Nelson Mandela’s individual contribution to the struggle for political freedom cannot be underestimated, writes Julius Malema.
There is no doubt that Nelson Mandela is one of the greatest people in the history of humanity, due to his resilience, fearlessness, tact, stature and relevance.
While there were many factors that influenced the struggle for political freedom, Mandela’s individual contribution cannot be underestimated.
As a young political activist, Mandela was part of the ANC Youth League founding generation which declared “Freedom in Our Lifetime” and developed practical organisational, political, and ideological tools to realise such freedom.
They did so because the ANC had accepted that the best they could achieve in South Africa was the inclusion of educated black men into spheres of the white establishment.
This generation of freedom fighters realised political freedom in their lifetime because it was their mission to do so.
Mandela was part of this generation that injected energy and radicalism into mainstream ANC politics, particularly after the 1949 national conference, which adopted a radical programme of action.
Post 1949, Mandela, as national organiser of the ANC, led the Defiance Campaign against the apartheid system, internalising the reality that the struggle for liberation would include being arrested, tortured or even killed.
This new culture of the struggle was a radical departure from the ANC of the 1910s, ’20s, ’30s, and most of the ’40s, because then the ANC was an organisation of gentlemen who believed that appealing to the moral authority of the oppressors would bring about meaningful change.
The qualitative and quantitative impact of the Mandela-led Defiance Campaign in the ANC was profound because its membership grew from about 4 000 to 100 000 and a new theatre of struggle was set for the people of South Africa.
It was during the Defiance Campaign that Mandela started to think about the possibility of an armed struggle. There was no communist influence over him during that period because he despised South African communists as agents whose aim was to misdirect the struggle for national liberation.
Mandela started speaking about a violent overthrow of the apartheid regime in 1953, an idea he says he first discussed with Walter Sisulu in 1952.
In his biography, The Long Walk to Freedom, he says the following concerning his address to Sophiatown residents in 1953: “As I condemned the government for its ruthlessness and lawlessness, I overstepped the line: I said that the time for passive resistance had ended, that non-violence was a useless strategy and could never overturn a white minority regime bent on retaining its power at any cost.
“At the end of the day, I said, violence was the only weapon that would destroy apartheid, and we must be prepared in the near future to use that weapon.”
The realisation that the violent overthrow of apartheid was the only way to win the struggle dominated most of the youth league’s activities in the 1950s, and is reflected by the words of Robert Resha, who was ANC Youth League acting president when Mandela was banned in 1954.
Resha said in 1956 that: “When you are disciplined and you are told by the organisation not to be violent, you must not be violent… but if you are a true volunteer and you are called upon to be violent, you must be absolutely violent. You must murder! Murder! That is all!”
These are the roots of the ultimate formation of Umkhonto WeSizwe as a military strategy to overthrow the apartheid regime.
The events of the early 1960s, which involved meeting the SACP in 1960 to talk about the armed struggle, were just platforms used by the revolutionary Mandela to push what he believed was the best route to overthrow apartheid.
Even so, the biggest opponent to this proposition in the ANC national executive committee was Moses Kotane, the general secretary of the SACP, who believed such a strategy was adventurist.
History tells of the processes that led to the adoption of the Freedom Charter in 1955. Of course individuals will claim undue credit for having written sections of what the liberation movement accepted as a blueprint and vision for a free and democratic South Africa.
Mandela played an important role in persuading the ANC to adopt it, against the wishes of his peers – particularly Robert Sobukwe and Ashby Peter Mda. He did so fully aware that the Freedom Charter called for nationalisation of mines, banks and monopoly industries.
This is the Mandela who took practical steps to mobilise for an armed struggle, visited parts of the world to canvass the idea and even received training in Algeria as a soldier for national liberation.
When the ANC meeting approved the idea of MK as an independent military wing, and with Mandela as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he had already covered ground working for MK.
This reveals Mandela as a freedom fighter who was willing to do everything in his power to destroy apartheid. Of course, Mandela would associate with anybody who approved of this route to struggle, particularly after the Sharpeville massacre.
This is the Mandela the apartheid regime feared and hated so much. This is the Mandela who changed the nature and character of the struggle for national liberation. When he was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment, Mandela was almost the only leader of the liberation movement who had the energy, determination, passion and commitment to physically and through armed struggle fight against the regime.
This explains why MK did not gain the necessary impetus and energy outside his guidance, and the reason why so many concessions were made at the negotiation table because there was no military power to resort to as a means to fight the regime.
Mama Winnie Mandela kept the fires burning inside South Africa. She reinvigorated and gave political and ideological support to youth activism, particularly by making the youth understand that their protests against the imposition of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction should be elevated into the protests against the apartheid regime.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is among the first of many leaders of the liberation movement who persuaded the apartheid regime to talk to Mandela, an act which culminated in his release from prison.
When he came out of prison, Mandela stood firm on the principle of the nationalisation of mines and banks and said in his first address that “nationalisation of the mines, banks and monopoly industries is ANC policy, and any change to this policy is inconceivable”.
There are co-ordinated attempts to hide the fact that he made these remarks because most books, journals and television clips that speak about this speech, omit the reality. It is only in the recently published Nelson Mandela: Conversations with Myself that this remark is acknowledged. “There was already furious reaction to the statement I made from prison where I said nationalisation was still our policy; we had not changed… Of course there was a reaction from the business community, and that reaction… set one thinking because one thing that is important is… (to) have the support from business.”
The nationalisation of mines, banks and monopoly industries is no longer ANC policy and all leaders of the ANC pride themselves that it is no longer policy.
But Mandela skilfully fought for political freedom and power, which could have enabled his successors to implement the nationalisation policy because as he correctly said in 1956: “Such a step is absolutely imperative (for) the national wealth of the country (to be) turned over to the people.”
The failure of the ANC post Nelson Mandela was not to skilfully use political power to attain economic freedom and emancipation. The current crop of leadership is headed in the opposite direction and will take our country to deeper levels of starvation, underemployment, poverty, unemployment and inequality.
The approach of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is to appreciate the political freedom which Mandela and his generation fought for, but to use the political power to attain economic freedom. Political power without economic power is meaningless, because it leaves millions of people under conditions they were before the attainment of political freedom.
It is true that 24 million of the 25 million poorest South Africans are Africans, and these people live in squatter camps with no access to quality health care, no access to education, no water, no toilets. More than 50 percent of workers earn less than R3 000 a month, meaning that they are almost in the same conditions as the unemployed.
In the relay race for South Africa’s political, economic and social emancipation, Mandela took the baton and skilfully delivered it to the next generation.
The Mandela we celebrate and cherish is the Mandela who brought us political freedom and we will be inspired by his commitment, determination, fearlessness and courage to fight for economic freedom in our lifetime.
All revolutionaries should be defined by how they conducted themselves during difficult times. No surrender! No retreat!
* Julius Malema is president and commander-in-chief of the Economic Freedom Fighters.
** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Newspapers