Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Brief History of South Africa

Long Walk to Freedom “the Autobiography of Nelson Mandela”

First published in Great Britain in 1994. Copyright 1994 by Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.  Reprinted 1995, through 2010.

          In Xhosa, Rolihlahlia literally means “pulling the branch of a tree” but it’s colloquial meaning is more accurate.  It’s ‘troublemaker.”  Nelson’s father was a Xhosa chief by both blood and custom, eligible for a stipend and a portion of the fees the government levied on the community.  Both Nelson and his dad were groomed to counsel the rulers of their tribe.  Both were exceedingly stubborn.  His father was an acknowledged custodian of Xhosa history although he could neither read or write.  “My father possessed a proud rebelliousness, a stubborn sense of fairness, that I recognize in myself.” (P. 7)

Nelson loved African history and learned of the great African heros by listening during his father’s councils.  “Their speech was formal and lofty, their manner slow and unhurried and the traditional clicks of our language were long and dramatic.” Many were African patriots who fought against Western domination and Nelson’s imagination was fired by the glory of these African Warriors.  The Thembu, the Pondo, the Xhosa, and the Zulu were all children of one father, and lived as brothers.  The white man shattered the abantu, the fellowship, of the various tribes.  The white man was hungry and greedy for land, and the black man shared the land with him as they shared the air and water; land was not for man to possess.  But the white man took the land as you might seize another man’s horse. (P. 27)

Mandela writes that at sixteen a youth becomes a man in Xhosa tradition.  This is achieved through ceremony and circumcision.  “In my tradition an uncircumcised male cannot be heir to his father’s wealth, cannot marry or officiate in tribal rituals.  It’s a lengthy and elaborate ritual.  I count my years as a man from the date of my circumcision.”(p. 30-31)

In 1937 when he was nineteen Mandella attended Wesleyan College in Fort Beaufort.  It was one of the British outposts during the Frontier Wars in which a steady encroachment of white settlers systematically dispossessed the various Xhosa tribes of their land.  Many Xhosa warriors achieved fame for their bravery.  Two were imprisoned on Robben Island by British authorities where they died. Mandela thought about these men when he was imprisoned there for twenty-seven and one half years.  In college Nelson was a boxer and a long distance runner.  He became a member of the Students Christian Association and taught Bible class in the neighbouring villages.

“”I cannot pinpint a moment when I became politicized, when I knew that I would spend my life in the liberation struggle.  To be an African in South Africa means that one is politicized  from the moment of one’s birth, whether one acknowledges it or not.  An African child is born in an Africans Only hospital, taken home in an Africans Only bus, lives in an Africans Only area and attends Africans Only schools, if he attends school at all.   When he grows up, he can hold Africans Only jobs, rent a house in Africans Only townships, ride Africans Only trains and be stopped at any time of the day or night and be ordered to produce a pass, without which he can be arrested and thrown into jail.  His life is circumscribed by racist laws and regulations that cripple his growth and  his potential and stunted his life.  This was Mandela’s reality as a young attorney in Johannesburg. Consequently he became angry and rebellious and had a desire to fight the system that imprisoned his people.   He found inspiration in Mahatma Gandhi’s success which ended British rule in India in 1946.  Nelson determined to do likewise in South Africa.  (P. 109)

He married Evelyn Mase in 1946.  Her father was a mine worker who had died when she was an infant.  He was soon the father of a son, Madiba Thembekile, called Thembi.   “I had perpetuated the Mandela name and the Madiba clan, which is one of the basic responsibilities of a Xhosa male.  My sister Leabie joined us and I took her across the railway line to enroll her at Orlando High School.  All members of a Xhosa man’s family have equal claim for housing and support.  A daughter was born next but died at nine months of age.  A second son, Makgatho Lewanika, was born during the Day of Protest. Nelson was able to be with Evelyn in the hospital.  “The struggle was all-consuming.  A man involved in the struggle was a man without a home life.”

In 1947 Nelson was elected to the Executive Committee of the Transvaal ANC, his first position in the African National Conference.  “From that time I came to identify myself with the Congress as a whole, with it’s hopes and despairs, its success and failures, I was now bound heart and soul.”  Africans could not vote, but that did not mean that they did not care who won election.  Dr. Daniel Malan, a former minister of the Dutch reformed Church and a newspaper editor ran for president in support of Apartheid.  It literally means ‘apartness.” It’s a system of laws and regulations that had kept Africans in an inferior position to whites for centuries.  (P. 126) It’s premise was that whites were superior to Africans, Coloureds and Indians.  The function of apartheid was to entrench white supremacy for ever.

The ANC adopted a Programme of Action which called for boycotts, strikes, stay-at-homes, passive resistance, protest demonstrations and other forms of mass action along the lines of Gandhi’s non-violent protests in India.  Nelson was so heavily involved that when Thembi was five he asked his mother, “Where does Daddy live?”  He had been returning home late at night and departing early in the morning before his son awoke.  Nelson was strongly drawn to the idea of a classless society which, to my mind, was similar to traditional African culture where life was shared and communal.  I subscribed to Marx’s basic dictum, which has the simplicity and generosity of the Golden Rule: ‘From each according to his ability; to each according to his need.’

The ANC sent out flyers, “We call the people of South Africa black and white - Let us speak together of freedom – Let the voices of all the people be heard.  Let us gather together in a great charter of freedom.  The ANC endorsed a charter which allowed everyone the right to vote and equal rights under the law.  They proposed  that the land shall be shared among those who work it.  Restriction of land ownership on racial basis shall be ended and all the land re-divided amongst those who work it, to banish famine and land hunger. (P. 205)  By supporting ANC  Mandela was band from traveling and promoting the organization.  He broke the band and consequently went to jail and had to defend himself.  This interfered with his law practice.

In 1953 Evelyn finished her midwifery course at Durban while her mother and sister-in-law took care of her children “I visited her on at least one occasion,” Mendela recalled.  “She became pregnant and gave birth to a girl we named Makaziwe after the child that died.”  Evelyn joined the Jehovah’s Witness and encouraged Nelson to participate.  In 1955 she gave him an ultimatum: “I had to choose between her and the ANC”.   Nelson told his wife that  he was commitment to the fight for freedom. So they divorced.

Two years later Nelson met Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela, known as Winnie.  She was the first black social worker in Johannesburg.  “Nomzoma means one who strives or undergoes trials, a name as prophetic as my own.  She supported me and participated in my work.  We were married 14 June 1958.  Her father spoke of his love for his daughter, my commitment to the country and my dangerous career as a politician.   At the wedding he said he was not optimistic about the future, and that such a marriage, in such difficult times, would be unremittingly tested.  He told his daughter that she was marrying a man who was already married to the struggle.  He bade her good luck and said, “If you man is a wizard, you must become a witch.”  It was his way of saying she must follow him on whatever path he takes. (p.252)   Winney and Nelson became the parents of two daughters: Zenani born in 1959 and Zindziswa, born in December of 1960.

In 1978 his daughter Zeni married Prince Thumbumuzi, a son of King Sobhuza of Swaziland.  They had met while Zeni was away at school.  Being in prison, I was not able to fufill the father’s traditional duties.  In our culture, the father of the bride must interview the prospective groom and assess his prospects.  He must also determine lobala, the brideprice, which is paid by the groom to the bride’s family.  On the wedding day itself, the father gives away his daughter.  Although I had no doubts about the young man, I asked my friend and legal adviser George Bizos to stand in for me.  I instructed George to interview the prince about how he intended to look after my daughter. (P.589)

Mandela became an outlaw and  was known  as the Black Pimpernel. On December 5, 1956 he was arrested for high treason and put on trial.  During the trial the court heard evidence on non-violence and pacifists.  There is a difference. Pacifists refused to defend themselves even when violently attacked, but that was not the case with those who espoused non-violence.  Sometimes men and nations, even when non-violent, have to defend themselves when they were attacked. The ANC was accused of being a communist organization and having a dual policy of non-violence intended for the public and a secret plan of waging violent revolution.  As a ANC leader, Mandela was accused of high treason,  punishable by death.   He defended himself:

“Many years ago, when I was a boy brought up in my village in the Transkei, I listened to the elders of the tribe telling stories about the good old days before the arrival of the white man.  Then our people lived peacefully, under the democratic rule of their kings and their amapakati [meaning those closest in rank to the king] and moving freely and confidently up and down the country without let or hindrance.  The country was our own, in name and right.  We occupied the land, the forests, the rivers; we extracted the mineral wealth beneath the soil and all the riches of this beautiful country.  We set up and operated our own government, we controlled our own arms and we organized our trade and commerce.  The elders would tell of the wars fought by our ancestors in defense of the Fatherland, as well as the acts of valor by generals and soldiers during these epic days.

I told the court how I had joined the African National Congress and how its policy of democracy and non-racialism reflected my own deepest convictions.  I explained how as a lawyer I was often forced to choose between compliance with the law or accommodating my conscience. . . I was made, by the law, a criminal, not because of what I had done, but because of what I stood for, because of what I thought, because of my conscience. . . I do not regret having taken the decisions that I did take.  Other people will be driven in the same way in this country, by the very same force of police persecution and of administrative action by the government, to follow my course, of that I am certain. (P. 393). . .

The lack of human dignity experienced by Africans is the direct result of the policy of white supremacy.  White supremacy implies black inferiority.  Legislation designed to preserve white supremacy entrenches this nation.  Menial tasks in South Africa are invariably performed by Africans.  When anything has to be carried or cleaned the white looks around for an African to do it for him, whether the African is employed by him or not. . .  Poverty and the breakdown of family life have secondary effects.  Children wander about the streets of the townships because they have no schools to go to or not money to enable them to go to school or no parents at home to see that they go to school because both parents (if there be two) have to work to keep the family alive.  This leads to a breakdown in moral standards, to an alarming rise in illegitimacy and to growing violence which erupts, not only politically but everywhere. . .  Africans want a just share in the whole of South Africa; they want security and a stake in society.  Above all, we want equal political rights. Because without them our disabilities will be permanent. (P. 438)

 The government finally agreed to talks in order to end the violence after Mandela had been in prison for over two decades.  Winnie’s house had been burned down.  Accused of helping a group of  radicals, Winnie was tried and found guilty.  Winny lost her job as a social worker and went to jail for several months.   Mandela states,  “We had been fighting against white minority rule for three-quarters of a century.  We had been engaged in the armed struggle for more than two decades.  Many people on both sides had already died.  The enemy was strong and resolute.  Yet even with all their bombers and tanks, they must have sensed they were on the wrong side of history.  We had right on our side but not yet might. (P. 626)

On February 11, 1990 Nelson was released from prison after twenty-eight and a half years of confinement.  He was seventy-one years old.  He said,  “Friends, comrades and fellow South Africans.  I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all! .  . Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today.  I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands.” (P. 676)   He was an international hero and traveled the world meeting kings and national leader.  He gave speeches all over the planet. New York honored him in a ticker tape parade.   In 1993 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with Mr. F.W. de Klerk, president of South Africa with whom he had negotiated an agreement to adopt a new constitution for South Africa.  Nelson paid tribute to his fellow laureate:

Mr. de Klerk  had the courage to admit that a terrible wrong had been done to our country and people through the imposition of the system of apartheid.  He had the foresight to understand and accept that all the people of South African must, through negotiations and as equal participants in the process, together determine what they want to make of their future.

Actually the government under de Klerk had failed to track down and bring to justice those people who were responsible for the violence that the country was facing in 1992, until a mass action campaign culminated in a general strike on the 3rd and 4th of August in support of the ANC’s negotiation demands, and in protest against state-supported violence.  More than four million workers stayed at home in what was the largest political strike in South African history.  One hundred thousand people marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria and held an enormous outdoor rally on the great lawn.  Mandela told the crowd that one day we would occupy these buildings, as the first democratically elected government of South Africa. (P. 725)

On 13 April 1995 Nelson  held a press conference in Johannesburg and announced his separation from Winnie.  “The relationship between myself and my wife, Comrade Nomzamo Winnie Mandela, has become the subject of much media speculation.  We contract our marriage at a critical time in the struggle for liberation.  Owing to the pressure of our shared commitment to the ANC and the struggle to end apartheid, we were unable to enjoy a normal family life.  During the two decades I spent on Robben island she was an indispensable pillar of support and comfort.  Comrad Nomzamo accepted the onerous burden of raising our children on her own. . .  She endured the persecutions heaped upon her by the Government with exemplary fortitude and never wavered from her commitment to the freedom struggle. Her tenacity reinforced my personal respect, love and growing affection.  It also attracted the admiration of the world at large.  My love for her remains undiminished. . .” (P.719)

On 18 November 1993 an interim constitution was finally approved.  The government and the ANC had cleared the remaining hurdles.  The new cabinet would be composed of those parties winning more than 5% of the vote.  National elections would not take place until 1999 so that the government of national unity would serve for five years; finally the government gave way on our insistence on a single ballot paper for the election.  (P. 733)  I voted for the proposal on 27 April. The ANC  polled 62.6 percent of the national vote, slightly short of the two-thirds needed had we wished to push through a final constitution without support from other parties. . . Some in the ANC were disappointed but I was not.  I was relieved. for I wanted a true government of national unity. (P. 743)

Mandela was elected president and inaugurated on 10 May 1999.  It was the first time he and all other minorities were allowed to vote.  “Now in the last decade of the twentieth century, and my own eighth decade as a man, that system has been overturned forever and replaced by one that recognized the rights and freedoms of all peoples regardless of the colour of their skin.  The deep and lasting wounds of oppression and brutality were finally at an end. Perhaps it requires such depths of oppression to create such heights of character. For a country rich in minerals and gems, perhaps the greatest wealth is it’s people. . . (p. 748)

I have walked the long road to freedom. . .I have tried not to falter. . .  But I have discovered that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more to climb.  With freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger for my long walk is not yet ended”. (P. 751)

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