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Mandela celebrations force critical look at post-Apartheid S. Africa

By Brian E. Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Jul 25, 2018 - 10:27:46 AM

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Celebrating May 1st at a trade union in South Africa Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo: UN photo

The world recently celebrated the 100th birth anniversary of the late South African leader and iconic figure Nelson (Madiba) Mandela. Madiba born July 18, 1918, became a global symbol for human rights and freedom in the fight for the liberation of the land and Africans from repressive White minority rulers and their system of apartheid. 

Dignitaries and world figures traveled to South Africa for the centennial celebration. Statesmen like former United States President Barack Obama attended to remember the significance of Mr. Mandela who died in 2013 at 95-years-old.  Pres. Obama delivered a major address July 17 in Johannesburg about Mr. Mandela’s impact, and the current global challenges in South Africa.

“On Madiba’s 100th birthday, we now stand at a crossroads,” said Mr. Obama. “A moment in time at which two very different visions of humanity’s future compete for the hearts and the minds of citizens around the world,” he added.

“Two different stories, two different narratives about who we are and who we should be. How should we respond?” he asked rhetorically.   Mr. Obama questioned if the “wave of hope,” experienced at Madiba’s 1994 release from prison was “naïve and misguided.”

Mr. Mandela greets youngster. (R) Mr. Mandela and Coretta Scott King
As Madiba’s life continues to be extolled for the struggle he waged alongside his compatriots in the African National Congress and others, conditions for Blacks in the country remain dire. The contradiction is a source of debate among some.

An objective view will conclude that after “so-called liberation” in South Africa the conditions for the masses wasn’t “profoundly impacted in a positive way,” said Ajamu Baraka, national organizer for the Black Alliance for Peace.

“Any assessment of Nelson Mandela must be connected to a critical assessment of the movement itself and its political and economic objectives,” Mr. Baraka remarked.

It’s been 24 years since Mr. Mandela and the ANC came to power and South Africa still faces serious challenges of inequity, acute poverty, crime, racial discord and questions about how land and resources taken by Whites will be redistributed to the Black majority. In short, the nation that has enjoyed being a strong economy on the African continent is in deep trouble.

“Some would agree that apartheid ended, and the people suffered much more than they are suffering now,” said Abdul Akbar Muhammad, the international representative of the Nation of Islam.

“So, we give credit to the fact of Madiba’s suffering, going to jail for 27 years and the discipline of the ANC as a party being able to win the election,” Mr. Muhammad reflected.

Crossroads Squatters Camp near Cape Town, South Africa.
But, Mr. Muhammad pointed out other factors that must be considered to understand the state of affairs in South Africa largely based on development promises the ANC made to the people that were never fulfilled.  

There are political groups now rising in opposition to the ANC after it led the independence movement and were championed at one time. But evaluating the conditions of the people, especially living at the economic bottom is the result of failed promises made by the ANC and the international community.

“Whether it’s the United States, or England,” they reneged on commitments to the ANC, that the party also passed on to the people, explained Mr. Muhammad.

As far as Madiba’s legacy, Mr. Muhammad says it should be left intact, with the understanding Madiba attempted to unify the country and prevent bloodshed between the persecuted Black majority and persecutor minority White settlers.

“Mandela made his mark in history … that he showed that he was civil in terms of coming out of prison and inviting Whites who had brutally ruled to become part of a new South Africa he wanted to build,” added Mr. Muhammad. 

However, the results were that a poorer class of Blacks were pushed further down the economic totem pole while others flourished. Too many South Africans remain excluded from participating in the economy, rendering the transition to the “post-apartheid social contract” incomplete, said a World Bank report issued in early May, this year. It characterized South Africa the most “unequal nation” in the world.

Children of farm workers near their dwelling in South Africa. Photos: UN Photo
“The Government of South Africa has done much to address its most pressing development challenges,” said Paul Noumba Um, World Bank Director for South Africa. “But, much still remains to be done,” he added. 

The report said the poverty rate, inequality, and unemployment are directly tied to its history of exclusion—which continues to exist in land, capital, labor and product markets, despite progress made since 1994.

In 2018 Black people still live in townships like Soweto while Whites occupy middle-class suburbs. Apartheid never died even under African rule.

“One has to conclude that what was negotiated by Mandela and the leadership of the ANC ended up being a bargain for the South African White minority,” Mr. Baraka explained.  

As people look at Mandela’s legacy, they must be critical about assessing where they are and how they arrived there. Mr. Baraka reasoned what is happening in South Africa is the continuation of neoliberalism which is a recipe for economic inequality.   

The only thing that is fundamentally different was the creation of a Black middle class and bourgeois who are “dependent on and subordinate to both the White capitalists and White transnational capitalists,” said Mr. Baraka.   

As yearlong celebrations of Mr. Mandela attract world renowned stars culminating with a December concert in Johannesburg, headlining Jay Z and Beyoncé, dissatisfaction among the poor is gripping the country.

South African army at Port Elizabeth.
Protests over quality of life services such as access to electricity, housing, water and sanitation, health, and social security have become a common occurrence in recent years, said Statistics SA, a group that keeps demographics of the nation’s progress. South Africa is beset with high levels of violent crime ranging from murder and rape to carjackings and muggings.

South Africa has 55 million people and is 80 percent Black, nine percent mixed and nine percent White with a GDP of $327 billion. Jobless numbers are slightly down to 26.7 percent from 27 percent posted the last quarter of 2017, says Statistics SA.

Unemployment remains relatively high for 16 to 34 year olds who make up the country’s prime working age group. Overall 9.2 million South Africans are unemployed, says the group.

Basic services like water is still difficult. 88.6 percent of South African households had access to piped water; only 74.2 percent in Eastern Cape, and 74.7 percent in Limpopo had tapped water. And 3.7 percent of households still had to fetch water from rivers, streams, stagnant water pools and dams, wells and springs in 2017. Some see the magnitude of celebration around Mr. Mandela’s 100th year as a ruse for social containment of the dissatisfied.

Mr. Baraka also raised the point that some young South Africans are resentful at what they see as the “King-a-fication” of Mandela. He compared how the most conservative components of Martin Luther King’s life was repackaged to suit the needs of a system for social control of the people. Young people in South Africa see the same effort happening to Nelson Mandela.

“They use Mandela as a social control mechanism to undermine any real authentic militancy,” reasoned Mr. Baraka. He added former Pres. Obama was in the country at the celebrations as another figure who represents the same role. These are the kind of assessments being made about Mr. Mandela.  “The meaning of Nelson Mandela, just like the meaning of Dr. King are contested,” he argued. For their legacies not to be redefined and misused, the people themselves must take back Mandela and King and control the narrative of their lives. 

“They’re not condemning Mandela; what they are condemning is the attempt to demilitarize Mandela in order to justify the current political configurations. Not only do you have massive economic contradictions, you have massive social contradictions.” The crime and rape levels are all indicative of the aborted revolutionary process in that country,” Mr. Baraka said.

These are the kind of issues that people are grappling with as they look at Mandela’s legacy. Those in the diaspora must be clear in their involvement with South Africa as a principle.

“We don’t want to be tricked and fooled into supporting individuals because they happen to look like us, but they are still primarily pushing the agenda of our enemies,” Mr. Baraka added.