|Mandela and fellow Rivonia trial defendants|
Source: ANC Archives
And leftists have celebrated Mandela the socialist. They have derided conservative politicians for hypocrisy in now sanctifying a man conservatives used to call a terrorist. And the leftists are not wrong on this (Mandela was a socialist of sorts, in fact more or less a Stalinist who believed in armed struggle), but they use Mandela’s death not to celebrate him as much as to berate the right. In fact, for some “progressives” the most salient things about Mandela seem to be that he was against “the war on terror” and allegedly hated Bush; for these people, the fact that Mandela refused to condemn dictators such as Gaddafi and Castro is a point in his favour not a reason to qualify the sanctification.
Mandela, both his fans and detractors acknowledge, was a leader who could be all things to all people: an African nationalist when among African nationalists, a socialist in his relations with his South African Communist Party colleagues, even a South African patriot when in dialogue with patriotic Afrikaners. A consummate performer, he was always an extremely able manipulator of his own image, yet this malleability could send out mixed messages. He spoke the language of democracy, but was often authoritarian in his manner. He signed up to the 1956 ANC Freedom Charter with its commitment to nationalization, but on assuming power he made serious and, some critics might say, fatal deals with free-market capitalism in order to secure South Africa’s post-apartheid economic future.
Corruption has multiplied. Xenophobic pogroms have been orchestrated against black African migrant workers. Social movements – the independent miners’ unions, the shackdwellers in the townships – have been as violently suppressed under post-racial democracy as they were in the apartheid police state, but now black men as well as white men beat and shoot them. This is the South Africa made by the saintly Madiba.
Update: A fuller version of Robert Fine's critical obituary, very highly recommended, is here.
Previously: On Stalinism and dissent within the movement against apartheid; Mbeki and Mugabe; Marikana and the frontline of the class struggle; Indestructible beats.