01/01/2014

Mandela and South Africa

There is no doubt that a lot of the coverage of Mandela's death was over the top, especially from the BBC, but I suppose that was always to be expected. It would be interesting to know how many people they had in South Africa in the end, more than would be needed I guess.

I did find some of the coverage from the right a bit churlish. Yes he was convicted but what were the ANC to do? In my simple world if you can change the political landscape through the ballot box you are a terrorist, if you can't you're a freedom fighter. OK, so there's some grey areas and I'm not saying that bombing civilians is justifiable, but that's for a separate debate.

As for the charge of Communist, yes he probably was but to be fair to him he was quite liberal as President. It also needs to be remembered that South Africa was seen as a major pawn in the Cold War and Russia helped fund the ANC and that the CIA in all probability funded and helped the Apartheid Government. At the time if you were against Apartheid you joined the ANC which was a broad church that did include the Communist Party, but that didn't make you a communist.

In all the praise for Mandela I felt that two people who played a key part in bring about a peaceful end to Apartheid and transition to a functioning democracy didn't get enough praise: FW de Klerk and Bishop/Reverend Desmond Tutu. FW De Klerk managed to convince the whites that it was safe to allow black majority rule, no mean feat when you look at what happened in Zimbabwe. There are problems and no doubt there will be more calls for land reform and white farmers evicted, but so far its been fairly peaceful, even in rural areas. Claims of genocide against white farmers are dismissed in this More or Less programme (scroll down to the programme of sat, 14 Dec 2013)

I have always found Bishop Tutu an irritating man but acknowledge he played a major role in the peaceful transformation. His preaching of forgiveness and tolerance and leadership of the Truth and Reconciliation process deserves much more international recognition.

The role of sanctions hasn't been mentioned much, which surprised me. In his autobiography FW de Klerk says that it was the biggest single factor that brought Apartheid to an end. He describes a meeting with business leaders when they tell him that the country just can't continue and it is at that point that his mind is finally made up. (OK I haven't read it recently so I may be playing that meeting up a bit).

The sanctions were a source of political debate in this country with one of the reasons for opposing them being that they harmed blacks more than whites. I remember discussing this with the former MK members and non members I worked for when in South Africa and they were all adamant that point was wrong and that as they were at war it was expected that all would have to suffer. Interestingly the left used that argument to oppose sanctions against Iran and Iraq, but were the biggest supporters of sanctions in South Africa. (Gross generalisation noted)

Surprisingly not all blacks were pleased with black majority rule. I was working in South Africa just before the second election in 1999. We had a few days off and stayed in a hotel just outside Kruger Park. I asked the very black bar maid if she was looking forward to the next elections and was greeted with a very firm but very glum "no". It turns out there had been an increase in violence and she was willing to trade freedom for security.

There is still much to do in South Africa because despite what you see on TV it is a desperately poor country. A major problem is the infrastructure, roads, electricity, hospitals etc was built for 10% of the population that was white and when I was there it just couldn't cope with supporting the whole country. I don't see much has got better.

I see from reports that the ANC is fracturing and this is a good thing, its done its job and it should not have a divine right to power. Like all left wing organisations it is incompetent in economic terms and hasn't brought the growth and wealth that South Africa needs and has the capability of generating. The New Year sees a General Election in South Africa and whilst the ANC is unlikely to lose its majority it is to be hoped that it is severely dented and that there is a rise in other parties.

One final story. The organisation I was working for was bidding for a mobile cellular licence. It was a led by an intersecting character called Bushey Kalobonye who appeared to be quite well connected inside the ANC. Anyway one afternoon he grabbed me and said he wanted to meet one the the "backers" who I was told was very influential. We went across to a small bar in the sports club opposite the office a proceeded to get very drunk whilst I was questioned by the backer. I don't remember a great deal more but who ever he was he looked very much like this guy.

Bushey told me once that he had been in North Korea for a couple of years as head of some sort of world communist youth movement as the only safe place for him because he was wanted, but he never said what for. I see that there is a youth movement in the ANC named that appears to be named after him.

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