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Mandela’s Lessons for Africa

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By Trust Matsilele
Lester Venter among many other academics has attempted to make a seminal submission on prospects of a South Africa post Mandela. His book, When Mandela Goes, tries to address challenges faced by the South African society especially challenges around the issues of unemployment, corruption and poverty.

Lester’s submissions presents broad challenges that confronts Africa’s largest economy, challenges that Mandela attempted to give maximum attention to. It has been argued, sharply from the left literature that President Mandela ‘sold out’ the country to white capital for perpetuating the retention of the economy firmly into the hands of the whites who benefited from apartheid through the sunset clauses.

The left critique augurs well with the narrative presented by Ghana’s founding President Kwame Nkrumah when he posited that “political independence without economic independence is not independence at all”. However, Mandela’s leadership should be understood within the prism of a fragile transitional process he managed to lead through.

Challenges of unemployment, poverty and corruption that Mandela grappled with were faced by two successive administrations (Mbeki and Zuma). These problems are in no way unique to South Africa but are continental and maybe a global phenomenon. This article attempts to discuss lessons that can be drawn from Mandela especially his leadership, challenges and victories he managed to register.

When Mandela left prison after serving his sentence for 27 years, the white capital was anticipating revenge but to the contrary he was conciliatory in his approach embracing his former oppressors and encouraged them to partner him in nation building. Ten years prior to Mandela’s release, his northern counterpart President Mugabe had made a nearly similar call for an all inclusive society through his famous speech on “turning our spears into plough shares”. Hence it should be understood that calls for an all inclusive national vision did not necessarily commence with Mandela but, what makes him unique was his sustained stance on a deracialised and ‘declassified’ society.

Mandela inherited a country just like most of post independent African economies bedeviled by a racialised colonial economic landscape. Nation states that made a radical transformation found them trapped in economic decline among them Mozambique and Uganda. For Mandela the approach would be different he pressured the white capital to fund the RDP rollout and also ensure they made a much contribution in leveling the economic landscape through integration of some black populace in senior and middle level management position. Mandela made explicit calls especially in the media that was and still remains racialised.

Minimal as this might have been, it should be credited to Mandela that he managed to help build a lasting base for black South Africa. President Mandela presented a model to Africa that seeks not only restitution and redistribution but redress of the colonial imbalance with managed continuity, a scenario that seems absent in most of post-colony Africa. By employing this managed continuity system Mandela managed to give South Africa an apprentice period.

Mandela also managed to mystify his being thereby rising above South Africa’s polarities. This quality saw him become a global icon and attraction to international donor agencies. Mandela’s approach managed to unite a deeply divided nation-state to an extent of transcending above his blackness and ANCness. Most African leaders upon receiving their independence went on a fieldtrip preaching tribal, ethnic and racial politics and in the process deepening existing divisions and also creating new ones. This is evident in Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and partly Malawi. Mandela’s leadership in this milieu presents Africa with a learning opportunity for an all inclusive country. A country whose elite and leadership isn’t necessarily from dominant tribes and ethnic groupings.

Across Africa, Mandela has been idolised more for his sacrifices and lesser for his extreme generosity toward his former oppressors. Recently a SADC leader argued that “Mandela had gone too far on his saintly approach” consequently compromising the demands of the African people. It is imperative to note that President Mandela’s forgiving stance brought assurances for Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) and domestic investments. Mandela’s approach managed to leverage fears that saw in some post independent Africa international multinationals moving their capital leaving their countries broke and broken.

Of course Mandela’s leadership has also presented some stark limitations as has been argued earlier in this article and that is of failure in ensuring that the country’s wealth trickles down to ordinary citizens without political connections. Mandela’s failure to decisively address the inequalities has seen South African becoming one of the most unequal countries in the world. Mandela’s omissions could be seen as a trigger to a revolutionary time bomb always threatening to crumble Africa’s largest economy. RDP, government grants and basic social delivery is not enough in addressing imbalances more needs to be done.

However, in a nutshell it can be argued that President Mandela posses interesting lessons for post independent Africa. Even though his leadership failed to transform the economic landscape it can generally be agreed that he provided a workable base for South Africa and Africa’s learning process.

Trust Matsilele is a media and journalism scholar. He was one of the founding editors of BizDay Zimbabwe. Matsilele writes in his personal capacity

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