Which legacy of Mandela? – Politicsweb, 1 August 2016

Aug 01, 2016
John Kane-Berman says a less ideologically confused DA would be more cautious about depicting itself as Madiba's political heir.

By John Kane-Berman

What exactly is the Mandela legacy the Democratic Alliance has in mind?

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has clearly touched a raw nerve by continuing defiantly to portray itself as the true heir to Nelson Mandela. A reportedly "fiery" Blade Nzimande, general secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP), has accused it of trying to "hijack" Mr Mandela's legacy. 

"It is very good that Comrade Nelson Mandela is respected internationally, a global icon," says Dr Nzimande. "But we must not forget that Comrade Mandela was a revolutionary. He took up arms against the apartheid regime. He was the first commander in chief of Umkhonto we Sizwe. Now there are these attempts to try and steal that image."

Mr Mandela's revolutionary credentials are perhaps not what the leader of the DA, Mmusi Maimane, has in mind when he seeks to portray his party as Mr Mandela's "true torch bearer". But Dr Nzimande has a point when he says that the DA is trying to rewrite history "as if there was no national revolution, no African National Congress (ANC)".

Mr Mandela may be idolised the world over for the personal sacrifices he made, for the noble ideals he clothed in resounding words, for his reconciliatory gestures towards whites, for his magnanimity, for his political wisdom, and for his statesmanship. All of this ensures that his admirers here and abroad include people of all races, faiths, and political persuasions. If the DA does well in the municipal elections later this week it will no doubt feel rewarded in having cashed in on Mr Mandela's reputation and prevented the ANC from monopolising the powerful Mandela brand.    

But there is a less glorious side to Mr Mandela's legacy. The ANC, not least under the presidency of Albert Luthuli from 1952 to 1967, had long been committed to peaceful strategies to combat apartheid. But it was Mr Mandela and other members of the SACP who founded Umkhonto and launched "armed struggle" in 1961. This later mutated into revolutionary violence and the no-holds-barred "people's war" in which more than 20 000 lives were lost.

Moreover, Mr Mandela's response on the day of his release after 27 years in prison was to call for an "intensification of the struggle on all fronts."  Even though he later spoke in a more conciliatory tone, violence did indeed intensify - to the extent that that same year, 1990, was the most violent in our modern history.

The politically correct view is that all of this should now be airbrushed out as over and done with - except that the violence and criminality which continue to plague South Africa have their origins in the revolutionary strategies of the past. These strategies included assassinations of police officers, local councillors, and members of rival organisations among black people. Unsurprisingly, political assassinations are now occurring within the ANC itself.

In one of his early speeches as president, Mr Mandela committed himself to the "continuous expansion of the frontiers of freedom". But it was not long before his government was also expanding the frontiers of government, the result of which is the excessively intrusive state we have today.

In particular, the Labour Relations Act of 1995 was put on to the statute book during Mr Mandela's presidency. It was the beginning of a long series of interventions that have helped to undermine flexibility in the labour market and so damage the ability of the economy to generate jobs on the scale required. The Employment Equity Act of 1998, also a product of his government, was the first of many statutory measures that made race one of the dominating and most harmful determinants of investment, employment, and procurement policy.

If the DA were less opportunist and less ideologically confused, especially over race, it would be a bit more cautious about depicting itself as Nelson Mandela's political heir.          

John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the Institute of Race Relations, a think-tank promoting political and economic freedom.

Read the article on Politicsweb here.

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