Nelson Mandela: The True Nature Of His Legacy.
It is 1960 in South Africa. Apartheid and segregation have existed for 12 years, and the tension is growing. The apartheid laws are becoming more unpopular - especially the Pass Laws.
The Pass Laws were an internal passport system designed to divide South Africa's racial groups. Created initially to control the influx of black people working in white areas,
The Pass Laws became the primary weapon of the National Party to limit the movement of black people. The Pass Laws were so hated that close to 7000 people partook in a protest in Sharpeville, South Africa. The police opened fire, and after the shots died down, there were 69 dead bodies and 180 injured people in the smoke.
The Sharpeville Massacre was the final straw for the National Party - they declared a state of emergency nine days later and banned the ANC entirely.
Mandela went into hiding, and the entire 'struggle' went underground.
This was a crucial turning point for the ANC. It was the Motivation and justification for a shift in tactics.
In the eyes of the ANC, a much darker and sinister modus operandi became the only way forward…
Since the ANC was not allowed to have peaceful protests like boycotts or strikes, they decided violence was the only answer.
And Nelson Mandela was the man for the job…
But the ANC and Mandela needed help…
In 1921 the Soviet Union was three years old. The Communist Party of South Africa was formed. They pledged allegiance to the Bolsheviks - a faction of the Russian Social Democratic Party that seized power a few years prior.
In 1928, the Communist Party of South Africa pledged to make South Africa an 'independent native republic', leading to a 'workers and peasant republic.'
So to help the revolution along, the Communists Bolsheviks devised a plan:
Transform the ANC into a fighting nationalist revolutionary organisation against the white bourgeoisie and the British imperialists.
That plan lay dormant until 1960, when the Chairman of the Communist Party in South Africa, Yusuf Dadoo, visited Moscow and was given $30 000 to advocate the armed struggle.
Umkhonto We Sizwe (or MK for short) was established a month after the Communist Party of South Africa received the Soviet Funds and launched 200 attacks on infrastructure over the next 18 months.
The Soviets also funded the operational headquarters for MK at Lilieslieaf Farm in Rivonia, Johannesburg.
And by 1962, the Communist Party of South Africa was receiving close to $110 000 from Moscow every year.
By 1963, $300 000 was given to the ANC. Soon, MK soldiers were sent to the Soviet Union to receive military training.
However, the armed struggle failed to find any firm footing in ordinary South African society. The economy grew, and black South Africans got better jobs and earned better wages.
The ANC had trouble recruiting new members. And to drive home their lacklustre performance, the ANC lost the Wankie Campaign (yes, that is the name), also known as Operation Nickel.
And for obvious giggle factor, I'll continue to refer to it by the former…
The Wankie campaign aimed to establish a trail between Zambia and South Africa, through Rhodesia, for the flow of MK fighters. Unfortunately for MK, local Rhodesians ratted them out to the police and the army.
Of the 79 fighters who crossed over into Rhodesia, 29 were killed, 17 were captured in Rhodesia, 29 were arrested in Botswana, and only one managed to escape to Zambia.
An utter and total failure of a military operation and a whimpering defeat.
Nothing much happened after that until 1984…
The ANC came back with a vengeance when it unleashed the People's War…
You might be asking yourself how all this relates to the most popular and revered president that South Africa has ever had.
Nelson Mandela was sent to jail in 1963 - 20 years before the Peoples' War.
Did all this happen while imprisoned? What is the relevance?
Well, let us remind ourselves about a few things:
As mentioned earlier, the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of South Africa agitated for armed resistance against the apartheid state. Mandela always remained coy about his ties to the Communist Party. Still, it has been confirmed that he was a member and may have been instrumental in tying the ANC to the Communist Party. In 1961, Mandela insisted on using violence to achieve the goals of the ANC and suggested creating MK to do so. Many leaders of the ANC were not keen on the idea of violence; they worried about the backlash by the National Party. Ultimately, it was decided that MK would be formed. Still, it needed to be separated from the ANC to avoid the backlash, as mentioned earlier. But the lines between the ANC and MK were ultimately blurred, and Mandela became the head of MK.
When Mandela passed away in 2013, the South African Communist Party released a statement. This confirmed that "at the time of his arrest (in 1962), Mandela was a member of the then underground South African Communist Party and our Party's Central Committee."
So what is the significance of Mandela's membership in the Communist Party? Well - this is where things get a bit murky. Some historians insist that the SACP infiltrated the ANC through Mandela and adopted more violent fighting for liberation. Others argue that the SACP and the ANC always worked in tandem and the SACP just happened to win the argument in favour of armed resistance.
So, in essence, the most high profile ANC leader was also a member of the SACP at the same time. The SACP insisted on armed resistance, while the ANC insisted on peaceful resistance. Mandela straddled both organisations and ensured that the SACP had undue influence on the ANC to discard non-violence and take up arms. Once that was done, Mandela became the armed wing leader (MK) and laid a course of violence that has never really ended in South Africa.
Until that point, the ANC was forgotten mainly in South Africa after their banning. The 1960s and 1970s were forged by rival black organisations and political parties, such as the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party and the Steve Biko philosophy, Black Consciousness.
In fact, Black Consciousness became the de-facto face of the resistance against apartheid. The ANC hardly existed in South Africa for close to two decades, for all intents and purposes. Their existence faded from the memory of most black South Africans. Apartheid South Africa was actually seen as a valuable African ally to the West due to its strongly anti-communist stance.
But that was about to change...
In 1978, the Soviet Union decided that this spontaneous multi-party uprising against apartheid threatened the revolution in South Africa, so they hatched another plan.
They invited ANC leaders to Vietnam to fight a people's war against the victorious Vietnamese.
A People's War is an all-out war on every level; ideological, physical, and spiritual. The aim of the People's War was to subjugate all liberation movements under the control of the ANC.
And the true horror of the ANC' of the People's War can be found in this book by Anthea Jeffery. And I quote:
"The tactics of the People's War fall within two main categories, the 'political struggle' and the military struggle'; together, these tactics constitute the arms of a pincer, between which all adversaries are weakened or destroyed
There is no distinction between civilian and combatant; all individuals are regarded as weapons of war and are hence expendable in the conflict.
So what the ANC did through the People's War was not fight the security forces of the apartheid state. Instead, it generated so much violence, chaos and turmoil that it put enormous pressure on adversaries to sue for peace.
But importantly, the adversaries were not the white South Africans who supported the apartheid state.
Instead, the ANC intentionally killed and maimed supporters of its black opposition, namely Inkatha. In the 10 years of the People's War, official estimates claim that 25 000 perished and thousands were maimed and injured, including hundreds of children. Hundreds of people were necklaced. The murder rate skyrocketed.
A favourite tactic of the ANC to instil fear into the hearts of their black adversaries was necklacing - a method of execution where a rubber tire is filled with fuel. It is forced around a victim's head, chest and waist and set on fire while still alive. This form of punishment was used for deemed black collaborators of the apartheid state.
Winnie Mandela was a strong advocate of necklacing, saying that "With our boxes of matches, and our necklaces, we shall liberate this country."
The first victim of necklacing was a woman called Maki Skosana - at a funeral, she was chased by a mob of 500 people, stoned and beaten with clubs. A tire was put around her neck, doused with gasoline and set alight as she lay on the ground. It was confirmed that she was neither a police informant nor a collaborator with the apartheid state.
She was just in the wrong place and at the wrong time.
While Mandela was in prison, he refused to renounce violence as a tool, despite being promised to be released early. Despite the thousands of deaths, the necklacing and the murder of children, he approved of the People's War and the various bombings in South Africa in the 1980s. But despite his misgivings about the nature of the violence, in 1985, MK operative detonated a bomb in Natal, killing five civilians and injuring 40. Mandela wrote about the attack in his autobiography, stating, "It was precise because we knew that such incidents would occur that our decision to take up arms had been so grave and reluctant".
In the same year, Mandela was offered early release from prison by the President of South Africa. They renounced violence as a political weapon. Mandela responded: "What freedom am I being offered while the organisation of the people [ANC] remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts."
Nelson Mandela would only renounce violence well after his release in 1990.
In essence, Nelson Mandela thought that violence was the only solution to dismantling apartheid. He played a crucial role in ensuring that violence found its way to every corner of South Africa. As a member of the SACP and the ANC, he allowed the Communists to infiltrate and take over the ANC, allowed the ANC to perpetuate the People's War against their black adversaries and finally took over the country in 1994.
But what effect has this violence had on South Africa today, almost a decade after he died?
According to Anthea Jeffrey, the social consequences are still being felt today, namely in education and crime. Since the ANC boycotted education, millions of black South Africans lost years of schooling, leaving many of them unemployable. Today, South Africa has the highest unemployment rate in the world. In terms of crime, thousands of young South Africans were brutalised by joining heinous acts of violence, like necklacing. Their sense of empathy, kindness and pity was discarded, leaving them with no awareness of wrong-doing and no pity for their victims.
The People's War also broke down any respect for authority. As police officers, traditional leaders and teachers were considered enemies of the revolution, they were callously killed and their authority usurped by violent youth. Even Mandela was considered a sell-out by these 'young lions' when he started negotiations with the President of South Africa, FW De Klerk.
If we look at South Africa today - it has very few redeeming qualities. It has the highest unemployment rates globally, is one of the most violent countries globally, and is one of the lowest-trusting societies in recent history.
We can quibble about the use of violence to fight the apartheid state. Still, we cannot underestimate the cost to the social fabric of South African society.
Ending apartheid was a moral good and a necessary good. However, the pain and violence of the People's War stain the country to this day.