Nelson Mandela, a hero to many, is receiving an unprecedented public canonization on the occasion of his death at 95 years’ age. Many are caught up in the tide of praise; others caught up in the undertow:
Newt Gingrich on Sunday addressed the backlash over comments he made on Facebook praising former South African President Nelson Mandela.
CNN “State of the Union” host Candy Crowley read some of the Facebook responses criticizing Gingrich’s statement.
“Such an amazing rewrite of history since 1962 and 1990. Newt, I thought you, of all people, a historian, would be true to who this guy really was,” one said. And another wrote: “This clenched-fist, murdering guerilla warrior does not deserve respect from informed Americans.”
via Gingrich answers Mandela critics – POLITICO.com.
Mandela is a complex figure, neither the monster of his critics nor the plaster saint of the biên-pensants. We thought that, instead of adding our opinion unbidden to the cacophony, we’d dig into our library of primary Mandela sources for some quotes from the man himself.
Only then will we describe what he did and give your own conclusions a nudge.
Mandela in his Own Words
Mandela was a prolific writer, whose writings came in three distinct phases: before prison, in prison, and after prison. His prison writings were not widely circulated in his native country; the South Africa minority government of 1948-90 did not respect freedoms of speech, press and association. The doctrinaire Marxism of his early work is striking; of course, the South African Communist Party tried to act as mentors and, more insidiously, cadre for the much larger African National Congress. Since the fall of apartheid, the South African policy of racial classification and segregation, the ANC has nearly made the RSA a one-party state with inconsequential “opposition” parties, but not a one-party state the Communists always appreciate.
Mandela on the USA
In a long historical essay from March, 1958, Mandela traced the decline of European colonialism to the decline of the European powers, which he associated with the devastation of the World Wars and the rise of the USA, which was largely spared such devastation. But in Mandela’s view, the USA merely replaced the Europeans as exploiter of the colonies:
The USA, taking advantage of the plight of its former allies, adopted the policy of deliberately ousting them from their spheres of influence and grabbing the spheres for herself. An instance that is still fresh in our minds is that of the middle east, where the USA assisted in the eviction of Britain from that area in order that she might gain control of the oil industry, which prior to that time was in the control of Britain.
Through the Marshall Plan, the USA succeeded in gaining control of the economies of the European countries and reducing them to a position analogous to that of dependencies. By establishing aggressive military blocs in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, the US has been able to post her armies in important strategic points and is preparing for armed intervention in the domestic affairs of sovereign nations. NATO, the Baghdad Pact, and SEATO are military blocs which constitute a direct threat not only to world peace, but also to the independence of the member states.
See what he did there? Starts off with reasonable analysis, then plunges into Marxist-Leninist cant, leaving the reader going, “wait, what?” This is typical of Mandela’s pre-Robbens-Island writing. A couple of lines further on, he’s dealing with “American plans for world conquest” as if they were an established fact:
Since the Second World War, Britain, France and Holland have closely associated themselves with American plans for world conquest…. Today, American imperialism is a serious danger to the independent states in Africa and its people must unite before it is too late and fight it out to the bitter end.
The American brand of imperialism is imperialism all the same in spite of the modern clothing which it is dressed and in spite of the sweet language spoken by its advocates and agents. …. It has established a network of military bases all over the continent for armed intervention in the domestic affairs of Independent states to the people in the states what to replace American satellite regimes with those who are against American imperialism.
Unlike the USA neither the Soviet Union, the Chinese People’s Republic or any other Socialist state has aggressive military blocs in any part of the world. …. The people of Asia and Africa have seen through the slanderous campaign conducted by the USA against the socialist countries. They know that their independence is threatened not by any of the countries in the Socialist camp, but by the USA, which has surrounded the continent with military bases. The communist bogey is an American stunt to distract the attention of the people in Africa from the real issue facing them, namely, American imperialism.
– Nelson Mandela, The Struggle is My Life: His speeches and writings brought together with historical documents and accounts of Mandela in prison by fellow-prisoners. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1986. pp. 74-77.
Now, the above is fairly standard-issue Soviet-inspired M-L cant of the period, downloaded from somewhere into Mandela’s brain like an .mp3 and replayed on demand. At this time in his life, at least, Mandela was a Communist, or as near as dammit to one; Pathfinder Press was a Communist publishing house, funded by the KGB through the CPUSA and concentrating on propaganda for the “liberation struggle”. It would go Tango Uniform when the flow of “hard rubles” ceased.
Mandela on Communism
To what extent were Communists a driving force of the pre-imprisonment ANC? The prosecution and court tried to get at that during Mandela’s trial in 1960, and got a lot of double-talk (note than in South Africa’s Code Napoleon-based legal system, the judge can and does question witnesses directly).
Defense attorney: Were some members of the ANC Youth League in favor of expelling Communists from the ANC?
Mandela:… the Youth League moved a resolution… To expel Communists but these resolutions were defeated by an overwhelming majority. …
(Mandala then went on to say that later he had worked with communist members of the ANC.)
Defense: Did you become a Communist?
Mandela: Well I don’t know if I did become a Communist.
Mandela: Well, in regard to the Suppression of Communism Act, the ANC took the view that the Act was an invasion of the rights of our political organizations.
If democracy would be best expressed by one party system and I would examine the proposition very carefully.
I think that a lot of evils arise out of the existence of classes, one class exploiting others…
Mandela, op. cit., pp. 89-93.
When the ANC began its bombing campaign in the 1960s, of which more below, it planned the operations at a farm named Liliesleaf in Rivionia, a Communist Party underground safe house. It was provided to the armed/terrorist wing of the ANC by Arthur Goldreich, and Mandela was conducted there by Michael Harmel, both CPSA operatives. Goldreich was a Communist who received specific training in terrorism, sabotage and intelligence in the USSR, but whether he was under Soviet control is a somewhat gray area. He did report to a Soviet handler years earlier, when a member of the Haganah and Palmach.
I was told, of course, and knew that certain of the activities of the Communist Party were carried on there.
The ANC charter calls for redistribution… of land; it provides for nationalization of mines, banks, and monopoly industry…
It is true that there has often been close cooperation between the ANC and the Communist Party.
I believe that Communists have always played an active role in the fight by colonial countries for their freedom…
Among those on the [ANC] National Executive are Albert Nzula, a former Secretary of the Communist Party, Moses Kotane, another former Secretary, and JB Marks, a former member of the Central Committee.
It is perhaps difficult for white South Africans, with an ingrained prejudice against communism, to understand why experienced African politicians so readily accept Communists as their friends. … they were the only political group which was prepared to work with the Africans… There are many Africans who today tend to equate freedom with communism.
In the international field, communist countries have always come to our aid.
Today I am attracted to the idea of a classless society, an attraction which springs in part from Marxist reading…
It is true, as I have already stated, that I have been influenced by Marxist thought. … we all accept the need for some form of socialism…
There are certain exhibits [at the trial] which suggest we received financial support from abroad… I had discussions with leaders of political movements in Africa and discovered that almost every single one of them…, had received all forms of assistance from the socialist countries…
– Ibid., pp. 166-181
Mandela on Democracy
After a stint abroad, Mandela found himself back before the white minority government’s courts in 1962. He acted as his own attorney; this may not have been wise lawyering but he wasn’t expecting legal victory. He was looking for political points.
I consider myself neither legally nor morally bound to obey laws made by a parliament in which I have no representation.
– Ibid., p. 134.
(A lot of gun owners in New York and California probably feel that way, too, but the police have enforced the laws with brutal enthusiasm in all three cases).
Mandela’s ideas of what were “democratic rule” were not what yours or ours might be, but might go a long way to explain the curiously African practice of “one man, one vote, one time”:
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 live peacefully, under the democratic rule of their kings and thier amapatki. (The Zulu word means “insiders” or cronies –Ed.)
–Ibid, p. 149.
Mandela on Terrorism
In 1961, the ANC under Mandela’s leadership and with substantial Soviet and Chinese support established an “armed wing,” Umkhonto we Sizwe, “Spear of the Nation.” The proclamation if UwS, presumably written by Mandela, was issued on 16 December, the anniversary of a battle between Boer settlers and Dingane’s Zulus, an anniversary celebrated by both sides for very different reasons. The proclamation of UwS noted that previously the ANC had worked by “peaceful means,” and that UwS would not (in fact, it was overtly terroristic in strategy and tactics).
The UwS manifesto of 16 Dec 61 was, essentially, the ANC’s declaration of war. It hinted at the terrorist attacks to come:
Umkhonto we Sizwe will carry on the struggle… by new methods… we have no choice but to hit back with all means….
–Ibid., p. 122.
In 1964, Mandela was tried for the third time, but for the first time in a case involving conspiracy for crimes of violence. He, and other members of the High Council of Umkhonto, were charged with complicity in 193 acts, mostly of sabotage. The other members were captured in a raid on their hideout; documents implicated Mandela. He would not take the stand or face cross-examination, but submitted a rambling statement that began with an admission of guilt and cast himself as someone who approved violence but not quite terrorism:
I do not… deny that I planned sabotage. We believed… violence by the African people had become inevitable. [T]here would be outbreaks of terrorism. Without violence there would be no way open to the African people to suceed in their struggle against the principle of white supremacy.
[Umkhonto] volunteers were not, and are not, the soldiers of a black army pledge to fight a Civil War against the whites.
50 years of nonviolence had brought the African people nothing… our followers were beginning to lose confidence in this policy and were developing disturbing ideas of terrorism.
As violence in this country was inevitable, it would be unrealistic and wrong for African leaders to continue preaching peace and nonviolence…
[In mid-1961] the ANC was prepared to depart from its 50 year old policy of nonviolence to this extent that it would no longer disapprove of properly controlled violence.
I say “properly controlled violence” because I made it clear that I would at all times subject it to the political guidance of the ANC.
Four forms of violence were possible. There is sabotage, there is guerrilla warfare, there is terrorism, and there is open revolution. We chose to adopt the first method and to exhaust it before taking any other decision. Sabotage… Offered the best hope for future race relations.
Accordingly Umkhonto we Sizwe, under Mandela’s jailhouse leadership, conducted what a professional might call a CARVER analysis of the South African economy.
The initial plan was based on a careful analysis of the political and economic situation of our country. We believed that South Africa depended to a large extent on foreign capital and foreign trade. We felt that the plan destruction of power plants, and interference with rail and telephone communications, would tend to scare away capital from the country, make it more difficult for goods from the industrial areas to reach the seaports on schedule, and wood in the long run be a heavy drain on the economic life of the country, that’s compelling the voters of the country to reconsider their position.
These attacks would serve as a source of inspiration to our people. In addition they would… give concrete proof to our followers that we had adopted a stronger line…
Part of the motivation for the ANC’s armed wing’s attacks was to create a crackdown and more suffering on the African people for propaganda purposes:
In addition, if mass action were successfully organized and mass reprisals taken, we felt that sympathy for our cause will be roused in other countries, and greater pressure would be brought to bear on the South African government. ….
The plan was never that sabotage was to be the end of the ANC’s escalation. It would move on through the four modes of warfare Mandela had identified, next to GW:
Experience convinced us that rebellion would offer the government limitless opportunities for the indiscriminate slaughter of our people. But it was precisely because the soil of South Africa is already drenched with the blood of innocent Africans we felt that our duty to make preparation for a long-term undertaking to use force in order to defend ourselves against force.
The fight which held up prospects best for us and the least risk of life to both sides was guerrilla warfare. We decided, therefore, in our preparations for the future, to make provisions for the possibility of guerrilla warfare.
– Ibid., pp. 161-177.
Mandela’s statement went on to the solicitation of international training for his guerilla and terrorist cadres, but in that statement to the court, he rather curiously (or perhaps, not) accepted responsibility for all of the Umkhonto attacks that caused no loss of life and were against public or corporate structures, but that all loss of life and attacks on private homes, which occured contemporaneously and with the same modus operandi of the bombings he proudly claimed for his proteges, was done by some other element, shadowy and unknown to anybody — in other words, whether the ANC was behind the attack depended on how the attack came out.
Mandela After Release
These are among the things that Nelson Mandela wrote, and said, before being convicted of four sabotage attacks and beiung sentenced to life in prison (South Africa had a death penalty for the crime, but did not apply it). Few men mellow in prison, but the evidence is strong that Mandela did.
After his release, he was a voice for moderation and for tolerance. He was one of the architects of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which did a great deal to normalize race relations in South Africa (and not coincidentally, prevent the departure of the skilled whites that was so instrumental in the national failure of Zimbabwe). South Africa still has tensions, issues, and bitterness, and many of Mandela’s ANC compatriots, like Thabo Mbeki and his former law partner Oliver Tambo, had some potential to be a Mugabe.
Late lamented “Thembicile,” Chris Hani, in vivo.
But Mandela did not become Mugabe. Mandela did not turn his country into a tribal spoils system; he did not loot it; he did not impose the Marxism he flirted with in his youth. When even-more-radical Mandela associate “Chris” Hani (who chose the nom de guerre in part because his name was, no kidding, “Thimbecile”, which had unfortunate rhymes) was assassinated in 1993, Mandela called for peace, not riots. Had he gone the other way, which is surely what Hani would have done had it been Mandela who was whacked, SA would be white-free today — and it would look a lot like Zimbabwe economically.
That’s the remarkable thing about Nelson Mandela. If you have read his early work in depth, of course, you know that the Marxism and support for terrorism was only part of what his ideals were. He also favored a parliamentary democracy, and even his “socialism,” if you examined it in depth, was the state socialism and mixed economy of 1960 Britain or West Germany, not the crushing oppression of 1960 China or the USSR.
Mandela didn’t turn South Africa into a basket case, as Mugabe did with per-capita wealthier Zimbabwe, which was on Mugabe’s ascent one of the largest food exporters in the world and which now imports staples. That’s why people are celebrating Mandela’s life today: not because of all the Communist cant in his past, not because of his questionable alliances during what was, for him, wartime; but for his legacy as something very, very rare on the Dark Continent: a peacemaker.
This is why conservative critics of Nelson Mandela need to consider the man in full. Your alternative in Africa is never a Platonic philosopher-king; it’s another African leader, and it’s a continent with a pretty shocking monster-to-statesman ratio.
To read responsible conservative criticism of Mandela, which also points out things like the portraits of Lenin and Stalin he had hanging up, we recommend you look at recent posts by Robert S. McCain (here, here, here, and one adding perspective here) and Donald Douglas (here and here), and Discover the Networks has a Mandela file. Our purpose here was to (1) put forward some of Mandela’s own words, and (2) to contrast his early militance with his relatively mild actions as ruler. For years in South Africa, whites shared this mordant joke: “What’s the difference between SA and Zim?” “About five years!” but to this date that nightmare has not befallen South Africans — black or white. -Ed.