The incomplete struggle for self-determination.

English: Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, Gaute...
English: Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, Gauteng, on 13 May 1998 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Freedom was bitterly fought over in South Africa.   It was not just the last episode that most seem to remember about the late Nelson Mandela.  There were assassinations, bombs, murder and much blood shed against the oppressive Apartheid regime of South Africa based on implicit European dominance.  In fact Mandela himself was linked with the armed wing of the ANC Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation).

“Self-management? Not in a 1000 years!”

The South African friend of a family in Kensington where I once worked as a child minder in my student years in 1992 expressed Apartheid best.  The very wealthy man (as was the family whose son I looked after who also came from “Rhodesia” and South Africa)  told me “confidentially” over the kitchen table, how black South Africans needed the Europeans.  “It was their luck to be enslaved, as they would not have the capacity to rule themselves, not in a 1000 years,” he claimed.  “Just look at the rest of Africa,” he stated, as if that was evidence.  The left over of years of colonialism and neo-colonialism and consequent bad political leadership used (not infrequently by many others) as evidence that Africans were after all inferior for tolerating such conditions.

Once Mandela was free, there was no reason why South Africa could not have become another Zimbabwe, by that I do not just mean the total fight of all to do with European legacy, but also the eventual inward self-destruction. Once you win over your enemy the attention frequently goes inwards.  They would have had any right to go down that route. In choosing not to Mandela  in the end abrogated his entitlement to full justice and settling instead for peace.  Of course peace is relative  It is not what Hippies thought of as the flowery union of embracing people, but much rather the absence of overt conflict.  Mandela together with Archbishop Tutu chose not just peace but also truth over justice, through the famous truth and reconciliation commission.

A saint?

It is worth remembering that it was this, along with his endurance in captivity that made him what some called a saint.  Most sympathetically, he was of course most human, as his so public struggle with his Winnie and other family relatives showed amongst others.  And humans die, although he was blessed long many years of healthy and active retirement in which he sought to inspire the world through his story. That too must be remembered, it was not about him, it was also about thanking those who helped South Africa become free  and to inspire anyone to politically engage in the future.  When people put up statues of Mandela, for many the only African politician they know, he resembles a symbol of the fight for freedom and self-determination.  The statutes and words of praise, invitations and speeches later came easier than open support in the years where it was most needed.  That important political players were supporting Apartheid over many decades is however historical fact.

But South Africa is not all free.  Inequality is still an issue in modern South Africa, from industrial and environmental exploitation and continued rich in the face of large poverty to the hate of migrants.  But  neither is the continent of Africa as a whole free.  Above all global economic interests along with extremely bad political leaders who do not lead and who do not distribute whatever resources are yielded to the benefit of all keep many parts in conflict and chains of poverty. Instead of being freed from the European, USSR and American legacies, the continent is now sold also to Chinese interests and borders that were only meant to divide Africa into chunks European powers could distribute amongst them (with some borders continuing to be as straight as the rulers that drew them) continue to be countries.  Development organisations upkeep dependency in many places, doing the jobs that governments ought to take themselves. Extreme militant and well armed Islamic movements, just as alien to most of African history as some of the version of Christianity that were imported as the excuse for colonisation and enslavement, are ravaging large areas.  As if all that was not enough huge terrorising and well armed drug cartels have left Latin America and the Caribbean and invaded huge pockets on both the Western and and Eastern coasts.

The struggle continues:

The struggle for self-determination is certainly not over. But in the end it is not just a battle  at home, but part of the obligation for democratic accountability and ethical industrial behaviour wherever we live, including how we make politicians and industry and corporates accountable in how we choose or vote.

Voting, political engagement, and being a consumer are not accidental givens, they are obligations and not to be taken lightly.


(c) Daniel Zylbersztajn 2013

Daniel Zylbersztajn studied Politics  of Africa and Third World History at SOAS, London between 1991-1995, and researched several years  a non finished phD an Black and Jewish militants and violence as method of resistance.

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