by Askia Muhammad
Washington (FinalCall.com) – In the 23 years since Nelson Mandela walked from his notorious Robben Island prison cell, leaving behind the rotting corpse of South Africa’s system of racial and economic oppression known as apartheid, a new generation has grown into adulthood there, literally unaware of the cruel exploitation and indignities the tiny White minority population inflicted on the masses of that country’s people.
A Black South African, for example, could be beaten for not looking away in order to avoid looking directly into the face of a White person.
Now, with the death – at age 95 – of Mr. Mandela, South Africa’s first president elected in 1994 by a true majority of that nation’s residents, the entire world is poised to finally close that painful chapter of world history, just as Mr. Mandela had done in life – in the spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness.
President Barack Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama will lead a delegation of U.S. officials including former president and Mrs. George W. Bush, as well as dozens of members of the Senate and the House of Representatives who are preparing to attend the funeral of the man whose name was once a prominent fixture on the State Department’s “Terrorist Watch List,” when this country’s policies supported the apartheid regime and were squarely on the wrong side of the moral arc of the universe.
But history and Mr. Mandela’s unconquerable spirit of freedom, justice and equality eventually vindicated him, rendering the legacy of his Afrikaner tormentors and their allies to the dust-bin of history.
Mr. Mandela rose from a member of the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League in the 1940s to face a life in prison sentence in 1962 for his role in the struggle for his people; he then emerged from prison in 1990 to lead the entire nation in 1994.
While Mr. Mandela was serving his term in prison, the reputation of South Africa’s apartheid government deteriorated, along with its chief ally, Israel, to become the world’s most despised pariah states.
With the death – at age 95 – of Mr. Mandela, South Africa’s first president elected in 1994 by a true majority of that nation’s residents, the entire world is poised to finally close that painful chapter of world history, just as Mr. Mandela had done in life – in the spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness.
“Apartheid, like Jim Crow and slavery, were essentially economic systems,” Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the online Pan African Newswire, told The Final Call during an interview on The Morning Brew, heard on Pacifica Radio’s WPFW-FM. “The reason why you had such repression against the people of South Africa is because they constituted the majority inside their own country, and they were sitting on top of some of the most valuable resources in the world, i.e. gold, diamonds, platinum and other strategic minerals that were essential to the world’s capitalist system.
“And of course they were interested in the super-exploitation of South African labor, as well as the exploitation of South African minerals. In order to do this, they developed a very rational system of exploitation and oppression which was codified as apartheid after 1948 when the Afrikaner Nationalist Party took power.
“You had a system of contract labor, of mineral exploitation, and of course all of these racist colonial regimes were closely allied with each other – Portugal, the British, the Rhodesians, and of course inside South Africa after 1910 you had the Union of South Africa which was really an unholy alliance between the British and the Boer settlers. All of these economic interests, all of these colonial powers were supported by the United States,” said Mr. Azikiwe.
“When we hear today all of these accolades about Nelson Mandela, they don’t mention that it was the American CIA which was instrumental in his capture in 1962 and they had never recognized the ANC all the way up, really, until 1990 after the release of Mandela when it became obvious that they had to normalize relations.”
The U.S., Israel and the United Kingdom were the apartheid government’s chief clients and collaborators. “The CIA and British intelligence also spied on him,” George Curry, editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association newswire, told The Morning Brew.
At Mr. Mandela’s hideout in Soweto before the government put him on trial for his life, “Right before he was captured, this White couple took him in hiding. They were pretending to be gardeners, working and the whole bit,” said Mr. Curry. But they were really working with the CIA and British intelligence, “spying on him and writing regular reports to the South African government (on) his movements. So, our hands are dirty, from top to bottom, and this government was forced to change.
“This country was very consistent,” Mr. Curry continued. “They supported minority rule in South Africa. Ronald Reagan wouldn’t sign a sanctions bill. Dick Cheney voted (in Congress) against it.” But U.S. sanctions were eventually approved “over Ronald Reagan’s veto. This is what we said you can’t minimize: the credit the African American community deserves – when you think about Randall Robinson and Mary Frances Berry and Eleanor Holmes Norton being out there in front of the embassy every day. We brought about change, disinvestment. The whole community – we had student involvement. The United States didn’t suddenly just change (its South Africa policy). They were forced to change. That came from our community,” Mr. Curry said.
“I like to focus on the system of oppression,” former Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., said on The Final Call radio panel. “Then, the foreign policy of the United States supported a White supremacist international structure. And today, the foreign policy of the United States still supports that structure.
“That structure is in trouble because of certain events that will turn that structure on its head, but it’s because of countries like China and India, Brazil asserting themselves, and the economic progression that is bound to take place inside those countries due to the population shifts – and of course the alignment of Africa with those countries, as opposed to the alignment of Africa with the European countries.
“So the system is still in place, and the face change has not resulted in system change, and that includes inside South Africa as well. What we have had, though, inside South Africa, is the creation of a Black political class that has access to the economic rewards of that system that’s still in place that hasn’t filtered down to the masses of Black people in South Africa.
“And, for that matter, that’s a global structure that denies access to resources to all people of color, because that structure, that system was not created by us. It was created by those who colonized and continue to oppress us,” said Ms. McKinney.
The U.S. aided its ally by arranging for the Shah of Iran to sell oil to the government, in violation of the growing international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. Israel reportedly offered to sell the government nuclear warheads, according to several published reports in May 2010. Secret South African documents released by the London Guardian reveal that Israel offered to sell nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime, providing the first official evidence of Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons.
The “top secret” minutes of meetings between senior officials from the two countries in 1975 show that South Africa’s defense minister, P.W. Botha, asked for the warheads, and Shimon Peres, then Israel’s defense minister and now its president, responded by offering them “in three sizes.” The two men also signed a broad-ranging agreement governing military ties between the two countries that included a clause declaring that “the very existence of this agreement” was to remain secret, according to The Guardian.
Israel’s President Shimon Peres denied the report, which claims there was an alleged nuclear pact between Israel and apartheid South Africa, according to the BBC.
That’s a global structure that denies access to resources to all people of color, because that structure, that system was not created by us. It was created by those who colonized and continue to oppress us.
Later, as the apartheid regime was brought to its knees, the forces supporting White minority control continued to attempt to extract political concessions from Mr. Mandela. They failed. “When Ted Koppel asked (Mr.) Mandela a question, he took a principled position,” A. Akbar Muhammad, international representative of the Nation of Islam, said on the radio panel. “You have to respect that. They named (Yasser) Arafat, Muammar Gadhafi and Fidel Castro, and (Mr. Mandela) said that ‘your enemies are not necessarily my enemies.’ That was a great statement. They wanted him to denounce … they were opening a way now for South Africa to emerge, and they wanted him to denounce his relationship with those individuals.”
But Mr. Mandela would not back down from his principles, Mr. Muhammad pointed out, particularly when the attack was centered on the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam.
“I’m going to call them ‘the lobby group’ around Mandela who said he should not meet with Minister Farrakhan,” Mr. Muhammad said. “They were working on that for about a week straight. And when he opened the way to meet us, in his home, and have open discussions with the press all over the place, I think it was a principled position and I greatly respect him for him to maneuver through that maze of White South Africans.”
But, he added, after the meeting, Mr. Mandela told the assembled media that there was nothing that he and Minister Farrakhan did not agree on.
“The amazing thing about him, you see courage in him you do not see in a lot of leaders today. He would stand up. He would be consistent. He would not disavow his friends or people who had like interests. There was an enormous amount of pressure, not only for the Minister, particularly for Castro, and he did not, and he could have. It just makes the man that much greater to me,” said Mr. Curry.
“So this historical period is very significant,” added Dr. Leonard Jeffries, chair of the Department of African Studies at the City University of New York (CUNY). “He has to be acknowledged as one of the great leaders, and he will be. But my great fear is that we will have what I call a ‘paralysis of analysis’ focusing on the greatness of an individual, and we will miss the important point, which is we have to have a systems analysis.
“So after the praises and the ceremonies and the songs, we have to look hard at the question of the oppression of Black people in South Africa and other places, and that the system has to be looked at. That was one of the great weaknesses in the great work of our brother. People were calling him a philosopher-king. People are acknowledging him as the greatest of the leaders – not just Black leaders, but all leaders – but I think we’re going to miss the point that the system of domination, destruction and death, the system that has until this day kept Black people at the bottom of the ladder, the system that has gotten wealthy off of our oppression, is still in place and there’s no serious look at it.
“So I hope that we praise him, because he stands, as someone said, to show the indestructibility of the human spirit, but we have to look at the system’s destructiveness. Black people have the best case for reparations in the history of the world for me, in South Africa, but that is something Nelson Mandela did not want to raise, because it would rupture relationships.
“So we have a political agreement, access to the vote, but, someone said, ‘not access to the purse.’ So this economic justice has to be raised.
“My hope is that we do not take the brother’s greatness – which represents the greatness of our people to survive and to thrive – past the system of dehumanization,” Dr. Jeffries continued.
“People were calling him a philosopher-king. People are acknowledging him as the greatest of the leaders – not just Black leaders, but all leaders – but I think we’re going to miss the point that the system of domination, destruction and death, the system that has until this day kept Black people at the bottom of the ladder, the system that has gotten wealthy off of our oppression, is still in place and there’s no serious look at it.”
“So we praise Nelson because that is the praise due our great-grandfathers and grandmothers who have struggled out of the system of domination, destruction and death. But as we prepare for the future, if we can’t look at them in a hard way and see agreements have been made to co-opt our leadership into the system and then, by co-opting them, they’re neutralized and they can’t continue to fight for economic justice.
“We don’t have a real understanding of the three dimensions (of governance: economics, politics and culture) working together on our behalf. They work against us because the culture of white supremacy co-opts our people,” said Dr. Jeffries. “They get a comfortable leadership position, and they cannot make the continuous moves to share the wealth for what we’re talking about in terms of economic justice.”
Mr. Mandela appeared to understand and to resist that challenge to sell out. Shortly after he was elected, Mr. Mandela greeted a delegation of 200 from the United States, including former Federal Reserve Board member Dr. Andrew Brimmer. The group was en route to Harare, Zimbabwe, led by the Rev. Dr. Leon Sullivan to participate in his 1995 African-African American Summit.
It wasn’t until after he was in office that he was offered inducements “that he had never even dreamed of,” if he would only compromise his principles, President Mandela said, speaking to the group in Johannesburg, pointing out that he had resisted the temptation.
“So, economics and politics are the foundation of any system,” said Dr. Jeffries. “But culture is key, because culture tells you what type of economics to have and who to do your politics with. So I’m hopeful that some of us will be able to wake people up enough to say, ‘Praise him, but let’s raise some serious questions.’
“You can’t create a system like America where you have the Wal-Mart family having as much wealth as 40 percent of the population on the globe. It’s unbelievable.
“We need an analysis of the real deal, and then we can operate on that.”
“It’s almost as if you win the war on the battlefront and lose it politically,” said Ms. McKinney. “So, no, I do not think that the people of South Africa – the masses, the majority of the people of South Africa – are going to settle for face change as opposed to regime change.
“You have this bubbling undercurrent for land reform. And it is inevitability. It has to happen in order for, I believe, that country to continue. There are going to have to be some major economic shifts that take place that are systemic in nature,” she continued.
“So as we put together these new nations that came out of these struggles in Africa and the Caribbean and other places, we’re still at the level of survival. We’re not even thinking how can we control the levers of economics, politics and culture so that the masses of people have a greater chance to be a part of the growth and development,” Dr. Jeffries added.
“The dynamics of South Africa are still there. The potential of destructive behavior is still there. But people have to sit down and work out a system that is fair. The tragedy is that the wealthiest people don’t want that to occur and they are able to co-opt our leadership.
“You have this bubbling undercurrent for land reform. And it is inevitability.”
“All over our experience, we win the battle and the struggle, whether it’s civil rights or independence rights, and then we go to the conference table and we negotiate away the victory. These are the things that have been happening since the Haitian revolution, where we win the great battle and there’s a victorious struggle, but then we go to the conference table and we lose. We lose.
“We need to look at this global thing. We, certainly, who have a chance to sit back and do it, are obligated to celebrate, but we have to be re-dedicated to struggle and to fairness and justice,” he said. The struggle to which President Mandela remained loyal throughout his entire life.
Askia Muhammad, senior editor of The Final Call, can be reached via Twitter: @askiaphotojourn.