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Former President Nelson Mandela was ANC as much as the pope is Catholic, says Thami ka Plaatjie.
Johannesburg - Mandela was ANC as much as the pope is Catholic. There is a silly, arrogant and often repugnant tendency to want to view, understand, appreciate and interpret Nelson Mandela outside of his historical and political home-base, the ANC.
This approach is not only ahistorical but void of the essence of ontogenesis. Those who cherish this view hold out to the public gaze without shame a Mandela who is a mere humanist who loved his neighbour as he loved himself.
This is a Mandela who threw all of his weapons into the sea and was seen as an eternal pacifist. Now his erstwhile jailers and oppressors and large contingent of whites who cheered at his arrest claim him as one of their own.
They cried tears at his death. “Our Madiba is gone,” they would bemoan. “Our father and Tata is no more,” they will bewail. How short are their memories? What is irritating is that this Mandela that is so much mourned is a Mandela who was never ANC in their view.
Scores of Africans were expelled from work after the release of Mandela and dozens of domestic workers were fired from work for no crime save that Mandela was released from prison and became the first president of a democratic South Africa. Some whites even fled the country. Thousands of them are still found in Australia and London in self-imposed exile. There is nothing wrong when all South Africans adore Mandela and embrace his greatness but such must be based on an honest acceptance that he belonged to and was a leader of the ANC. He is a product of the ANC and his appreciation must extend to the appreciation of a movement that gave birth to him.
Now Mandela is viewed outside the ANC as though he was his own man who rose to national prominence by virtue of his own talents. In fact, in extreme cases, he is being appropriated as though he was a special product without any linkages with the ANC. These are the workings of national and multinational liberal agencies that are now running fast and ahead of everybody in extolling the virtues of Mandela aided by the jingoistic western press.
Mandela is now perceived and understood to be different from other Africans and African leaders. This, in their silly minds, is a Mandela who was apolitical. The latter is a myth. This myth must be debunked and all its roots extirpated. This misconstrued Nelson Mandela is also projected and portrayed as an activist for charity work and a relentless goodwill ambassador.
His charitable works are seen as an expression of his own altruism – which is not viewed as an expression of the political quest to create a better life for all by the ANC.
The ANC linkages to and relationship with Mandela are side-stepped and at best overlooked. In the event they cannot avoid the link, it is mentioned in passing.
Mandela learnt the art of forgiveness from African humanism and tradition. He was a product of missionary education where two worlds were fuzzed with serious tensions and contests. Missionary education exposed Mandela to the white world and its enlightened ideals and also its racist and arrogant side.
Mandela recounted the poem by SEK Mqhayi who apportioned stars to all the nations and gave the Europeans the star of greed.
During his nascent years as a genial spirit in search of meaning, Mandela was awakened from his political slumber by the writings of an African resistance generation of intellectuals and authors.
This generation included Walter Rubusana, Mqhayi, BW Vilakazi, JJR Jolobe, RRR Dhlomo, Thomas Mofolo, AK Soga and Solomon Plaatje. These writers interpreted the role and life of Africans in this crossroad with the West. They held their own in the midst of a cynical and sceptical white world. They asserted pride in being African and immensely helped to raise the level of national political consciousness among a growing class of the educated. They transcended tribal boundaries and yearned for a united nation of Africans.
Mandela cut his political teeth during the turbulent years just before the end of World War II when the ANC was involved in a serious and profound process of introspection after years steeped in a political nadir.
It was AB Xuma who, with a team of ANC intellectuals that included ZK Matthews, conceived the African Claims intervention as a direct rejoinder to the UN Atlantic Charter. Mandela came under the dizzy spell of Africanism as espoused by Anton Lembede, the influential inaugural president of the ANC Youth League.
He waged fierce fights against the increasing influence of the Communist Party over the affairs of the ANC, but later, through his proximity to Moses Kotane and Edwin Mofutsanyana, came to accept and comprehend the inevitability of alliance politics, realising that the beast of oppression would best be defeated by united action.
He deified unjust laws and took part in the Alexandra bus boycott walking to work in solidarity. He became a quintessential city slicker, appreciating jazz, boxing, films and making occasional forays to the Jan Hofmeyer School of Social Work looking for beauties. He befriended activist journalists such as Todd Matshikiza, Can Themba and Es’kia Mphahlele, to name a few.
Mandela had imbibed all the traditions of resistance politics as exemplified and epitomised by the ANC. He was a humanist grounded in the vital quest to free his people. Alongside his many comrades, friends and fellow professionals he embarked on this long and arduous odyssey with little regard for the consequences of his actions for himself and his profession.
The exigencies of life visited upon Africans in the rural and urban areas fashioned the young Mandela as a steely character. But he remained courteous, gentlemanly, yet radical to the core.
The liberation struggle gave birth to a pantheon of leaders who far surpassed their jailers and oppressors in all conceivable manner of pursuits. The liberation movement gave birth to AB Xuma, an accomplished statesman and erudite scholar of no mean repute. From its loins also came Solomon Plaatje, a towering author who yielded a deadly pen and an infinitely fertile mind that would put Shakespeare to shame. SK Mqhayi would give any Western poet a serious run for his Kwacha. This same liberation movement gave us Robert Sobukwe, a man from the Karoo who possessed great fecundity of thought. It also gave birth to Steve Biko, the defier who defied until death. We met Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo in the crucible of the resistance struggle. Nelson Mandela took and occupied a respectable place in this pantheon which was the extravagant display of the pains and pangs of the struggles of our people. He was as ANC as the pope is Catholic.
*Ka Plaatjie is head of ANC Research and adviser to Minister Lindiwe Sisulu.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.