The recent characterisation of former South African President Nelson Mandela as ‘soft’ and ‘too saintly’ by President Mugabe that led to some internet and media turf with Gwede Mantashe, the African National Congress Secretary General is not new, but indicates the nonagenarian’s hidden disdain for South Africa’s Anti-Apartheid Icon. Off course, one needs no rockets scientist to prove that Mugabe’s rantings are attempts at historical revisionism that seeks to create a legendary and revolutionary ‘Self’.
President Nelson Mandela
In May 2013, Mugabe in Dali Tambo’s programme, People of the South, rubbished Mandela as ‘soft’ and someone who sold out to ‘White’ people. Such claims have the potential effect of misrepresenting and bastardising history particularly given the increasingly contested nature of policy direction and national priorities in post-colonial African societies. The wrong characterisation of Mandela is full of historical factual flaws and amnesia. It represents an elisionistic interpretation of history that seeks to create ‘sell outs’ and ‘revolutionaries’ or in Professor Terrence Ranger’s words, ‘a patriotic history’ full of false consciousness. This opine will argue that, failing to question such historical misrepresentations may undermine people’s voices in charting policy direction and national priorities in the post colony as former liberation movement leaders plunder and pillage public resources under the guise of a revolution. Furthermore, it will be argued that in the current episode that invited SG Mantashe to defend Mandela’s legacy and Dali Tambo’s interview; Mugabe disingenuously seeks to re-invent his image as a Robin Hood of Africans, while ignoring the reality of the politics of decolonisation.
It is undeniable that colonialism and apartheid dehumanised and disempowered Black Africans. This op-ed will therefore not engage with that discourse, as there is no need for re-emphasis. However, by labelling Mandela as too good and saintly to non-black people (whites in particular),is flawed in two ways. The first assumption is to reduce the African National Congress (ANC) and all its members into ‘political yoyos’ of Mandela. This reasoning insinuates that Mandela ran the ANC as a personal fiefdom just as President Mobutu of Zaire (now DRC) or Kamuzu Banda of Malawi did, to an extend that all that mattered in post-apartheid South African politics was Mandela.
President Mobutu Sese Seko
Whilst Mandela managed to serve as a uniting figure and brand for the ANC in post-apartheid South Africa it would be wrong to claim that the new South Africa to which he agreed to, was as result of one man feat. It should be noted that during President Mandela’s time, Deputy President Thabo Mbeki was almost the defacto president of the Republic of South Africa as he almost literally ran the day to day affairs of government; an observation alluded to by Mark Gevisser in his book, “Thabo Mbeki The Dream Deferred” and William Mervin Gumede’s book, “Thabo Mbeki and The Battle For The Soul Of The ANC”. This was necessitated by the realisation within the ANC that while Mandela has been a fatherly symbol of perseverance, dignity and reconciliation, floating above the fray as a kind of patron saint of that grand compromise, there was need for a new broom to take over the reins of state power and chart the discourse of transformation. Therefore, the compromise by the ANC under the leadership of Mandela exhibited great visionary and maturity, for nations are never built on populism. Henceforth, Mandela was neither soft nor a sell-out but a pragmatic leader who was quite aware, that while the Blacks had the numbers, the Whites had the guns and the money. Thus, it was not desirable to threaten the no black community and there was need for compromise as failure to do so may have prolonged instability unnecessarily.
Secondly, the argument of ‘Mandela the saint’ also disingenuously attempts to ignore the realities of the politics of decolonisation and nation building. One fundamental question that faced liberation movements in Africa especially those that were former settler colonies was the question of the architecture of new society in particular racial relations. Given this scenario the ANC and even Robert Mugabe’s ZANU PF were faced with the same dilemma and had to agree to a settlement agreement that did not threaten the former colonisers. Thus in 1980 Mugabe had to say, “
Thirdly, Mugabe’s rants on Mandela suggests a linear history for Zimbabwe from 1980 to the present. In this history, Mugabe is painted as a blemish-less revolutionary fighter who has managed to give back Black people their Land and Natural Resources. Not does only Mugabe belittles Mandela, but also former ANC President, Oliver Reginald Tambo. It is reported in the Herald of 8th of September that in an address to business leaders, Mugabe retorted; “I remember TG Silundika and myself talking to Oliver Tambo to say, aah (sic) you are just fighting for the removal of apartheid and not independence as we were doing and they said independence it was given to us by Britain in 1910 on the 31st of May”. The import was to paint Tambo, Mandela and the ANC as not revolutionary enough like himself and ZANU PF, yet deliberately omitted in Mugabe’s story is the location of where they had the discussion and the agenda that had brought them together. In addition, Tambo spent time in exile (Zimbabwe included) organising the fight against apartheid and the question that begs is if they had been given independence in in 1910 why would the ANC’s ‘Umkhonto weSizwe’ make alliances with the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) to fight the Rhodesians, if they really believed they were independent. In the same meeting with Zimbabwe’s business people Mugabe further rubbishes Tambo and the ANC by claiming that “They went that way; it was an easy way”.
President Oliver Tambo
All this, is meant to create a heroic and super Mugabe and at the same time attempts to mask the plunder and mayhem that the Mugabes have caused within Zimbabwe and South Africa. The millions of Zimbabwean economic and political refugees in South Africa and the region, the bashing of Gabriella Engels by Grace and the Mugabe Boys’ profligacy that makes Kenny Kunene green with envy are some of the ills that president Mugabe seeks to mask. No wonder, Gwede Mantashe correctly observed that they don’t research about Zimbabwe’s crisis, but they meet it every day on South African streets. Interestingly Mugabe conveniently forgets his cajole to Dali Tambo in 2013 after disparaging Mandela; “If Tambo’s father was alive, the ANC would be different”. It is still the same Oliver Tambo whom he claims went the easy route when addressing Zimbabwean business leaders, four years earlier on, he claimed would have led a different ANC. There are fundamental historical flaws in these assumptions by Mugabe. This creates the flaw of ‘pitfalls of national consciousness’ as articulated by Frantz Fanon besetting the land reform and indigenisation process. It took president Mugabe’s government 20 years to compulsory acquire land, and to further show the insincerity of his government to distribute land it had to take ZANU PF two years to pass amendments to the Land Act to include the Land seizures that had begun in 2000.
The period before the fast track land programme was marked by ZANU PF wining and dining with white capital and agriculture. Mugabe’s government was never at comfort with having an empowered black business or agricultural class. This explains Strive Masiyiwa’s struggle to get a licence, despite that ECONET has become the most successful business company by any black Zimbabwean.
Zimbabwe's Business Greats: James Makamba and Mutumwa Mawere
There is a litany of cases where, black entrepreneurs were haunted out of Zimbabwe and some of them like Mutumwa Mawere are still fighting to get back their business empire from the government. In addition to this, the people of Marange and Chisumbanje have experienced land dispossession as Mugabe’s Chinese allies and alleged ZANU PF financier Billy Rautenbach get preference to exploit the land at the expense of ordinary villagers who have lived in these areas for very long periods of time. Off late, Grace Mugabe, in typical fashion of the biblical Queen Jezebel used state institutions to evict beneficiaries of the “Third Chimurenga” (Zimbabwe’s fast track land reform programme) at Manzou Farm- 60kms from Harare- to pave way for the establishment of her private game park. These new farmers have settled on this farm for 17 years and only to be removed because Zimbabwe’s First Lady developed interests on the farm. There are many cases where Zimbabwe’s beneficiaries are being dispossessed to pave way for the politically connected and elite. This is Mugabe’s toughness and revolution.
There seems to be a growing mistaken realisation that by disenfranchising white people that will transform into prosperity for black people. Political and Economic transformation means going beyond pigmentation, and not all black people act in the interest of black people. Blackness has never been a homogenous class and similarly a black leadership does not mean the end of poverty for black people. Furthermore, the characterisation of Mandela as ‘soft’ is historical dishonesty and at the same time fails to recognise the realities of the politics of decolonisation that existed. Lastly, Mugabe is not a revolutionary, but a former liberation leader turned into a despot that has outlived his time. For the South Africans and SADC region it is time that they realise “A stitch in time serves nine”, and they need to help Zimbabweans solve its crisis by making sure the 2018 elections are free and fair, and at the same time settle the political legitimacy question once and for all. Even if, it may mean that it is time for new brooms.