The meaning of Nelson Mandela’s legacy on his second commemoration
By the Chief Executive Officer of the National Heritage Council (NHC), Adv. Sonwabile Mancotywa
Nelson Mandela’s Legacy of Human Rights, Liberation Struggle and Reconciliation speaks for itself in the work that he did, the culture he established, in the frameworks and institutions built up, in the continuing and succeeding efforts to change lives of South Africans and children all over the world.
On Saturday, 05 December 2015 South Africa and the world will mark the second anniversary of the passing away of Madiba through various commemorative events, including the one in Qunu, his birth and resting place. This is an opportune time to reflect on what Nelson Mandela stood for and the values he represented. Will the commemoration fade into another day of meaningless festivities or will South Africans refuse to reduce Nelson Mandela’s legacy to a ‘one day in a year’ remembrance. Or will South Africans cherish the day and commemorate it meaningfully to inspire future generations to imbibe Madiba’s values for nationhood?
With all of what is happening in the world today it is now more clear what Nelson Mandela meant when he said it takes courage to wage peace. The benefits of restorative justice, reconciliation, solidarity, liberation, social cohesion, human rights and peace in terms of how people and countries become free to choose their socio-economic directions cannot be disputed. The benefits of peaceful multi-partyism which he extolled even when it was not popular to do so and the clear intersection of Liberation, Human Rights and Reconciliation continue to provide inspiration.
Nelson Mandela’s legacy therefore needs no defence from anyone. No falsifications by any peacetime hero or uninformed fascists will ever erase it.
However as part of the process of freeing the African voice, transforming the heritage landscape to include distinguished African icons in different areas, Nelson Mandela will for a long time stand as first among those who have rendered distinguished service to Africa in times of war and in times of peace. The present template of falsifying history, denying the heroic role of key Africans, so that at the conclusion it can be said Africa has never seen greatness, is not great, is not capable of greatness is an established template. It is a destructive misguided template. It is not the first time it was carried by children of the African soil. The same was attempted of Patrice Lumumba, of Kwame Nkrumah and many others. This situation demands that we continue at an accelerated pace to populate the heritage space domestically and globally with Africans and people of the global South. We are not running short of people of all colours who contributed to a better South Africa and a better world in different areas starting with social cohesion.
We are advised that one “Commander in Chief” was hosted in one of the countries that were a very important ally of the government that Nelson Mandela fought and defeated in war and peace. In this country, this commander in chief – allegedly indicated that Nelson Mandela and his generation sold out the revolution and South Africans are worse off because of the work that Nelson Mandela and his compatriots did and did not do. This was a very interesting arrangement, a very interesting set of statements, in a very interesting geographic context. This was an easy way of creating sensation and attract media attention; otherwise it is possible that even that visit of the “Commander in Chief” would have gone unnoticed.
Today, for the sake of record we will say the following: the much celebrated Congress of the People in 1955, the All Africa Conference and every other major gathering of the progressive forces before and after these ones wanted a session similar to Codesa, where all South African groups would sit together and design a future where access to political power will be determined through a common ballot and that political power is used to determine the national policy direction in all sectors.
Nelson Mandela and his generation supported by the four pillars of the struggle, in the context of a myriad of objective and subjective factors facilitated the possibility of such a protracted session and succeeded. They ended Apartheid jingoism, instituted a constitutional dispensation that makes it possible to heal the divisions of the past, transform and rebuild the economy, to build a society that works on equity and redress in conditions of peace. They developed programmes like “Ready to govern”, “Reconstruction and Development Programme”, “Growth Employment and Redistribution”, “Accelerated Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa”, National Development Plan among others. Frontline states saw peace, and the possibility of post-independence reconstruction – that is beginning to bear visible fruits for all citizens, slowly but surely. Southern Africa ceased to be a ground for proxy wars.
Revolutions and struggles are not textbook, catechism, or cooking recipe matters. To say chapter x and verse y have not been achieved and therefore everything that has happened to date is a lost cause betrays the kind of leadership that people are proposing as an alternative to Nelson Mandela’s leadership.
Revolutions are messy organic affairs, involving objective and subjective factors, involving contradictions played out in context of shifting balance of forces. Nelson Mandela and his generation defined and achieved the mission of their generation to rid South Africa of Apartheid and its jingoism, to establish a united, non-racial democracy on South African soil with a democratic constitution, a people on a path to heal divisions of the past, to build a prosperous society, on the road to equity and redress. They were not seduced by the attraction of uniform, saber-rattling war talk and such. They knew as we now know that poor people are immediate losers in any protracted war, the first opportunity for peace needs to be grabbed and put to maximum use. Only fascists, war-mongers and arms dealers triumph in war.
The 1994 breakthrough made it possible for South Africans to determine their future, created space for all kinds of people to form all kinds of parties. These parties for the first time were free to take any of the legacy documents developed by Nelson Mandela and his comrades, interpret as they like, or work from any other documents, and request from the electorate once every five years a mandate on which direction South Africa should be taken.
War and militarism are not cool, are not sexy, are not attractive, are hostile to democracy, human rights, reconciliation and liberation. We worry about the iconography of militarism in the present global environment and in general. We do not know which war the commander in chief who vilified Nelson Mandela’s memory had fought. We do not know which military accorded this decoration. We do know that iconography of militarism and war is not attractive to us as a people, is not part of the traditions of democrats.
Even those commanders who fought the just war – will unpack in very clear terms that in their time, war was a tactic to continue the political struggle by other means when all doors had been closed, when there remained only two choices – to submit or fight.
So for us to have uniformed commanders in chief in parliament during peace time – presents a serious oxymoron. If we were not in a world where states get destabilised through glorification and use of war, these would be as laughable as comic characters, but they are not. So a clarion call goes to South Africans and progressive people all over to promote the legacy of Human Rights, Solidarity with suffering people, Liberation and Reconciliation as one of the many legacies of Nelson Mandela and his generation. The greatest and most sustainable chance for all people to achieve social transformation, a better life for all is in conditions of peace, reconciliation and restorative justice, is through people pulling closer together than apart. All of us must work together to banish the spectre of militarism in Southern Africa; all wars, proxy or not, must have no space again in our region; those who make direct or indirect calls to arms must be isolated and exposed. No arms manufacturers must profit from the misery of Africans again. Guns must be silenced throughout the African continent. The heritage of liberation, human rights, reconciliation and inclusive socio-economic transformation must light our way forward. It is necessary, it is possible. Now is the time.