What if the foreign traders were given the opportunity to make bigger investments in our country? I think Mr Mandela would have argued in favour of giving them a chance too. It is easy to see the benefit of this.

“It always seems impossible until its done.”

Similarly, Britain’s war time prime minister once told his people to “never, ever give up”. He believed the war against fascism could be won and he encouraged many millions more to believe that this was possible. Nelson Mandela never, ever gave up on the struggle for freedom and democracy, not for himself, but for the millions more. History was also cruel to him, because in old age there was little that he could do when things started to “fall apart.”

I also think that those South Africans, and indeed many others around the world, who haven’t given up in their own lives, whether to obtain a good education, or strive honestly for work or in the workplace, believe in and choose to follow in Mr Mandela’s courageous footsteps in their own small ways. Those that have rejected him as a sell-out and called him worse names, have chosen the opposite path of being obtuse, incompetent and blatantly selfish.

“If you talk to a man in a language that he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

Effective communication and common decency was part and parcel of most of Mr Mandela’s ways with people, particularly those that were his enemies. He learned how to speak Afrikaans and spoke kind words to his Afrikaans gaolers who came to love this great man, even while he was still imprisoned. Kind words are always weighted with authority.

The current president’s limited discourse is lightly peppered with hatred for all those who choose to oppose him, believing that his deeds, both inside and outside of office, are wrong, or worse. His deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, continues to make the sensible suggestion of learning at least one other language outside our own cultural repertoire.

“Money won’t create success, the freedom to make it will.” 

Nelson Mandela believed in both affirmative action and nationalisation. But what most South Africans have chosen to forget was that he believed in the merits of these imperatives. In principle, it could work. Barack Obama believes in affirmative action too. Through common sense, Mr Mandela abandoned the Communist alliance’s version of these noble ideals. He unwittingly chose capitalism. By the time the communists implemented BBBEE (Broad based black economic empowerment), Mr Mandela had lost all political power to reverse this heinous form of legislation which denies equal opportunities to education, good jobs and business opportunities to most South Africans.

“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”

It was a unique and untried concept. That it was short-lived was not the fault of the president. South Africa had a government of national unity which forced political opponents to work together to heal the country of its divided past and build it up from scratch. It still has the resources to do this. The arguments put forward by FW de Klerk at the time this unitary government was broken up were credible. Today’s regime is proof of it. Had his opponents, both outside and inside the African National Congress, learned to trust one another and act honourably as Mr Mandela did, perhaps South Africa, twenty years into democracy, could have built up a government “for the people and by the people.”

“Without education, your children can never really meet the challenges they will face. So its very important to give children education and explain that they should play a role for their country.”

It is sadly true that no government, church, mosque, temple, or school can do all the work of educating the children of “our future.” The first lessons are meant to start in the child’s own home. That parents have prioritized instant gratification and harmful vices over educating their children is grievous. Poverty does not excuse this dereliction of parental duties. But the failure to educate children is not the preserve of the poor. The wealthy classes are perhaps more guilty of this crime.

“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony with equal opportunities.”

Most South Africans may tell you that for different reasons they are not there yet. They are not free. They are still at war with their neighbours. They are confused about the lack of ethics in their chosen representatives. Historical legacies dictated that they should go with their gut and vote with their hearts, not with their minds. South Africa’s democracy is fortunately still young, so it is still subject to change and can still flourish. But as long as the people vote along cultural, ethnic and racial lines, they will never experience true democracy and freedom.

“I like friends with independent minds because they make you see problems from all angles.”

While she was still a parliamentary opposition member, Cape Town Mayor, Patricia de Lille, was fondly named as “my favourite politician” by Mr Mandela. She was a member of the Pan Africanist Congress and was possibly the ANC’s most vocal critic within Parliament. While Mr Mandela was still in prison, the Democratic Party’s (Previously Progressive Federal Party) Helen Suzman was a regular visitor to Robben Eiland and Pollsmoor Prison. Muamar Gadafi and Fidel Castro, although they rarely met, were regarded as friends too.

Thanks to the country’s Constitution, Zuma, his government and associates have not been able to suppress the many voices of reason, whether through the press or through legislative and constitutionally-appointed bodies such as the Public Protector. Even Constitutional Court Justice Mogoeng has no power over his bench. Freedom of speech and association is alive and well. Veteran journalist, Max du Preez, has survived the brutality of the apartheid regime, Zuma’s organs of state are amateurish by comparison. It would take a far more oppressive regime, perhaps a fully fledged dictatorship to silence us all.

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

The most heinous crimes of hate and racism in South Africa are tragically committed by the country’s youth today. Whether they be part of a maverick political party or led by a resentful young man with dictatorial pretensions, or by students in night spots, or younger children in the class room. Many of these youths did not experience racism in the way most of their older peers and elders did. How did it come to this? A bright future has been turned on its head. If we don’t stop them, or cannot stop them, they may have reached the point of no return.

They must have learnt it somewhere. Who taught them to hate their so-called opposites? And what happened to the voice of reason? There is a way, a strong way, it requires bold leadership. Most South Africans, past and present, have been prone to following their leaders. By excusing their own impoverishment, or their threatened livelihoods, Afrikaners chose to believe the lie that black South Africans were inferior to them and had to be ruled with a stick and a whip. Anglo-Saxon South Africans and others of European descent were perhaps more devious in their practised hatred against indigenous Africans.

The Western Cape’s indigenous population is under severe threat, not because other South Africans are migrating annually to their doorsteps, but because they have been given preferential access to job opportunities. I have often wondered why Xhosa’s choose to migrate to the Cape where predominantly Khoi and San people have lived for generations, rather than migrate eastwards and closer to their Zulu counterparts.

At this point, my question may seem fallacious, but the thing is this, racism is alive and well in South Africa, and it is legislated. Struggling for her political life, Mamphela Ramhpele jumped ship and signed up with the Democratic Alliance shortly before South Africa’s last general election. That her actions were undemocratic is not disputed, but the voices raised in objection within the small party that she founded, Agang (Let Us Build) were loud and clear; “we will not join that white party!”. Mamphela may have been over her head, but today she is lost to South African politics. She was also one of the few brave men and women who declared that BBBEE had to be scrapped.

The country’s leader chooses to make racial or racist remarks about anything and everything that is bad or going wrong in this country, rather than bridge all the divisions that he has helped to create. His most vocal opponent today is Julius Malema who with every fibre of his body hates everything associated with “white.” Given the power, he will take away farms, factories, businesses, and mines, close schools and open new centres of indoctrination in its place.

Just in time last year, I came across American journalist, Douglas Foster’s remarkably lucid narrative of life in South Africa After Mandela. He followed the lives of a few central characters as he witnessed the country’s gradual decline after Mr Mandela’s term of office ended. He listened to what a homeless teenager in Cape Town, Helen Zille’s son and Nelson Mandela’s grandson had to say about their prospects and experiences. He tried to make sense of one man, even meeting him on a few occasions.

I’d like to return to this account once I’ve completed my readings of Gandhi Before India by Ramachandra Guhu and The Audacity of Hope, Thoughts on How to Reclaim the American Dream by Barack Obama. When I’ve completed my review of After Mandela, I will post my thoughts here and probably label the post;

After Zuma.


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