By the Marxist Workers School of South Africa, 15 December 2013
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the first democratic-elected president of the Republic of South Africa, revolutionary and freedom fighter, commander-in-chief of Umkhonto weSizwe, political prisoner, statesman and beloved father of the nation, died on the 5 December 2013.
South Africa is in mourning. Africa mourns, and, indeed, hundreds of millions of people around the world are mourning.
How did a political prisoner of 27 years, classified as a terrorist not only by the apartheid state but by all western powers, become so loved that a young woman in Brooklyn, New Jersey, when interviewed on TV remarked: “Mandela is the only state president who will be missed”?
The question is, what does Nelson Mandela personify, and what does he stand for which makes him tower above others?
To understand who Mandela was, we need to go back deep into the dark days of Apartheid, when the National Party came to power.
Within the ANC, a conservative leadership had taken control, which had no strategy to counter the offensive of white capital and its National Party state structure. Within the ANC Youth League, a new and more radical leadership formed itself around Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe.
These young revolutionaries were inspired by the anti-colonial struggle gripping Africa at the time; they were inspired by the ant-imperialist struggles throughout the oppressed world; they reached out to the progressive white community; and they recognised the Indian and Coloured communities in South Africa as part of the oppressed and formed an alliance with representative organisations from those communities in a common struggle for freedom and democracy.
Most importantly, instead of debating the plight of our oppressed people in small circles, they went to the masses, organising them around such concrete issues as education, living conditions and political repression.
Through effective mobilisation, they not only frustrated some of the repressive measures of the apartheid system but eventually took over the leadership of the ANC itself.
The movement grew to become such a formidable force that the Apartheid government was unable to control and subdue it. In desperation, the state resorted to mass killings like the Sharpeville massacre.
The response of the people was to redouble their efforts of resistance and to stage even more mass protests. The regime then responded by banning the ANC, PAC and other political parties. All political activities, public gatherings and demonstrations were banned.
Nelson Mandela, together with Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Govern Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni, Billy Nair, Dennis Goldberg, Rusty Bernstein and others took the historical decision to go underground so as to continue the political struggle of the ANC.
They also formed a military wing of the movement called Umkhonto weSizwe – the Spear of the Nation – in order to confront reactionary and fascist state violence with revolutionary people’s violence. The armed struggle was born.
It is this historic and principled decision, in a situation in which all doors had been closed to peaceful protest, to call for mass mobilisation and armed struggle in order to defeat the enemy that made Mandela a true leader.
He became the first commander-in-chief of Umkhonto weSizwe. After his arrest, which the CIA was instrumental in bringing about, Mandela and nine other ANC leaders were put on trial.
Like Comrade Georgi Dimitrov, who used his trial by the German fascist state to expose Nazi fascism to the whole world, Mandela used his own trial to expose the racist nature of the apartheid system and to defend democratic and anti-racist principles. He closed his defence with the now famous statement:
During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
This statement reflected the aspirations of millions of oppressed black working men and women throughout South Africa. His refusal to bow under pressure, torture and repression was a reflection of the steadfastness of our people. Mandela was one with our people.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour. He went on to break stones together with other political prisoners under the hot African sun from dawn to dusk for many, many years.
The apartheid state, in accordance with its cruel nature, took those stones from Robben Island and used them to build monuments, court houses and many other symbols of its tyrannical rule and for the glory of the apartheid system.
Mandela did not once complain about his fate. Instead, he was at the forefront of organising the struggle for better conditions within the prison, demanding proper medical care for prisoners, the right to read newspapers and books, and the right of political prisoners to study.
Above all, and from his first day behind bars, he spearheaded the struggle of political prisoners to be treated with dignity.
As a result of these struggles, a number of political prisoners in the 1970s and 80s left Robben Island highly educated. By 1994, many were ready to take up positions in the newly-formed democratic South Africa.
In 1984/85 the struggle intensified. The underground structures of the ANC, the labour movement and the United Democratic Front developed into a mass movement, and South Africa became ungovernable.
The apartheid state approached Mandela and offered him and all other imprisoned leaders the chance to walk out of prison on the condition that they renounce the armed struggle.
This strategy, most certainly under the recommendation of US and British advisors, was aimed at dividing the ANC into exiled and internal wings, and then at setting one faction against the other.
Mandela refused to comply, however. Instead, he issued a statement confirming his unconditional support for the armed struggle and reaffirmed the unity of the ANC under the leadership of Oliver Tambo. He further stated that he would walk out of prison with no conditions attached or he would not walk out at all.
The apartheid strategy to divide the ANC collapsed. It was this principled stand that earned Mandela the respect of the entire movement. Four years later, when Oliver Tambo had just suffered a stroke, all political prisoners were released and Nelson Mandela emerged from prison as the unquestioned leader of the ANC and of the entire democratic mass movement against apartheid.
During the Kempton Park negotiations, he emerged, even before being inaugurated as the first democratically-elected president of South Africa, as a statesmen overshadowing the last apartheid president to such an extent that at the end of negotiations de Klerk was reduced to an ordinary member at the negotiating table.
Mandela exposed de Klerk as a man without integrity in full view of the entire nation when he caught him back-stabbing and double-dealing.
Just before the 1994 elections, ANC security found out that de Klerk and a number of army officers in the South African defence force were planning a military coup d’état.
Mandela understood that the South African Defence Force was still loyal to the arch-racist PW Botha, who had been the apartheid president before de Klerk. He travelled directly to Botha’s residence and, during an extremely heated encounter, insisted that Botha call off the coup, warning that if it went ahead he would call for an all-out war of armed resistance.
Botha backed down and called off the coup, and Mandela helped South Africa avoid what could have been one of the most brutal and barbaric civil wars of the 20th century. This moment was the end of de Klerk’s political life, and Mandela will be remembered for generations to come as the leader who rose up to the occasion, avoiding bloodshed and genocide and ushering in the first democratic government in the history of our country.
Mandela was able to talk with authority, to threaten PW Botha and stand his ground because the entire resistance movement stood as one man behind him, determined and disciplined.
No sooner had Nelson Mandela been inaugurated as the state president than the imperialist countries, especially the United States, escalated their pressure on him to distance himself from socialist Cuba and its leader Comrade Fidel Castro, to distance himself from Libya and its leader Muammar Gaddafi, and to distance himself from supporting the national-liberation struggle of the Palestinian people and the chairman of the PLO, Yasser Arafat.
Nelson Mandela stood firm and held his ground, however. He declared that Cuba and Libya, Fidel and Gaddafi, had supported the anti-Apartheid struggle throughout our darkest years. There was a bond of friendship between our people born out of a common struggle, he said; we will not betray our friends.
On the issue of Palestine, Mandela declared that the struggle of the Palestinian people for national liberation against zionism was a just struggle. We will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Palestinian people and their just struggle, he confirmed.
Ultimately, imperialism had to give up its pressure. Every confrontation with Mandela exposed the reactionary role and intentions of imperialism. Intellectually, the occupants of the White House and Downing Street were no match for Mandela and his integrity!
In the build-up to the Nato invasion of Iraq, Mandela openly confronted the United States, exposing its bloodthirsty and inhuman plans and condemning the invasion as a crime against humanity!
Obama, in his typically hypocritical speech at Johannesburg’s FNB stadium, where the world met to mourn the passing of Comrade Nelson, declared that Mandela had taught him to be a “better man”.
Perhaps this would have been more convincing if, as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the United States of America, Obama had done something to stop the endless slaughter of men, women and children in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Somalia.
Perhaps he could start by ending the torture and sodomising of political prisoners, dismantle the US’s secret torture prisons and close the Guantánamo Bay concentration camp.
Perhaps he could start by removing the US’s armed forces from close to 100 countries around the world and instead behave like the representative of a civilised country amongst civilised countries.
Perhaps he could start by ending the barbaric 60-year economic boycott against socialist Cuba and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – two countries that pose absolutely no threat to the United States.
Perhaps he could start by destroying the biggest arsenal of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in the world – namely, the weapons of mass destruction of the United States.
US imperialism has inflicted mass murder and genocide, committed war crimes and launched barbaric military invasions against the peoples of Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, Libya and Syria. In the last 50 years alone, it has installed brutal military juntas all over Latin America, Africa and Asia.
George Bush, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama have nothing in common with Mandela the revolutionary, with Mandela the statesman, or with Mandela the man, who more than once put his own life on the line to avoid bloodshed and civil war.
The heads of all western imperialist countries were present at Mandela’s funeral. Not because they share any of his noble values, but because all of them are in desperate need to be seen to be ‘close’ to Mandela – the only president in the world who is admired and respected by the masses in the imperialist countries.
This is especially true following the criminal invasion of Iraq in 2003, justified by imperialist leaders on the basis of ‘evidence’ of Iraq’s weapon of mass destruction that turned out to be complete fabricated.
It is especially true following the introduction of the ‘no-fly zone’ in Libya, which was justified by the imperialists as being necessary in order to ‘save peaceful demonstrators’. Twenty-four hours later, the world’s people watched in horror as Nato forces launched terror-bombing raids that paved the way for a counter-revolution to destroy all the social, political and economic achievements of the Libyan revolution since the overthrow of feudalism 40 years ago – inflicting terror and genocide against black Libyans in the process.
Moreover, the imperialists organised and coordinated the barbaric slaughter of the popular leader of the Libyan revolution, Muammar Gaddafi, and of thousands of other Libyan revolutionaries.
And since then, in the last two years, the world has witnessed how US, British and French imperialism has organised and financed the counter-revolution in Syria. The routine slaughtering of hundreds of thousands of people, and the destruction of entire states has once again become the order of the day.
Millions of ordinary people around the world, including in the imperialist countries, are aware of these crimes committed in the name of freedom and democracy. The leaders of the so-called ‘Free World’ have been exposed as war criminals, as brutal oppressors and shameless warmongers.
In order to save at least a bit of their damaged image, and driven by sheer desperation as their war crimes are catching up with them, they huddled around Mandela’s body, mumbling phrases about ‘forgiveness’ and becoming a ‘better person’. But Mandela will not exonerate them of their crimes and their victims will neither forget nor forgive them.
Progressive and revolutionary forces around the world should expose these imperialist leaders as opportunists, liars and charlatans. They have nothing in common with Mandela, and we should make sure that they do not succeed in driving a wedge between the real Mandela and the anti-colonial, anti-apartheid and anti-imperialist struggles of our people in South Africa, Africa and the world.
The desperate efforts of our exploiters and oppressors to define who Mandela was, what he stood for and what values he represented, using cinema, TV, radio and print, is nothing but cultural imperialism at its worst.
The aim of this propaganda is to colonise our minds, weaken our resolve, split the anti-imperialist struggles of Africa and open the gates for a full-scale economic and military recolonisation of our continent.
Needless to say, all their reactionary plans will ultimately fail. Africa will not be recolonised either by US or EU imperialism.
Long live the revolutionary spirit of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela!
Let Mandela’s revolutionary life, his discipline, commitment and his loyalty to the oppressed be an inspiration to future generations of liberation fighters!
Our long walk to freedom will continue until oppression and exploitation, war and hunger, ignorance and poverty are a thing of the past. To this end, let us celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela, defend his revolutionary legacy in the face of distortions and lies and intensify the struggle against imperialism! There is no better way we can honour this outstanding son of the African soil!
Long live Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela!