Monday, December 9, 2013

Beyond Mourning

LONDON—In Johannesburg a few months ago, I asked a young, black, and politically savvy South African journalist how his newspaper would cover Nelson Mandela's death. 

He shook his head: He dearly wished not to have to cover it at all. "I just hope I'm not in the office that day. I just hope I'm away, maybe in a different country."

He knew, of course, what Mandela's death would bring: a moment of national reckoning, an assessment of "what have we achieved" in the years since Mandela's release from prison in 1990 and his inauguration as South Africa's first black president in 1994. 

I told the young man that what was written in the wake of Mandela's death would probably reveal less about the man and more about his country. He agreed: That's exactly what he didn't want to have to face.

And that’s exactly what has happened. As my journalist colleague predicted, the world’s sudden focus on Mandela's life has already begun to cast South Africa’s current leaders in an unflattering light. 

"Mandela looms like a one-man Mount Rushmore over his successors," David Smith wrote for the Guardian, "throwing their flaws into sharp relief." 

The Economist, more bluntly, points out that "misguided governance, low-quality education, skills shortages and massive unemployment levels of around 40%" have made the black population of South Africa "more disadvantaged today than when Nelson Mandela was still behind bars."

This may only be the beginning. After all, without Mandela, the African National Congress—the party he first joined in 1943 and that he led to electoral victory half a century later—will quickly lose whatever remains of its revolutionary magic. 

Without Mandela, the ANC can no longer pretend to be a party, as he once put it, with a "noble cause": It is simply the party of power. Although South African democracy is extraordinarily healthy in many senses—its media, judiciary, and civil society function well—ANC candidates have until now won most national, and regional, elections by enormous margins. That means that people join the party in large numbers to get jobs, to get contracts, to get ahead.

In this narrow sense, the ANC now functions like the Chinese Communist Party: The most important political debates in South Africa take place within its ranks and at its congresses. Actual electoral contests matter much less. 

The consequences of 20 years of mostly one-party rule are the same for South Africa as they are in China: ANC-owned companies enjoy privileged access to state contracts, ANC politicians have been involved in complex cases of corruption, businesses often succeed or fail because of their political contacts and not because of their merit.
 Without real political competition, ANC politicians are not motivated to reform a state that still doles out patronage to black insiders, just as the apartheid state once reserved its jobs and contracts for whites. 

While in Johannesburg, I met a politician from the Democratic Alliance, the ANC’s most serious rival. He explained, convincingly, how his party has made big changes in the Western Cape, where it runs the regional government. But no one yet believes the party can win a national vote.

There are reasons why the ANC continues to win elections, legitimately, even while failing to deliver much in the way of economic growth to its supporters. So far, rival parties have failed to capture the national imagination, even if some have done well in some regions. 

So far, the ANC has persuaded black voters that they would be "outsiders," even traitors, if they voted for others. But Mandela's aura—the patina of history and glamour he lent to the party—were also part of the explanation. 

During its last elections, in 2009, one South African journalist wrote that it felt as though the ANC were still "overseen by a pantheon of deities, including Mandela."

During the long months of Mandela's illness, many in South Africa almost seemed offended by the idea that his death would bring some kind of radical change. He had, after all, been out of politics for a long time, and his greatest achievement—the peaceful transition to democratic rule—is not under threat. 

But although it might be uncomfortable, his death should cause South Africans to look critically at the state he helped create and, above all, at the ANC, the party he led. 

If South Africans really want to honor Mandela’s memory, they should deepen South Africa’s democracy, and vote for somebody else. 


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Pik Botha Reflects on Mandela

 Pik Botha and his times

Ex-South African foreign minister reflects on his relationship with Mandela

 By nPublished December 07, 2013


I first met Nelson Mandela at the historic meeting between the former government and the African National Congress at Groote Schuur on May 2, 1990.

To this day, I remain deeply impressed by Mandela’s opening address.

He displayed a remarkably thorough knowledge of the history of the Afrikaner, referring to the pain and sorrow of the Anglo-Boer War: 27,000 women and children who died in the concentration camps. Boer soldiers returning to graves and ruined farms. The ensuing poverty of the Afrikaner and his harrowing feeling of being wronged.

The enormous suffering of the Afrikaner he could understand. But what he could not understand, he said, was why the Afrikaner, when they started recovering from their devastation, didn’t then reach out to their fellow black South Africans who were equally impoverished, degraded and subjugated.

He posed a haunting question to us.

The answer is that the whites also became victims of apartheid, the Afrikaner more so. We had fought fiercely and paid a terrible price for our own freedom, but failed to realize that we could not truly be free unless all the people living and working in what we considered to be white South Africa could share that freedom with us.

After I departed from politics in 1996, Mandela wrote the following inscription, dated July 30, 1997 in his biography “Long Walk to Freedom” which my daughter and her husband bought to commemorate the christening of their son, my grandson, James Barry Hertzog:

‘To James Barry Hertzog. You carry a historic name and are the grandson of an equally talented South African who has made his contribution towards the development of our country. Good luck on the occasion of your christening on 10 August 1997.”

(sgd) Nelson Mandela
30 July 1997”

Mandela knew that my son-in-law, Bertus Hertzog, was a descendant of Gen. James Barry Munnik Hertzog, a famous Boer-general of the Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902 and prime minister of South Africa 1924-1939.

This is but one of the innumerable examples of his capacity to apply his accumulated knowledge with sensitivity and insight to the realities of the day and not to allow the bitterness of his suffering in prison to displace his determined pursuit of reconciliation.


On May 1, 1998, I underwent an operation to have my prostate removed due to cancer. That afternoon, after the operation, President Mandela visited me.

When I came to my senses, he was standing next to my bed in the intensive care unit. He took my hand and said, “I have come today to say to you not to worry. You must relax. You have made it. That is all that matters. I went through the same ordeal and I survived. We need you. Get well and carry on.”

This is how I got to know him – an unfathomable human being.

An elder brother.

A person who endured imprisonment for 27 years and then handled the presidency of the country as if he had never spent a single day in jail.

His visit to me in hospital dimmed the pain of the surgery, but mentally I wrestled with remorse over what he had to endure during 27 years of imprisonment.

His conviction in court did not preclude him from adhering to his conviction that black and white needed each other to achieve progress and prosperity for all our people.

He decided that he was not going to allow himself to be governed by hatred and bitterness.

He believed that the inequities and animosities of the past could be ruled out by a charter or bill of fundamental human rights.

He assured us that majority rule would not entail a black majority dominating a white minority.

He emphasized that we live in a country that belongs to all of us, black and white. The black majority will need the white minority to achieve the same level of proficiency in management and craftsmanship.


I first met prof. Stephen Hawking, the famous astrophysicist, in Cambridge on December 12, 1997 and again in Cambridge on March 9, 1999.

In May 2008, Hawking visited South Africa as part of an initiative by the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) to find an African Einstein. His visit was described as the most historic visit to the Cape of Good Hope since Charles Darwin moored here on May 31, 1836 onboard the HMS Beagle.

Having being invited to the event, I flew to Cape Town and also participated, at the request of Hawking, in a TV interview which prof. David Block, astronomer of the University of the Witwatersrand, had arranged.

Stephen Hawking had long coveted a desire to meet Nelson Mandela. The organizers of the Cape Town conference endeavored to arrange a meeting, but Mandela’s office could not fit it in at such short notice due to an overburdened program.

As fate would have it, I had an appointment to meet with Mandela on May 15, 2008. Zelda le Grange, Mandela’s exemplary aide-de-camp, agreed that Hawking and Block could be included in my meeting with Mandela.

I consider it to be one of the highlights of my life that I had the privilege to bring Mandela and Hawking together and to be part of the meeting.

Mandela achieved his “cherished ideal” with an immeasurable endurance of suffering, without having to die for it.
He warded off the temptation to be guided by the bitterness of suffering 27 years imprisonment and resolved to persevere on the road of reconciliation and peaceful negotiations to accomplish his arduous “long walk to freedom” for all the people of South Africa, black and white.

His death is irreversible, his legacy, undying. All of us, the government, the voters, civil society, the churches, are faced with an inescapable challenge: are we going to honor and sustain his legacy or deviate from it.

Indeed, leaders across the globe ought to reflect on his legacy -- particularly while they have the option to resolve disputes through peaceful negotiations instead of violence; abolish all nuclear devices or retain them to destroy our planet; take the quantum leap required to avert the lethal consequences of climate change and the depletion of the planet’s natural resources or enjoy our daily greed to such an extent that it forbids us to preserve our planet for our children to survive.

Roelof Frederik "Pik" Botha is a former South African Foreign Minister who served his country in the final years of the apartheid era.