Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela: An Assessment

 From young revolutionary agitator to reconciling elder statesmen
Nelson Mandela (1918 - 2013)

Setting the Record Straight
Despite the numerous claims equating Nelson Mandela with Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., he was not a prisoner of conscience because he advocated violence for decades and refused to renounce it even to gain his freedom. Despite the claims of ardent revolutionaries this did not speed up the end of Apartheid, but to the contrary may have lengthened the life of that evil and racist system. Mandela's story is that of a man who joined a nonviolent struggle, turned to violence and after failing to succeed with violence for many years returned to nonviolence and achieved change.

Colleagues in the Cuban opposition who are holding up Mandela as an exemplar may be tempted to use violence. Presently, in Cuba there is a large nonviolent opposition movement that has suffered and continues to suffer the violence of a 54 year totalitarian dictatorship. Prominent opposition activists have been murdered by state security agents, and like Mandela some may be frustrated by the pace of nonviolent change. Believing violence to be a short cut may opt to follow Nelson Mandela's example. They would be mistaken to believe that violence will speed up the walk to freedom.

Mandela makes the case for violence
Mandela laid out the case for violence on April 24, 1964 at the Rivonia Trial before the Pretoria Supereme Court in which, in part, he stated:
At the beginning of June 1961, after a long and anxious assessment of the South African situation, I, and some colleagues, came to the conclusion that as violence in this country was inevitable, it would be unrealistic and wrong for African leaders to continue preaching peace and non-violence at a time when the Government met our peaceful demands with force.
     This conclusion was not easily arrived at. It was only when all else had failed, when all channels of peaceful protest had been barred to us, that the decision was made to embark on violent forms of political struggle, and to form Umkhonto we Sizwe. We did so not because we desired such a course, but solely because the Government had left us with no other choice. In the Manifesto of Umkhonto published on 16 December 1961, which is Exhibit AD, we said:
          "The time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices - submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa. We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means in our power in defence of our people, our future, and our freedom."
     This was our feeling in June of 1961 when we decided to press for a change in the policy of the National Liberation Movement. I can only say that I felt morally obliged to do what I did.
He was sentenced to life in prison.

The Failure of Violent Resistance
For decades the African National Congress (ANC) allied with the Communist Party had received weapons, explosives, and training from Soviet and Cuban advisers. What was the response of the Apartheid Regime? Heightened repression, more massacres, and the development of nuclear weapons in the 1970s to target the majority black population and their Soviet and Cuban allies.  In April 1978, the South African government approved a nuclear deterrent strategy based on the following:
Phase 1: Strategic uncertainty in which the nuclear deterrent capability will not be acknowledged or denied.
Phase 2: Should South African territory be threatened, for example, by the Warsaw Pact countries through the surrogate Cuban forces in Angola, covert acknowledgement to certain international powers, e.g. the USA, would be contemplated.
Phase 3: Should this partial disclosure of South Africa's capability not bring about international intervention to remove the threat, public acknowledgement or demonstration by an underground test of South Africa's capability, would be considered.
The response of the Apartheid regime was not to buckle to the violence of the African National Congress but to escalate. The following decade saw many more massacres of the black majority by the apartheid regime, the forced resettlement of three million people to the "black homelands", more than 600 killed in clashes, and greater repression against the black majority. 
By the 1980s the ANC's militant wing had engaged in 156 acts of public violence including bombing campaigns targeting public establishments and Nelson Mandela's second wife Winnie, recognizing that they no longer had AK-47s to fight with advocated using gasoline and tires to "necklace" opponents and burn them alive stating: 
"Together, hand in hand, with that stick of matches, with our necklace, we shall liberate this country."
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission "concluded that she had personally been directly responsible for the murder, torture, abduction and assault of numerous men, women and children, as well as indirectly responsible for even larger number of such crimes." 
This is where Mandela's call to violence and alliance with the Cubans and Soviets led: to the white minority government responding to the threat with the development of six nuclear weapons and his own wife engaged in the murder of women and children. He may have not been directly involved but the advocacy and legitimization of violence and his steadfast defense of that position over decades had consequences.

It was not this violence that brought an end to Apartheid but nonviolent actions inside and outside of South Africa. The nonviolent Solidarity Movement in Poland set off a chain reaction of nonviolent change that spread across Eastern Europe in 1989 and ended with the peaceful implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991. Inside South Africa labor strikes began to have an impact and in coordination with an international boycott campaign made great impacts in South Africa.

On the face of it the collapse of the East Bloc and the Soviet Union should have been at least indirectly positive for the South African Apartheid state which had as its principle adversary the African National Congress that had relied heavily on the Soviet Union and their Eastern European and Cuban satellites that aided Mandela's movement.

Mandela was a man who joined a nonviolent struggle to end Apartheid and turned to violence  to break the will of the South African regime in 1961 and would beginning in 1964 spend the next 27 years of his life in prison but finally rejected violence as a political tactic because he had no other alternative. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the East Bloc the African National Congress (ANC) no longer had a weapons supplier.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet empire the African National Congress's military option was taken off the table, and this allowed negotiations and non-violent action to achieve what political violence had not done in three decades: an end to the racist apartheid regime and Nelson Mandela as president of a multiracial South Africa. It is not a coincidence that the decision by the Apartheid regime to scrap the nuclear weapons program and dismantle its bombs was made after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

There are those in South Africa who in 1989 mourned the passing of the Berlin Wall but if not for the end of the Cold War things may not have changed. Paul Trewhela in politicsweb offers the following analysis:
On 9 November 1989, twenty years ago, the Berlin Wall cracked open, the Cold War in Europe came to an end, the Soviet empire tottered to its grave and the ANC military option lost whatever teeth it might have had. The military/security state erected by the National Party never lost a centimeter squared of its soil. Umkhonto weSizwe, the military wing of the ANC and the South African Communist Party, never won a centimeter squared of soil. True, the repeated mass mobilizations and popular uprisings within South Africa through the Seventies and the Eighties placed a colossal strain upon the regime, and, true, the economic strain upon the state - especially in conditions of attrition exercised against it by the US banking system - placed it under further serious pressures. Nevertheless, honest accounting must say that, given the continuation of the Cold War system in Africa, this nuclear-armed state at its southern tip was nowhere near collapse.
The Anti-Apartheid movement was without an international backer and had run out of weapons and ammunition. What remained was the international grassroots campaign, boycotts, economic sanctions, and a nonviolent movement internally that could coordinate strikes and raise the consciousness of the black majority. This is what brought the South African government to the negotiating table. If the black majority refused to cooperate with their oppressors the system could not be maintained. At the same time the collapse of the international communist threat made it easier for them to negotiate without the fear that they would wind up in the Soviet orbit.

Mandela was not a prisoner of conscience
A prisoner of conscience is anyone imprisoned for the non-violent exercise of their beliefs. Independent journalists, human rights activists, and Project Varela petitioners currently imprisoned in Cuba are prisoners of conscience. According to Amnesty International, the human rights organization founded in 1961 that originated the term, a "prisoner of conscience" is someone imprisoned solely for the peaceful expression of their beliefs. The term was coined by Amnesty International's founder, civil rights lawyer Peter Benenson.  Amnesty International representatives in 1994 explained why Nelson Mandela had not been recognized as one:
Amnesty International adopted Nelson Mandela as a "forgotten prisoner" following his arrest and conviction in 1962 for alleged passport violations. In 1964 he spoke in his own defense at the famous Rivonia Trial and explained why he had chosen to organize an underground army (MK) and plan a campaign of violence directed towards the end of overthrowing the apartheid regime. Mandela's open avowal of chosing to use violence to further political ends caused a split within the ranks of Amnesty International, which at the time was very much smaller than it is now. One group advocated continuing to work unconditionally for Mandela's release, while the other urged that AI should adhere to its own principle and restrict it's efforts for unconditional release only to those political prisoners which they termed "prisoners of conscience" -- those who had neither used nor advocated violence. This would exclude Mandela from POC status, but would enable AI to continue to work on his behalf in terms of fair trial, and against the possibility of the death penalty.
This issue was debated at length at the 1964 congress in Canterbury England, and it was decided there in favor of the second position -- that is, not to make an exception for Mr Mandela. I would recommend that readers interested in the details and in the early history of Amnesty International should get ahold of a copy of Egon Larsen's --A Flame in Barbed Wire -- (New York: W.W. Norton, 1979). By the way, Amnesty International takes no official position on the justification of the use of violence. It only makes a distinction between those political prisoners who do and do not use or advocate its use as concerns its internal program of action on their behalfs.
President Mandela has long since acknowledged that Amnesty made its decision in good faith, and has thanked the organization for its work on behalf of thousands of other South African prisoners and detainees.
For example in South Africa Steve Biko was identified by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience whereas Nelson Mandela was not. Biko was murdered by the Apartheid regime because his nonviolent black consciousness movement threatened the Apartheid regime as much or more than Mandela's violence. Nonviolence is not passive but active and resists injustice. Mandela in his 1964 speech failed to understand the power of nonviolent resistance. Since then the evidence has only increased that the more violent and extreme the regime the more successful nonviolent resistance to it and counter-intuitively the less successful violent resistance.

The greatness of Mandela: Peacemaker who gave up power
The greatness of Nelson Mandela and the reason that the world has honored him and will continue to for years to come is that once he made the return to nonviolent resistance and negotiation to bring an end to the Apartheid regime for strategic reasons he did not abandon the principles of nonviolence and reconciliation when dealing with his adversaries when he assumed power in a post-Apartheid system.

In neighboring Zimbabwe following international pressure and in particular from the United States the white minority regime (of what was then called Rhodesia)  peacefully transitioned into a black majority polity with the white minority also participating in 1979. In 1980 following the Lancaster House Agreement Robert Mugabe was voted into power in British supervised elections. This was not due so much to a military triumph by guerrillas but the political elite wanting to end international boycotts and the pariah status of the country. Reserved white seats in parliament were kept under the Mugabe regime until 1987. Unlike Nelson Mandela, Robert Mugabe has been president now for 33 years and shows no signs of retiring. According to a 2013 National Public Radio report on both men:
Once in power, Mugabe's military waged a brutal campaign against a rival black movement in the early 1980s, leaving an estimated 20,000 dead and setting the tone for dealing with any group seen as a potential rival....
Unlike in the rest of the African continent Mandela charted a radically different course once in power:
As the country's first black president, he consistently preached national unity, sometimes to the point of irritating the country's blacks, who felt he was too conciliatory.
And on a continent where many leaders rule until they are overthrown or die, Mandela served just one five-year term beginning in 1994 and then retired in 1999.
This is why Nelson Mandela is considered by some a heroic figure and will be remembered in the history books. He gave up power. Mandela could have easily followed the path of Mugabe or Castro and declare himself president for life. Remarkably, his links to the Communist party, Fidel Castro and other unsavory types who have done great harm elsewhere in Africa but assisted him in the violent struggle did not lead Mandela to following their dictatorial ruling style. Furthermore 27 years in prison and a life time in a profoundly racist society did not embitter him with the white minority.

Regis Iglesias, a former Cuban prisoner of conscience, and spokesman for the Christian Liberation Movement that is firmly committed to nonviolent change offered the following assessment:
"He was a man who knew how to move politically from positions of armed violence to reconciliation and peaceful coexistence among opponents before confronted in hatred. He called a tyrant like Fidel Castro "my President" and always ignored the fate of peaceful activists for democracy in Cuba. He was an inclusive President, generous and pragmatic that looked for the reconciliation of the entire South African nation. His achievements gladdened me, his inconsistency, born of political debt that he owed to the Cuban regime, caused me grief, it impeded me from believing in his good intentions more than in his pragmatic sense...Rest in peace Nelson Mandela"

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