Sunday, July 18, 2010

I am a Mandela dissenter

I hate to admit it. In fact, it is probably dangerous to admit it. But I am. I really am a Mandela dissident! I have to confess to being more than a bit bewildered by the "proclamation" of "Mandela Day". As I am by the extraordinary zeal that there is, in his universal and international adoration.

Now, let me say immediately that of course he is a wonderful human being. Of course he is! And I have no doubt that these musings of mine will be swept aside on the tide of popularism, but these are some of the things which alarm me:

Firstly, I have a real problem with political and national deification. Analysis later on almost always proves the greatest heroes to be flawed, in one way or another. Think of the Churchills; the Malans; the Smuts's; perhaps even the Gandhis and the Nehrus. Time exposes them and their flaws lie there in ridged profile against the sky, for all to see. And what becomes completely clear, with the benefit of hindsight, is how time and context bound each of them are.

Secondly, popular opinion is a very unreliable test of sainthood. Hitler, after all, was an exceedingly popular man.

Thirdly. Have we forgotten the Arms deal? I think, somewhere down the line, when all the euphoria and adulation has died down, this single deal, under Mandela's presidency, will prove to be the source of a great deal of the poison in South African society today.

Fourthly, despite occasional, weak appeals to the contrary, a cult of personality (benign though it might be) has been allowed to develop - not only within the ANC, but within the country as a whole. And that, to my mind is going to be our great undoing. It is anathema to the ANC - or at least it was, during Oliver Tambo's time. And the fact that it is allowed - (and now more than encouraged, it is virtually institutionalised) is, (or at least should be) a very worrying development.

The result has been to take the sting out of ANC policy - and replace it with warm fuzzy feelings, while the crooks can just get on with their business. And is it not extremely strange that Mandela - the man - can somehow be divorced from the ANC as an organisation, in some sectors of the popular mind? Because it is one thing to love Mandela and call him "Tata". It is quite another to accept that his vision for the country is an ANC vision, and always has been. On the other hand, the annual hullabaloo about Nelson Mandela seems to have absolutely no impact on the divisions and ructions within the ruling party. Everything just carries on as it has before, after brief pause of tearful adulation.

Fifthly, I do not believe that one can heal either the racism endemic in our society, or issues of economic disempowerment, by creating fantasy all the time. That, after all, is what the 2010 FIFA World Cup was all about. We all walked around in a fantasy - the fantasy was that we all love each other and that we are all happy together; the fantasy was that we can all walk around at night in big cities in fancy dress, without looking over one's shoulder all the time.

Mandela is another fantasy. He is the fantasy that we all love each other and respect each other and do good for each other. He is the fantasy that we are a major player on the world stage and that the world gives a fig about us. He is the fantasy that personal sacrifice and hardship will do good to everyone generally.

So we can love Mandela and underpay our workers. We can love Mandela and be an unconverted racist on every other matter. We can love Mandela and steal the state coffers blind. We can threaten and kill foreigners who come from other African countries and ignore the fact that Graca Machel comes from Mozambique. We can do it, because we can hoist the fantasy - and everyone will be so busy cheering and waving flags in an orgy of patriotism and fuzzy feeling that they don't see the wood for the economic trees.

Lastly, and in this regard, I don't think that Nelson Mandela can take very much credit for the fundamental task of changing the lot of the poor in this country. Yes, he got Oprah to build an elite school here, and other rich people to donate towards this hospital and that child clinic there. But the lot of the poor remains - to this day - mostly unchanged. That is Mandela's other legacy.

1 comment:

  1. Hi. I love the fantasy of Nelson Mandela. I don't think he would choose all this adulation. It is largely media created. However he still does, in my mind at least stand head and shoulders above the rest of S.A's "leaders" in his humility and good grace to all the citizens of S. A.