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Why the West loves Mandela and hates Mugabe

December 17, 2013

by Stephen Gowans

In the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death, hosannas continue to be sung to the former ANC leader and South African president from both the left, for his role in ending the institutional racism of apartheid, and from the right, for ostensibly the same reason. But the right’s embrace of Mandela as an anti-racist hero doesn’t ring true. Is there another reason establishment media and mainstream politicians are as Mandela-crazy as the left?

Mandela-Mugabe
Former South African President Nelson Mandela talks with his comrade, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Mugabe was the first African head of state to visit South Africa in 1994, when Mandela became president. Mandela hailed him at a welcoming dinner for his pivotal role “as leader and chairman of the Front-line States” in fighting and overthrowing apartheid.
According to Doug Saunders, reporter for the unabashedly big business-promoting Canadian daily, The Globe and Mail, there is.

In a Dec. 6 article, “From revolutionary to economic manager: Mandela’s lesson in change,” Saunders writes that Mandela’s “great accomplishment” was to protect the South African economy as a sphere for exploitation by the white property-owning minority and Western corporate and financial elite from the rank-and-file demands for economic justice of the movement he led.

Saunders doesn’t put it in quite these terms, hiding the sectional interests of bond holders, land owners and foreign investors behind Mandela’s embrace of “sound” principles of economic management, but the meaning is the same.

Saunders quotes Alec Russell, a Financial Times writer who explains that under Mandela, the ANC “proved a reliable steward of sub-Sahara Africa’s largest economy, embracing orthodox fiscal and monetary policies …” That is, Mandela made sure that the flow of profits from South African mines and agriculture into the coffers of foreign investors and the white business elite wasn’t interrupted by the implementation of the ANC’s economic justice program, with its calls for nationalizing the mines and redistributing land.

Instead, Mandela dismissed calls for economic justice as a “culture of entitlement” of which South Africans needed to rid themselves. That he managed to persuade them to do so meant that the peaceful digestion of profits by those at the top could continue uninterrupted.

But it was not Mandela’s betrayal of the ANC’s economic program that Saunders thinks merits the right’s admiration, though the right certainly is grateful. Mandela’s genius, according to Saunders, was that he did it “without alienating his radical followers or creating a dangerous factional struggle within his movement.”

Thus, in Saunder’s view, Mandela was a special kind of leader: one who could use his enormous prestige and charisma to induce his followers to sacrifice their own interests for the greater good of the elite that had grown rich off their sweat, going so far as to acquiesce in the repudiation of their own economic program.

“Here is the crucial lesson of Mr. Mandela for modern politicians,” writes Saunders. “The principled successful leader is the one who betrays his party members for the larger interests of the nation. When one has to decide between the rank-and-file and the greater good, the party should never come first.”

It was not Mandela’s betrayal of the ANC’s economic program that Saunders thinks merits the right’s admiration, though the right certainly is grateful. Mandela’s genius, according to Saunders, was that he did it “without alienating his radical followers or creating a dangerous factional struggle within his movement.”

For Saunders and most other mainstream journalists, “the larger interests of the nation” are the larger interests of banks, land owners, bond holders and shareholders. This is the idea expressed in the old adage “What’s good for GM is good for America.”

Since mainstream media are large corporations, interlocked with other large corporations, and are dependent on still other large corporations for advertising revenue, the placing of an equal sign between corporate interests and the national interest comes quite naturally. Would we be shocked to discover that a mass-circulation newspaper owned by environmentalists (if such a thing existed) opposed fracking? (Journalists will rejoin, “I say what I like.” But as Michael Parenti once pointed out, journalists say what they like because their bosses like what they say.)

Predictably, Saunders ends his encomium to the party-betraying Mandela, the “good” liberation hero, with a reference to the “bad” southern African liberation hero, Robert Mugabe. “One only needs look north to Zimbabwe to see what usually happens when revolutionaries” fail to follow Mandela’s economically conservative path, writes Saunders.

At one point, Mugabe’s predilection for orthodox fiscal and monetary policy was as strong as Mandela’s. Yet after almost a decade-and-a-half of the Western media demonizing Mugabe as an autocratic thug, it’s difficult to remember that he, too, was once the toast of Western capitals.

The West’s love affair with Mugabe came to an abrupt end when he rejected the Washington Consensus and embarked on a fast-track land reform program. Its disdain for him deepened when he launched an indigenization program to place majority control of the country’s mineral resources in the hands of Black Zimbabweans.

Predictably, Saunders ends his encomium to the party-betraying Mandela, the “good” liberation hero, with a reference to the “bad” southern African liberation hero, Robert Mugabe. “One only needs look north to Zimbabwe to see what usually happens when revolutionaries” fail to follow Mandela’s economically conservative path, writes Saunders.

Mugabe’s transition from “good” liberation hero to “bad,” from saint to demon, coincided with his transition from “reliable steward” of Zimbabwe’s economy – that is, reliable steward of foreign investor and white colonial settler interests – to promoter of indigenous Black economic interests.

That’s a transition Mandela never made. Had he, the elite of the imperialist world would not now be flocking to South Africa for Saint Mandela’s funeral, overflowing with fulsome eulogies.

Stephen Gowans is a Canadian writer and political activist based in Ottawa. This story originally appeared on his website, What’s Left, and has been reposted by the Harare Herald and All-Africa.

South Africa and Zimbabwe: A tale of two land reforms

by Harold Green

While Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress are to be praised for their courageous and persistent commitment to ending the racist and brutal system of apartheid, including taking up arms against it, the question many have begun to ask: How true did they stay to that commitment upon being released from prison? The answer to that question can be found in understanding what the specific goals and objectives were of the various forces that were fighting against it.

For Nelson Mandela and the ANC – one of many South African anti-apartheid groups – their goals and objectives were crystallized in the ANC’s 1955 Freedom Charter. Controversial when it was created, many like Robert Sobukwe, who thought it was not nationalistic, not “African” enough, left the ANC to go on to form other anti-apartheid groups. In the case of Robert Sobukwe, he and other former members of the ANC would go on to form the Pan African Congress in 1959.

Despite the controversial multiracial aspect of the Freedom Charter, there was one important demand in it to which all did agree: that land ownership would be the right to all. In the section entitled, “The Land Shall Be Shared Among Those Who Work It!” it states:

“Restrictions of land ownership on a racial basis shall be ended, and all the land re-divided amongst those who work it to banish famine and land hunger;

“The state shall help the peasants with implements, seed, tractors and dams to save the soil and assist the tillers;

“Freedom of movement shall be guaranteed to all who work on the land;

“All shall have the right to occupy land wherever they choose …”

Despite the controversial multiracial aspect of the Freedom Charter, there was one important demand in it to which all did agree: that land ownership would be the right to all.

Land reform and redistribution was one of the main focal points of the anti-apartheid movement. While the issue of pass laws, housing, fair compensation for labor, human rights etc. were important, it was the issue of land, especially amongst Black South Africans, that factored significantly in the fight to end apartheid.

When Nelson Mandela and the ANC came to power, they made sure the issue of land reform was included in the new constitution. In it, the right to have access to land was guaranteed, albeit with the problematic caveat that there would be no “arbitrary expropriation” and that land could only be acquired on a “willing seller, willing buyer” basis.

Despite some early successes, the willing seller, willing buyer stipulation has proven to be problematic. White land owners began asking for far more than what the land was worth, leading to inflated land values and making it virtually impossible for the government to sustain funding. Encouragingly, the willing seller, willing buyer stipulation is being abandoned and a new expropriation bill has been introduced (March 2013) in response to demands that land reform take place on a more equitable basis.

Land reform and redistribution was one of the main focal points of the anti-apartheid movement. While the issue of pass laws, housing, fair compensation for labor, human rights etc. were important, it was the issue of land, especially amongst Black South Africans, that factored significantly in the fight to end apartheid.

Upon coming to power in 1994, two years before the new constitution was implemented, the ANC, through its Restitution of Land Rights Act enacted in 1994 and its Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP), promised agricultural and land reform. Its stated goal was to put 30 percent of the 90 percent of farm land held by whites into the hands of Black farmers, and to settle the hundreds of thousands restitution claims by those Blacks who could prove their family’s land had been stolen under apartheid.

Those goals were to have been achieved by 2000. To date, barely 10 percent of farm land has been redistributed. Sadly, 90 percent of the resulting farms have failed due to insufficient funding, yet funding was promised under the Restitution of Land Rights Act.

Bewilderingly, the vast majority of Black South Africans whose land was stolen and thus had legitimate claims for restitution, have missed the poorly advertised deadline for filing restitution claims with no second chances. Many others have been forced to accept meager payments for land that was stolen far below current market value. In a word, land reform in South Africa under ANC leadership 20 years hence has been a disaster.

Understandably, Black South Africans are losing patience with the ineffective manner in which land reform has been carried out. Many are beginning to look at the land reform process implemented by ZANU-PF under the leadership of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, and are questioning whether this approach should be followed by the ANC. The leadership of the ANC, in no rush to upset the economic apple cart that has made many of them rich, is scampering to ward off the growing discontent over the slow pace of land reform.

Despite the continuous racist ad hominem attacks against Robert Mugabe, coupled with economic sanctions in an attempt to destroy Zimbabwe’s land reform agenda, land reform in Zimbabwe is moving along with a considerable degree of success. As evidenced in a host of books and reports published in recent years, most notably: “Zimbabwe’s Fast Track Land Reform” by Prosper D. Matondi and “Zimbabwe Takes Its Land Back” by Joseph Hanlon, Zimbabwe’s land reform, in spite of its tumultuous and long overdue start, has resulted in hundreds of thousands of Black Zimbabweans becoming new and successful farmers.

These reports dispel the racist myths about famine and food shortages due to failing Black farms. What these reports reveal is that these new Black farms are just as profitable as the white-owned farms were, producing sufficient food for both Zimbabwe’s export and domestic markets.

Black South Africans are losing patience with the ineffective manner in which land reform has been carried out. Many are beginning to look at the land reform process implemented by ZANU-PF under the leadership of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, and are questioning whether this approach should be followed by the ANC.

What is also proving to be successful is Zimbabwe’s indigenization program administered through Zimbabwe’s Youth, Indigenization and Economic Empowerment ministry. This requires that all foreign companies operating in Zimbabwe sell at least 51 percent of ownership of the respective companies to a local Zimbabwean. Having learned their lesson from the land reform episode that saw ZANU-PF prevail, these foreign companies are offering little resistance to indigenization.

No such indigenization program exists for Black South Africans. Instead, there is the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) program administered under South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry. Its stated purpose is to “focus on broadening participation, equity and access to redress for all economic citizens, particularly those previously marginalized.”

The BEE has a host of objectives designed to more fully integrate Black South Africans into the South African economy by encouraging Black ownership and entrepreneurship. However, instead of the masses benefiting, there has been a rush by the leadership of the ANC and other well connected Blacks to become minority partners and sit on boards of various white-owned companies.

This grotesque scenario has prompted Moeletsi Mbeki, brother of former South African president Thabo Mbeki, to comment, “it (BEE) strikes the fatal blow against the emergence of Black entrepreneurship by creating a small class of unproductive but wealthy Black crony capitalists made up of ANC politicians, some retired and others not, who have become strong allies of the economic oligarchy.”

It is no secret that corruption amongst ANC’s leadership has become pandemic while the wealth gap between rich and poor – mostly Black – has become one of the most unequal in the world.

As frustration and anger grows among Black South Africans, particularly among Black South African youth, who make up 77 percent of South Africa’s population, and who are 70 percent of the unemployed, coupled with continuing intransigence on the part of white South Africans in their unwillingness to relinquish accumulated advantages, the ANC may very well be facing a Zimbabwean type scenario which they might not be able to control.

Black South African youth view Robert Mugabe as a hero for not only taking back African land from white farmers, but also for successfully standing up to the most powerful economic forces in the world as they imposed near crippling sanctions in their attempt to destroy Zimbabwe’s economy and force Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF from power. No surprise then that at the recent memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, he received the loudest cheers and applause, as well as a standing ovation when acknowledged as one of the attending dignitaries.

It is no secret that corruption amongst ANC’s leadership has become pandemic while the wealth gap between rich and poor – mostly Black – has become one of the most unequal in the world.

If Zimbabwean type scenarios are to break out in South Africa, while surely to be condemned by moneyed interests both inside and outside the country, they might in the long run prove to be just as successful as Zimbabweans’ forced takeovers of white-controlled farms have been. Of course, the ANC in its new role as protector of moneyed interest in South Africa will be forced to make a choice.

Will they side with the Black masses or with the white minority? If the Marikana mine incident, where 34 Black miners were murdered in cold blood – mainly by Black South African police – for demanding better wages is any indication, land reform in South Africa will make land reform in Zimbabwe look like a lunch in the park.

Nearly 15 years after “fast track” land reform began in Zimbabwe, we have seen the vast majority of Zimbabwe’s land returned to its rightful owners. After nearly 20 years of ANC rule in South Africa, the vast majority of South Africa’s land still is in the hands of its white minority.

The controversy and criticism the ANC has sought to avoid by not pursuing a more aggressive and just land reform and economic program in the immediate post-apartheid period will surely come back to haunt them in the post-Mandela era. We shall see.

Harold Green, a Pan-African activist based in Los Angeles, can be contacted at paclwp@msn.com.

 

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3 thoughts on “Why the West loves Mandela and hates Mugabe

  1. John Mulligan

    Didn't Mandela voluntarily give up power while Mugabe clung to it for decades? Did Mandela promote fair elections while Mugabe rigged them? Did Mandela maintain his country's solvency while Mugabe ran it into the ground, handing out land to his political cronies? How is Mugabe just like every other African despot? How is Mandela different?

    Reply
    1. tech

      Just shut up, you wouldn't be able to locate South Africa OR Zimbabwe on a map so there's no way you could leave a credible comment!

      Reply

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