Tag Archives: African National Congress

On Nelson Mandela’s Hospitalization and the State of South African Society

Each time Madiba goes to the hospital, it prepares us for the inevitable, a South African friend told me last week while we were sitting in his living room.

It appears for the moment that the inevitable will not happen imminently, according to governmental reports this morning from South Africa that say the anti-apartheid icon is resting peacefully after surgery to remove gallstones.

But serious questions remain about the Zuma government that only throw into more stark relief the contrast between the lofty ideals for which Mandela and so many others struggled and the current state of South African society.

In one of his most famous speeches, Mandela ended his final statement before the court in his 1964 Rivonia trial with the following words:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Fortunately, he was not sentenced to death, but rather to life in prison.

As much of the world knows, Mandela then served 27 years in captivity, much of it on Robben Island, before being released in February 1990 after years of negotiations chronicled ably by Allister Sparks in his book Tomorrow Is Another Country.

In his first speech after being released, Mandela concluded his remarks by repeating his unwavering commitment to the same ideals.

But the conduct of the Zuma government in regards to Mandela’s hospitalization, among many issues, illustrates the degree to which things have fallen since those heady days when so much seemed possible.

Despite months of discussions about how to handle precisely this moment, the South African government apparently mislead the media about the most basic of details of Mandela’s hospitalization like the location of where he was being treated. And, according to a statement by the South African National Editors’ Forum, the government has tried to blame the media for the confusion it created.

This comes in the context of a seemingly unending series of scandals for Zuma and his party.

These range from Zuma’s personal conduct-he has been the subject of a number of sex-related controversies-to the extravagant way he and many other leaders have lived. Despite assertions by Mandela in the only 1994 presidential debate with National Party leader F.W. de Klerk that “we are not going to live as fat cats,” many in the government appear to have done just that.

Check out the section starting at 1:19 and continuing to 1:47.

Zuma has spent about $250 million rand, or $29 million, the vast majority of it public, to upgrade his homestead in Nkandla. This is only the most extreme example of ANC leaders, many of whom were not particularly wealthy before entering government, enriching themselves by dipping into public funds.

The scandals also include the failure to provide the most basic of services to some of the most vulnerable members of South African society. The entire province of Limpopo in the country’s northwestern section did not receive textbooks for much of the 2012 school year. Perhaps more telling, Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga, who retains her position, said the issue was neither a crisis nor a scandal.

The emergence of these “tenderpreneurs,” or government leaders awarding themselves contracts and then not delivering on the items in the contract has the effect of spitting in the faces of the poor, some say.

But actions went far beyond spitting in Marikana in August.

Forty-four people were killed in clashes between striking miners and police officers. Many attributed the miners’ frustration to having continued to work for very low wages at the same time that leaders have enriched themselves and failed to deliver government’s most basic services.

The toll of the government-involved violence was the highest in South Africa since the infamous Sharpeville massacre in 1960.

In that incident, 69 black South Africans who were peacefully protesting the apartheid government’s requirement that they carry a pass at all times were murdered by police forces.

This event convinced a much younger Mandela that decades of non-violent efforts would not yield the social change he and so many others had sought.

He helped found Umkhonto we Sizwe, or Spear of the Nation, the African National Congress’ armed wing, shortly thereafter.

His actions during the ensuing months and years earned him the nickname, “The Black Pimpernel,” and led to his being captured and put on trial at Rivonia, where he delivered his famous speech.

Mandela’s surgery takes places against the backdrop of the ANC’s gathering for its elective conference in Mangaung, a seat of local government in the Free State and the place where the party was founded a century ago.

Zuma is all but certain to win re-election to lead the party, and, from there, is likely to be chosen by South African voters in 2014 to serve another five years as the nation’s president.

It is unclear whether the beloved Mandela will be alive for that expression of the people’s voice and will.

But the irony of the details of his physical failing being concealed by the government that has appeared to betray so many of the values to which he devoted his life cannot be missed.

We will continue to watch Madiba’s health with concern and to follow the political scene with a critical eye.


John Carlin’s Playing the Enemy the basis for Invictus

Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar's post-game handshake and exchange are featured in John Carlin's Playing the Enemy and, I imagine, in Invictus.

UPDATE: Great comment by Dany Fleming:

I’m equally conflicted about the film – though I haven’t actually read the book.

We were living in South Africa (‘92′93) when it was first allowed to emerge from international sports isolation and darkness; an effective tool, in a somewhat sad way, used against Apartheid.

I distinctly remember driving past the stadium in Cape Town as Australia rolled in for SA’s first international Rugby match. Hysteria and jubilation was certainly in the air. By the time I arrived in my local township destination, though, it was a day like any other. No notice of the significant international event taking place a few miles away.

As a former Rugby player, I often stopped by U of Cape Town to watch rugby practices, in total awe of their skill. I really wanted to go to that first match, but didn’t dare complicate things for me.

This film, the Power of One and many of the SA-focused films offer such an interesting paradox. Many of them are compelling and moving stories. To the majority of folks who have such vague understandings of South Africa, they likely offer valuable insights.

However, the idea of another movie relying on a white protagonist hero (as real as the hero may be) always makes me shake my head in frustration. There is more to the story than my self-righteous indignation sometimes allows, though.

A powerful slogan and campaign used by South Africa’s anti-Apartheid movement was “freeing our oppressors: freeing ourselves.” It was not a trite slogan.

It was certainly easy to find folks wanting (and working) to substitute the “freeing our oppressors” line with “substitute your favorite bludgeoning verb” our oppressors. That sentiment certainly made sense to me when I arrived. Without a doubt, though, the larger South African anti-Apartheid community was firmly rooted in the idea of “freeing their oppressors.”

This strategy, ironically, looks to make “heroes” out of the very “scoundrels” it’s meant to move out of power. This is certainly amazingly elucidated in Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom.”

But this is more than just an effective strategy, it’s an amazingly mature and deeply humane community response led by equally mature and humane leaders. The leadership of Mandela, Tutu, Stephen Biko cannot be overstated. They also had beside them countless lesser-known leaders who rose to the call and challenge as well. They understand that the real hero’s aren’t working for the accolades and credit.

South Africa has always provided me an inspiring and humbling understanding of change. This story represents part of the real strategy and change that occurred. I’m a good bit removed from SA now, but it’s possible the “freeing our oppressors” slogan still has a place in South Africa. Ironically, it’s probably much more difficult to deliver when you’re in power.

It’ll be interesting to see how the film handles this powerful paradox for me. Is it within the consciousness of the filmmakers, completely lost on them or does it occupy somewhere in-between that still has box-office receipts to satisfy?

I imagine I’ll still shake my head at the end – a response I think I’ve conditioned in myself. But there is that place in me that understands the powerful “freeing” message that is making its way overseas from South Africa to here – one that many South African’s see as very strategic and very important. So, I’ll deal with my paradox.


For millions of South Africans, the 1995 Rugby World Cup was an iconic moment.

Just a year removed from the nation’s first free and democratic elections, the Rainbow Nation played host to the world’s third quadrennial rugby championships in its return to the global sporting stage.

After upsetting defending champion Australia in the opening, the Springboks, who had formerly been one of the bastions of the apartheid regime, used a combination of a rugged defense, a bit of luck in the semifinals against the French squad and the support that only a hometown crowd liberated from centuries of oppression can offer.

Francois Pienaar, a burly flanker and descendant of French Huguenots, led the team.

The finals pitted South Africa against the mighty and heavily favored All Blacks of New Zealand.  The vaunted Kiwis featured the enormous and scarily swift Jonah Lomu, a 6’7″ , 250-pound Maori winger.  Lomu had run wild while scoring four tries in the semifinals against England, including a trampling/bowling over of fullback Mike Catt.

The South Africans had another weapon, though: President Nelson Mandela.

Now 91 years old, Mandela appears rarely in public, walks with a cane and has trouble hearing.

It was a different story 14 years ago.

After having served close to three decades in prison, the then-head of the African National Congress emerged unbroken and unbowed before sweeping to victory in the 1994 elections.

Mandela’s pre-Finals locker room visit is credited by a number of players with having inspired them to even greater levels of exertion and helped them realize that they were playing more than a game-they were playing for racial reconciliation.

Mandela’s donning the green Springboks jersey and cap and prowling the sidelines sent the message to all South Africans that the days of sports being the exclusive province of one race or another were over.

In the ceremony after the thrilling match, Mandela said, “Francois, thank you very much for what you have done for our country.”

“No, Mr. President,” said Pienaar, who had never questioned apartheid during his youth.  “Thank you for what you have done for our country.”

Journalist John Carlin’s book Playing the Enemy is the basis for Invictus, the Clint Eastwood-directed film starring Morgan Freeman as Mandela and Matt Damon as Pienaar.

I imagine that I will eventually see the film, and know right away that there are some challenges.  While Freeman has played a black South African before in The Power of One, and has certainly come a long way since his days on public television’s The Electric Company, he has grabbed more headlines offscreen for an alleged affair with his step-granddaughter.

For his part, Damon, who hails from Cambridge, has twice demonstrated his proficiency at Boston accents, but will likely be harder pressed to display similar mastery of Afrikaans speech patterns.  Beyond that, he is half a foot and more than 60 pounds smaller than Pienaar was when the tournament occurred

My anticipatory objections to the movie aside, I recommend the book.

Beyond recreating the Springboks’ magical run, Playing the Enemy takes the reader through Mandela’s unparalleled ability to negotiate from a position of strength and shared humanity, even as he was imprisoned and the ANC was banned.

Much has been written recently about how far South Africa has fallen since the promise of its early post-apartheid years.  For a reminder of a brief shining moment in which much, if not all seemed possible, read Carlin’s book.

Happy 91st Birthday, Nelson Mandela.

This iconic handshake between Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar is just one of many reading treats available for people wanting to learn more about the 91-year-old legend.

This iconic handshake between Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar is just one of many reading treats available for people wanting to learn more about the 91-year-old legend.

The great Nelson Mandela turned 91 on Saturday.

His birthday was met with what has become the usual pomp and circumstance: star-studded concerts featuring artists like Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin; heartfelt tributes from around the globe; and an appearance by the man himself.  Although walking with the cane that has become his constant companion in recent years, the former African National Congress head appeared spry and vital.

One of the 20th century’s truly heroic figures, Mandela has been the subject of innumerable books.   I have not read all of them by any means, but do have a soft spot for the following:

1. The Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela  I wrote on Valentine’s Day about Mandela’s autobiography, which was published shortly after the country’s first democratic and free elections in 1994.  While at times the book feels like an Academy Award acceptance speech in that Mandela seems to be thanking everyone who ever contributed to the struggle, the sentiment is genuine and does not detract much from this fascinating account of his birth in the Transkei, flight from an arranged marriage to Johannesburg at age 19, and gradual exposure to what became his lifelong commitment to a free South Africa.

2. Tomorrow is Another Country: The Inside Story of South Africa’s Negotiated Revolution, by Allister Sparks.

This book by one of South Africa’s leading journalists and the author of The Mind of South Africa, an intellectual history that owes much to the work of W.J. Cash, reads like a thriller as it covers the covert negotiations that began in the mid-80s and continued until Mandela’s 1994 election as president.

Nelson Mandela:The Man and the Movement, by Mary Benson This biography, which was published before The Long Walk to Freedom, provides a balanced and thorough look at Mandela’s early years, time in Johannesburg, years at the Black Pimpernel, Rivonia Trial and many of his years in prison.

Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation, by John Carlin.

The 1995 Rugby World Cup, held in South Africa, marked the country’s reintegration into the world sporting scene.   Rugby had been part of the glue in the wall of legal separation that was apartheid.

Carlin shows how Mandela, by donning the Springboks‘ green jersey, visiting the team in the locker room and prowling the sidelines as the team battled in the waning minutes of extra time against the mighty and favored All Blacks, transformed the former symbol white domination to the dawning of the Rainbow Nation.

Francois Pienaar, the scion of French Hugenots and the articulate team captain, is one of the book’s major characters.

Years later, he recalled that after the game ended, Mandela said, ‘Thank you very much for what you’ve done for South Africa” but I said “Thank you for what you’ve done.”

Indeed.  The world, and not just South Africa, is grateful that Nelson Rolihlalhla Mandela has walked among for 91 years, and, hopefully, for more to come.

Black History Month: Eugene de Kock’s Search for Forgiveness

Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela describes Eugene de Kock's quest for forgiveness in this slender and powerful book.

Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela describes Eugene de Kock's quest for forgiveness in this slender and powerful book.

Comforting a crying person by touching his hand doesn’t usually cause someone to drive twice as fast as normal, but Eugene de Kock and Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela exchanged no usual touch.

De Kock was one of the most notorious government-sanctioned killers during South Africa’s apartheid regime who headed the  government’s counterinsurgency unit that operated out of the Vlakplaas farm.  His torture and assassination of apartheid opponents earned him the nickname, Prime Evil.

Gobodo-Madikizela was a psychologist and one of the commissioners on the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Created out of the negotiations between the African National Congress and the National Party, the body, headed by Nobel Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, provided a space for the victims and perpetrators to share their stories publicly in the hopes of healing the nation and moving it forward into the new era.

Their touch occurred after de Kock’s requested to speak to Gobodo-Madikizela and shedding tears of remorse when recounting his actions.  After the psychologist extended her hand to comfort de Kock, she found that it was ‘clenched, cold and rigid, as if he were holding back.”

His response in turns causes Gobodo-Madikizela to realize that her spontaneous act of reaching out was “incompatible with the circumstances of an encounter with a person who not too long ago had used these same hands, this same voice, to authorize and initiate unspeakable acts of malice against people very much like myself.”

The ensuing blend of sympathy and guilt lead Gobodo-Madikizela to her frenzied driving and leads the reader to keep moving through A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Story of Forgiveness.

Gobodo-Madikizela packs a lot into this slender work, which covers her conversations with de Kock as he tries to reclaim his humanity through soulful examination and public apologies to relatives of some of his victims. 

In addition to the inner conflict Gobodo-Madikizela expresses about comforting de Kock, she also writes about some of the comments she received from people who questioned the both the premise of her conversations with de Kock as well as whether her growing sympathy for the killer was an indication of her losing the balance needed to be a fair commissioner.

A strong advocate for truth commissions, she explains how the body helped expose undeniably the government’s horrific actions as well as how effectively they hid their actions from the public.   The book also contains an exploration of de Kock’s childhood abuse, a brief history of apartheid, and a consideration of the possibilities and limits of forgiveness compared with other forms of coming together after mass violence.  

Gobodo-Madikizela is no dewy-eyed enthusiast for apologies and does not claim that simply uttering words will lead to healing.  She takes Winnie Mandela to task for saying nothing during nine days of testimony, then offering a perfunctory apology to the mother of Stompie Seipei, whose son was killed by members of Mandela’s “football club.”  And, even, when sincerely offered, as de Kock does to some of the relatives of his victims, she knows that the apology cannot undo the action, erase the already experience trauma or bring the loved one back to life.

Still, she argues, “through the vicarious experience of stories and forgiveness, a society can begin to heal itself, and a more authentic and lasting sense of self-esteem and of collective worth can begin to permeate public discourse about the past.”

A Human Being Died That Night has much to recommend it. 

Gobodo-Madikizela brings together the personal story of her experiences with violence during the apartheid regime, her interactions with de Kock, an unfolding of the action during the apartheid regime, and general thoughts about truth commissions and other similar bodies in this slender volume. She also acknowledges the criticism she received for talking so extensively to de Kock and responds to those charges. 

Skeptics of Gobodo-Madikizela’s actions may not be convinced by her explanation.  Others can point to de Kock and other murderers like Jeffrey Benzien’s being granted amnesty as evidence that any value the commission had in providing a venue for people to tell their stories was undermined, if not eradicated, by those decisions and by a body that has no meaningful mechanism for justice.  And others, while appreciating the commission’s contribution to the country at the time, may cite South Africa’s increasingly polarized climate and enduring poverty for millions of black citizens to question the commission’s ultimate impact.

Legitimate questions all, and ones that, from having known Gobodo-Madikizela, I am confident she would welcome.  In addition to being a compelling depiction of a tortured and fitful personal journey toward redemption, A Human Being Died That Night raises valuable questions whose lack of clear answers should not be used to diminish the quality of the work.