Man­dela’s legacy is in­tact

CityPress - - Voices - Mondli Makhanya voices@city­

Last Satur­day’s Cosatu rally in Dur­ban was sup­posed to have been about cel­e­brat­ing the fed­er­a­tion’s 30th year of ex­is­tence. It was meant to be about salut­ing the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s found­ing gen­er­a­tion and pay­ing trib­ute to the achieve­ments it had chalked up.

But per­haps as a sign of the times, things got de­railed. It be­came a plat­form to de­fend the legacy of a 95-year-old icon who had de­parted from our planet two years ago and to trash the be­hav­iour of a 34-year-old leader who is still very much with us.

Lead­ers of the ANC al­liance took turns to ha­rangue Eco­nomic Free­dom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema for ques­tion­ing Nel­son Man­dela’s legacy on a re­cent lec­ture tour in Lon­don.

Cosatu pres­i­dent Sdumo Dlamini wagged a fin­ger at naughty Malema and said: “Shame on these chil­dren that do not re­spect the el­ders ... Shame on these chil­dren that can un­der­mine all of us in this coun­try and call him [Man­dela] a sell­out. Shame on you, Julius.”

Deputy Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa cas­ti­gated “peace­time rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies” who “know noth­ing about the strug­gle”.

“Nel­son Man­dela was not a sell­out. He never sold out. Nel­son Man­dela stayed in prison for 27 painful years be­cause he wouldn’t sell out. Nel­son Man­dela was a hero of our rev­o­lu­tion,” a re­port­edly an­gry Ramaphosa told the crowd.

The SA Com­mu­nist Party’s Blade Nz­i­mande chimed in, ac­cus­ing the EFF of pop­ulism and gam­bling with the rev­o­lu­tion.

The three lead­ers were adding to a cho­rus of con­dem­na­tion of Malema since he made the re­marks three weeks ago. Politi­cians, fam­ily mem­bers and friends have been climb­ing on their soap­boxes to pro­nounce that Man­dela was not a sell­out.

It is the strangest thing, this clam­our to de­fend the legacy of a man who needs no de­fend­ing. No amount of in­vec­tive aimed at Man­dela can tar­nish his record or over­whelm the del­uge of trib­utes he re­ceived in life and at the time of his death. His is not a con­tested legacy.

All the same, we should not shy away from ques­tion­ing some de­ci­sions he took, omis­sions he made and the pol­icy di­rec­tions he took us in.

Let’s take the fight against HIV/Aids, for in­stance. By his own ad­mis­sion, Man­dela’s ad­min­is­tra­tion woke up late to the enor­mity of the Aids scourge that was al­ready fac­ing the coun­try when the ANC took power in 1994.

Mostly fo­cused on es­tab­lish­ing a new state and rolling out ser­vices the ma­jor­ity had been de­prived of in the past, Man­dela’s gov­ern­ment failed to ap­ply an ur­gency to the pan­demic and slow it down. It re­ceived at­ten­tion, but not quite the pri­or­ity sta­tus it de­served.

By the time South Africa em­barked on mas­sive pre­ven­tion pro­grammes in the early 2000s, much dam­age had been done. Man­dela, who had left of­fice in 1999, had by now made HIV/Aids one of his big­gest post-pres­i­dency cam­paigns. He never shied away from say­ing “we could have done more” in his years in of­fice.

And what of the “sell­out” la­bel that is be­ing bandied about? What of the no­tion gain­ing cur­rency that the agree­ment that brought about the 1994 democ­racy was a sell­out deal and is re­spon­si­ble for racially de­fined eco­nomic in­equal­ity and largely un­chained eco­nomic struc­ture. It is ob­vi­ously silly and ahis­tor­i­cal.

The deal, which was sealed in the dy­ing days of 1993, was largely a po­lit­i­cal deal. It paved the way for black peo­ple to wield po­lit­i­cal power and made trans­for­ma­tion a con­sti­tu­tional im­per­a­tive.

The Con­sti­tu­tion, which was fi­nalised by a con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly that had a 63% ANC ma­jor­ity, is an em­pow­er­ing one. Much of the trans­for­ma­tive leg­is­la­tion en­acted af­ter the adop­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion gives which­ever ad­min­is­tra­tion in of­fice the power to ef­fect change rapidly or over time. There is no need to over­turn the 1994 set­tle­ment to ef­fect change in South Africa. What is re­quired is po­lit­i­cal will, some­thing that has been sorely lack­ing.

So those who want to de­fend Man­dela against the sell­out la­bels can pull the car­pet out from un­der his crit­ics by us­ing the in­stru­ments at their dis­posal to ef­fect change.

They should go be­yond ram­bling about “rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion” and use the power they pos­sess to achieve it. Sit­ting around and suck­ing their thumbs – pre­sum­ably be­cause they do not want to rock the boat – per­pet­u­ates in­equal­ity and does a dis­ser­vice not only to the Man­dela legacy, but to the work done by those who crafted the 1994 deal.

Those who did not crit­i­cise Man­dela while he lived – some­thing he en­cour­aged cit­i­zens to do – and now find it easy to take pot­shots at him should note the words of the great Julius Ny­erere: “It would be both wrong, cer­tainly un­nec­es­sary, to feel we must wait un­til the lead­ers are dead be­fore we crit­i­cise them.”

Every imag­in­able racist trope has been used un­der the ban­ner of ‘crit­i­cism’ and/or ‘satire’

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