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CALLIGRAPHY BY YOMAR AUGUSTO

THE NEW REP UBLIC AUGUST 5, 2013

HOW WILL
HISTORY
TREAT
MANDELA?
NOT AS KINDLY AS
YOU THINK.
BY EVE FAIRBANKS
Illustration by Tang Yau Hoong

OON AFTER I MOVED TO SOUTH AFRICA IN 2009, I RODE THROUGH SOWETO,


the historic black township south of Johannesburg, with a young black
journalist and p.r. guru named Brian Mahlangu. The editor of a new design
magazine, Mahlangu wanted to show me the townships nascent sexy side. But the
more we drove around, the more agitated he became. Soweto has some glorious
houses, but where the lawns end and the sidewalks begin sit drifts of bleached-out
Coke bottles, cheese-curl packets, empty KFC containers, chicken bones. South
Africans litter profusely; Sowetos parks are landscaped with garbage. Mahlangu told
me he thought this was because young blacks still lack a sense of ownership of
South Africas common spaces and of the country itself. Then he said something
startling: I blame Mandela. He gestured out our taxi window at a median strip
dusted in a snow of Styrofoam. This trash is his fault.

AUGUST 5, 2013 THE NEW REPUBLIC

Make no mistake: The achievements of


Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, South Africas
first democratically elected president, put
him up there with George Washington
and Abraham Lincoln in the pantheon
of rare men who guided transitioning
nations with an otherworldly vision.
Imprisoned 27 years by the countrys
white Afrikaner minority, Mandela
emerged in 1990 ready to forgive his
oppressors and use his power not
to pursue revenge but to create a new
country founded on racial reconciliation.
With his cheerfully colored Madiba shirts,
his beatific smile, and his beautiful
speeches, he became a kind of totem
for the new South Africa, not only
initiating but continually ensuring the

You start to notice you


cannot pay, a young
man told me. You start
to notice you are very
poor. His conclusion:
Mandela sold us out.
peace. In 1993, a year before the end
of white rule, the assassination of the
black-liberation leader Chris Hani
by a white right-winger threatened
an outbreak of crippling violence.
Then Mandela went on television and
movingly deracialized the incident:
Tonight I am reaching out to every single
South African, black and white, from the
very depths of my being. A white man,
full of prejudice and hate ... committed a
deed so foul that our whole nation now
teeters on the brink of disaster. A white
woman, of Afrikaner origin, risked her
life so that we may know, and bring to
justice, this assassin. ... Now is the time
for all South Africans to stand together
against those who, from any quarter, wish
to destroy what Chris Hani gave his life
forthe freedom of all of us.

But there is also this reality: Many


South Africans under 40 feel little
connection to the father of their nation.
Articles about Mandelas many health
scares late in life (at press time, the
former president had been in a hospital
on life support for more than a month,
battling a lung infection) often feature
laudatory quotes from two kinds of

South Africanswhites and older blacks


while leaving out the voices of young
blacks, who have a more ambivalent
relationship with their founder-saint.
Some even resent him.
Last year, I went to a new township
called Diepsloot to speak to a group of
young people about the change that
had occurred in their country since 1994.
Diepsloot is an unintended creation
of South African freedom: a massive
squatter camp sprung up on a swath
of nearly uninhabitable marshland
outside Johannesburg. It is populated by
aspirants from South Africas deep rural
regions. Apartheid had trapped blacks in
the countryside with intricate restrictions
on their movements. Once it began to
crumble, a belated and swift process
of urbanization began, in which rural
blacks flocked to the cities to flee the
joblessness in their native regions.
The problem is, they havent found
nearly enough jobs in the cities, either.
The children of the people who
participated in the 1976 uprising
a famous black protest action
under apartheidare destitute,
complained Masie Malemela
Malomela, a soft-spoken 35-year-old
in a black trench coat who spoke
with me in a sleepy, dusty street outside
a row of corrugated-aluminum shacks.
We met at 1:30 p.m. on a Tuesday, but
the street, he explained, was just waking
up, having no reason to rouse itself
earlier. Depending on which statistics
you trust, South African unemployment
today sits between 25 percent and 40
percent, with the situation most dire
among young people: Some 71 percent of
South Africans between ages 15 and 34
do not participate in the formal economy.
Despite having finished high school,
Malomela himself has been unable to find
work. Searching for an explanation for
what seemed to him to be an abrogation
of the basic promises of freedom, he, like
Brian Mahlangu, had settled on Mandela:
The only way to account for such a
disappointment was to conclude that the
hero himself had made some kind of
mistake. The devil had been hidden in
the details of the much-touted Mandelaled reconciliation. There was a decision
to share power with whites in 1994,
Malomela explained. But that sharing
was not fair. The blacks said, Well take
the political power. And the Afrikaners
took the economy.
Its true that white South Africans
have fared remarkably well financially

post-apartheid. Only 9 percent of the


shares of the top 100 companies listed on
the Johannesburg Stock Exchange have
moved into black hands, and whites still
comprise 70 percent of senior management.
Meanwhile, the truly eye-catching black
economic advancement has been
relatively confined to a high-flying class
of black-liberation-movement veterans
or their friends, the so-called black
diamonds who now sit on the boards
of formerly white-run corporations
and drive tricked-out BMWs.
A 30-year-old friend of Malomelas,
Mothakge Makwela, recounted how
his perception of the black political
leadership had shifted over the course
of his youth. As a small child, Makwela
loved Mandela. He also didnt yet see
himself as destitute. But you start
noticing economic disparities [between
yourself and the black diamonds]
when you pass matric, the high school
graduation exam. When you get [to
college], you start to notice you cannot
pay. You start to notice you are very
poor. His ultimate conclusion, he said,
was that Mandela sold us out. In the
democratic transition, the blackliberation leaders were representing
themselves. ... Look at the Mandelas
the whole family is making a killing.
Mandela personally has never
particularly flaunted his wealth, but his
house is in Johannesburgs version of
Westchestera leafy estate of soaring
mansions and stately tree-shaded
avenuesand his foundation is known
for fiercely protecting the copyright on
his iconic smiling visage, so that the
wealth it produces redounds only to the
family. His grandson led a heavily
capitalized mining company that was
later prosecuted for defrauding its
workers. His granddaughters cashed in
with a reality TV show.
How much truth is there to the
perception that the terms worked out
by Mandela and his fellow negotiators
during South Africas democratic
transition enriched a few blacks at the
expense of the masses? I asked Pierre
de Vos, a University of Cape Townbased
constitutional scholar. If you look at the
final constitution, the African National
Congressthe ANC, Mandelas party
got about eighty percent of what they
wanted, de Vos told me over the phone.
I think the ANC out-negotiated the
[Afrikaner] National Party completely.
However, there was also a deal that
was made outside the constitutional

ILLUSTRATION BY BARTOSZ KOSOWSKI

negotiations, de Vos added, a gentlemans


agreement between Mandela and the
commanding heights of the economy.
Prior to Mandelas liberation from
prison in 1990, the ANC had long
advocated radical economic change,
projects like the nationalization of
mining and more equitable sharing of
agricultural work and profits. When
Mandela was released, he began to
make the rounds at Western economic
summits, where he was quickly
persuaded that such dramatic moves
would be folly. The arguments were
that ... there would be a flight of capital
and the economy would collapse,
said de Vos. An understanding emerged:
The ANC wouldnt touch big business
if big business agreed not to leave the
country and to incorporate blacks into
top management. Unfortunately, this
deal also resulted in a lack of entry- and
mid-level job creation and the further
entrenchment of an apartheid economy
designed only to employ an insufficient
number of low-level workers in fields
like mining with little room for personal
creativity or advancement.
The past year has seen an increasing
number of strikes and protests over poor
blacks lack of economic advancement.
There will be radical change, Malomela
predicts. You see what happened in
Egypt. If a consensus builds on the
South African street around the idea that
most blacks didnt profit substantially
from their liberationif the belief hardens
that the country is due for a belated
revolutionthen the national understanding
of Nelson Mandelas era may shift.
The legacies of major leaders are
always evolving. Oliver Cromwell was
given a kings funeral at Westminster
Abbey, only to become the object of
such general British revulsion several
years later that his body was disinterred
and posthumously hung and the head
then impaled on a stake. Centuries
later, as Cromwells record was revised
upward, a grand statue of him was
unveiled near where his pierced skull
had sat. It amazes me that there are so
few substantial biographies of Mandela.
So much about his full record is yet
to be assessed. There will be many
obituaries for him, but today the story
of how we will remember him is only
beginning to be written.
Eve Fairbanks, a writer living in Johannesburg,
is working on a book about post-apartheid
South Africa.

END THE
WHITE HOUSE
PRESS
BRIEFING
ITS AN UNHOLY CHARADE.
BY REID CHERLIN

T IS AN ACCEPTED FACT IN
Washington that the Obama
administration and the press
corps that covers itonce considered
essentially two units of the same team
are now bitter enemies. After four
years of smoldering disenchantment,
reporters have seized on the governments
rapacious subpoenas of media
records and LAffaire Snowden as the

excuse they needed to break into open


rebellion. A primary arena for the
skirmishing is the daily White House
press briefing, where the ritual evasions
by the administrations mouthpiece,
long a staple of the undertaking, are
now received by his questioners with
a contempt rivaling that of the
Bush years. National Journals Ron
Fournier, a D.C. eminence and former

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