On December 5, Mandela died peacefully at home in Johannesburg. Cause of death was respiratory failure. He was 95.
Supporters called him a dreamer of big dreams. His legacy fell woefully short. More on that below.
“The ANC has never at any period of its history advocated a revolutionary change in the economic structure of the country, nor has it, to the best of my recollection, ever condemned capitalist society.”
In 1964, he was sentenced to life in prison. He was mostly incarcerated on Robben Island. It’s in Table Bay. It’s around 7km offshore from Cape Town.
In February 1990, he was released. In 1993, he received the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with South African President FW de Klerk.
Nobel Committee members said it was “for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa.”
De Klerk enforced the worst of apartheid ruthlessness. In 1994, Mandela was elected president. He served from May 1994 – June 1999.
He exacerbated longstanding economic unfairness. He deserves condemnation, not praise.
John Pilger’s work exposed South African apartheid harshness. Doing so got him banned. Thirty years later he returned.
He wanted to see firsthand what changed. He interviewed Mandela in retirement. His “Apartheid Did Not Die” documentary followed.
“Behind the modern face of democracy, the scourges of inequality, unemployment and homelessness persist,” he said.
White supremacy remained unchanged. It’s no different today. A few blacks share wealth, power and privilege. The vast majority of black society is worse off than under apartheid.
Mandela embraced the worst of neoliberal harshness. His successors follow the same model.
Pilger posed tough questions. He asked Mandela how ANC freedom fighting ended up embracing Thatcherism.
Mandela responded saying:
“You can put any label on it you like. You can call it Thatcherite but, for this country, privatization is the fundamental policy.”
Pilger discovered that 80% of South African children suffered poor health. One-fourth under age six were ill nourished.
During Mandela’s tenure, more South Africans died from malnutrition and preventable diseases than under apartheid.
Concentrated wealth is more extreme than ever. White farmers control over 80% of agricultural land. They dominate choicest areas.
Pilger said about one-fourth of South Africa’s budget goes for interest on odious debt.
He explained how five major corporations control over three-fourths of business interests. They dominate South African life.
Concentrated wealth and power are extreme. Whites control about 90% of national wealth. A select few black businessmen, politicians and trade union leaders benefit with them.
The dominant Anglo-American Corporation is hugely exploitive. Gold mining exacts an enormous human cost.
Pilger said one death and 12 serious injuries accompany each ton of gold mined. One-third of workers contract deadly lung disease. They’re left on their own to suffer and die.
Post-apartheid democracy reflects the worst of free market capitalism. It’s bereft of freedom. Reform denies it.
Mandela’s “unbreakable promise” was forgotten. In 1990, two weeks before freed from prison, he said:
“The nationalization of the mines, banks and monopoly industries is the policy of the ANC (and changing) our views…is inconceivable.”
“Black economic empowerment is a goal we fully support and encourage, but in our situation state control of certain sectors of the economy is unavoidable.”
In 1955, ANC’s Freedom Charter declared “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people.”
“The people shall govern! All national groups shall have equal rights!”
“The people shall share in the country’s wealth!”
“The land shall be shared among those who work it!”
“All shall be equal before the law!”
“All shall enjoy equal human rights!”
“There shall be work and security!”
“The doors of learning and culture shall be opened!”
“There shall be houses, security and comfort!”
“There shall be peace and friendship!”
“Let all people who love their people and their country now say, as we say here:
THESE FREEDOMS WE WILL FIGHT FOR, SIDE BY SIDE, THROUGHOUT OUR LIVES, UNTIL WE HAVE WON OUR LIBERTY”
Liberation was supposed to be economic, social and political. White worker wages were manyfold more than black ones. White mine workers earned 10 times more than blacks.
Post-apartheid promised change never materialized. Mandela embraced the worst of free market orthodoxy.
Before his election, journalist Anthony Sampson said he agreed “to reduce the deficit, to high interest rates and to an open economy, in return for access to an IMF loan of $850 million, if required.”
It comes with strings. Structural adjustments mandate harshness. They require privatization of state enterprises, mass layoffs, deregulation, deep social spending cuts, unrestricted market access for Western corporations, corporate tax cuts, marginalizing trade unionism, and harsh crackdowns on nonbelievers.
Mandela told South African workers to “tighten (their) belts.”
“(A)ccept low wages so that investment would flow.”
“We must rid ourselves of the culture of entitlement that leads to the expectation that the government must promptly deliver whatever it is that we demand.”
“Apartheid never died in South Africa,” said Pilger. “It inspired a world order upheld by force and illusion.”
Mandela stood at the crossroads. He seemed poised to lead a new direction. His popularity and bigger than life persona empowered him.
He had a unique chance to reject neoliberal orthodoxy. ANC candidates swept 1994 elections.
Mandela became president. A peaceful transition was achieved. Privileged white interests maintained real power.
Mandela’s agenda could have been different. He could followed what Chavez successfully instituted in Venezuela.
He chose not to. Black South Africans paid dearly. Mandela’s legacy remains tainted. He relegated his people to horrific post-apartheid conditions.
“Just call me a Thatcherite,” he said. He adopted free market fundamentalist harshness. Neoliberal shock therapy followed. It works the same way wherever it’s introduced.
The toll on black South Africans was devastating. He and other ANC leaders bear full responsibility. People living on less than $1 a day doubled.
From 1991 – 2002, unemployment soared to 48%. It remains disturbingly high. Officially it’s around 26%. It’s much higher.
Youth unemployment exceeds 50%. About 80% of unemployed young people never worked or had jobs longer than a year.
During the first decade of ANC rule, around two million South Africans lost homes. Another one million lost farms. Shack dwelling increased 50%.
One-fourth or more of South Africans have no running water or electricity. Around 40% of schools have no electricity.
About 50% of South Africans have inadequate sanitation. Around 40% have no telephones.
HIV/AIDS remains a major problem. South Africa has the world’s largest number of affected people. Officially it’s over five million. Unofficially it’s higher.
It’s more than in North America, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Central Asia combined.
Post-apartheid, life expectancy declined by 13 years. In 2011, it was 58, according to the World Health Organization. It ranks below Afghanistan at 60 years.
Overall South African conditions remain deplorable. They exceed the worst of apartheid harshness. Neoliberal exploitation exacted a horrific toll.
Mandela could have made a difference. He chose Thatcherism over economic fairness. Betrayal defines his legacy.
He relegated millions of black South Africans to permanent destitution, unemployment, hunger, malnutrition, homelessness, lost futures and early deaths.
His bigger than life persona is undeserved. So are eulogies praising his accomplishments. They reflect figments of historical revisionism.