Mandela’s legacy tainted by the ANCs corruption and brutality


Sometimes it seems the whole world is holding its breath waiting for Nelson Mandela to breathe his last.

The man is held up as a powerful icon of the 20th century and embodiment of the best virtues of humanity. Many hope that some of his mana would rub off on the rest of us.

He’s been an easy person to idolize. He was a charismatic leader of the anti-apartheid struggle which faced violence and brutal oppression in the years following the introduction of legislated apartheid laws in 1948 by the Afrikaner Nationalist Party. He was one of the main leaders of the resistance to those laws and eventually tried and given life imprisonment for treason. Behind bars he remained a popular and captivating leader such that when he was released in 1990, after 26 years in prison, international stardom awaited.

For the world he was the ultimate hero. The man who was able to heal a broken nation and shift it from vicious race-based laws to a democracy while thwarting the much-feared prospect of civil war.

Mandela was seen as the definitive icon of forgiveness, compassion and humanity as he created a rainbow nation from the ruins of apartheid.

I’ve spoken to several media outlets in the last few days and said that I don’t think he will be remembered by history as well as he is revered today because while he was the most important leader of the anti-apartheid struggle and won civil and political rights for black South Africans, he failed to deliver social and economic rights to the majority of the people.

And it’s a big failure with many studies showing that black South Africans are often worse off economically now than they were under apartheid.

Mandela accepted the decision for the new country to go with free-market economic policies in 1994 and the results were predictable. The rich have got richer and the poor poorer. Much vaunted programmes to deliver electricity to homes and to build much needed housing have in many cases even lagged population growth while those that have received services such as electricity have been frequently cut off because they can’t pay the bills. Some figures show disconnections almost keeping pace with electrification.

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Mandela’s legacy will also be deeply tainted by his refusal to criticize the ANC’s culture of greed and corruption which dominates the party at most levels today. Mandela can’t be blamed directly for that culture but he can be criticized for not speaking out as senior ANC figures like Cyril Ramaphosa and Tokyo Sexwale have enriched themselves at the expense of the poorest in South Africa.

When I visited the country in 2009 for two weeks I was deeply impressed with the growing social movements which are demanding policies for the 99% rather than policies to enrich the 1% – even if that 1% now contains a few select black faces.

A few months after my visit the headquarters of the shackdwellers organization Abahlali baseMjondolo was attacked by ANC thugs. People were killed and injured in an attempt to intimidate and silence growing opposition to the ANC. Just as Mugabe has used lawless youth to hold onto power the ANC is doing the same when they feel they need to.

At the formal state level the police and army will increasingly use the same brute force as the old apartheid regime used to silence dissent. The apartheid regime had its Sharpeville massacre while the ANC has had its Marikana massacre.

Just as under the old apartheid regime workers continue to be suppressed and exploited.

Mandela remains revered among most of South Africa’s black population. They don’t blame him but they increasingly despise the ANC. In some ways Mandela has been the glue holding South Africa together and with his passing, when it comes, the voices of discontent will rise and the ANC will face intense resistance.

A new generation of leaders will emerge to confront this corrupt organization and with some of Mandela’s courage, commitment and humanity they will overthrow the economic policies of the 1% and bring economic rights to all South Africans.

All strength to their arms.


  1. Interestingly Zanu-PF went with the more left wing economic approach. How did that work out for them?

    • Gosman are you so imbued with stupidity to go all tea party on this? The economics of the Zanu-PF are not left wing – they are not right wing either. The sick and twisted economics in Zimbabwe are all focused on Robert Mugabe and making him rich – I agree at times they use left ideas – but equally at other times they embrace hard right economic themes. To put a tea party line on an issue is stupid – are you now a teabagger?

        • The removal of disable from families and then their being left to die. The killing of equally uneconomic peoples and opponents for economic gain – these are hard right economic decisions, not left wing ones. The left historically has been stupid in some of its economic decisions – but it has never deliberately killed the disable – nor has it seen people as economic or uneconomic and then made choices about their life or death on that basis. That is hard right thinking, and that is a choice made almost daily in Zimbabwe.

          • No they aren’t. The left has just as been as capable of attrocities against people. It isn’t a coherent argument to state when bad is done it is a right wing policy.

            Btw have you got a link to the Zanu-pf government doing what you suggest they did? I know a lot about Zimbabwe and have never heard about that before.

            • What I said was the left have never devalued people enough to think of them in purely economic terms, even at their Stalinist/Maoist worse ( I assume you mean these monstrosities?) . And thinking of people/individuals in purely economic terms is a right wing idea.

              You called Zanu-PF left wing and I said they weren’t – the reason – their economics are outside core left wing values. I could equally use liberal economics and call myself left wing – if the core values line up.

              ” It isn’t a coherent argument to state when bad is done it is a right wing policy.”

              OK dude I get your tea bag logic now. As I never said that, please feel free to scream it till people believe you.

              • Which of their economic policies are outside core left wing values? They seem entirely consistent to me. Even Draco t Bastard agrees with them in principle.

                I’m also waiting for evidence of that disabled kid removal policy.

    • Interestingly Zanu-PF went with the more left wing economic approach. How did that work out for them?

      About as bad as the US capitalist system – now $16.8 trillion.

      About as bad as the US capitalist system – which brought the world to the brink of economic collapse in 2007/08.

      About as bad as the world capitalist system where the rich are getting richer and the poor are sinking further down.

      Well, in our world anyway, Gosman.

      I’m not sure what’s happening on yours – Planet Key. How are the golf courses going?

      • Diverging somewhat from topic Frank. But interesting you think the GFC was in any way comparable to the meltdown of the Zimbabwe’s economy between 2000 and 2008.

      • Ha, nice, the 16.8’trillion doesn’t include the 5+? Billion of currency debasement, gotta remember that as well.

        Right on John, we gotta remember that new unions are beginning to pop up in many of South Africa’s primary industries. The ANC’s hold on power is looking shaky.

        Plus why did they deny Mandela was in such a bad way for nearly a week. Word on the socialist grape vine is that they are moving troops and police to prepare for unrest. Maybe.

  2. Well said John,
    I was at the St Mathews tour vets afternoon in the same room as Nelson, yay! And he was sincere in his regard for us crash helmeted ’81ers. Which when you take in todays individualism was a great outburst of international solidarity.

    The ANC Freedom charter was not a class based approach. The ANC/PAC thing divided the small NZ left parties that participated in the anti apartheid movement. And really the ANC came to government at the worst possible time–the tail end of Reaganism, Thatcherism etc. It was a smooth transition for the corporates.

    It is interesting that Des Tutu mentioned Joe Slovo (SACP) the other day on radio and Joe did play a positive role at certain points. Under cover leftie the old Bishop. The SACP of course now a totally decrepit outfit. South Africa seems like “district 9” these days but every country has it’s own particular struggle. The “seff effricans” are doing it hard (apart from the waka jumpers on Auckland’s North Shore) but it does not negate our support when needed.

  3. It’s refreshing to hear someone point out that Mandela, like all humans, did have some faults. I remember John Pilger saying that he was severely chastised, for sullying Mandela’s reputation as a saintly figure, by asking him directly about his “decision for the new country to go with free-market economic policies” which was against the ANC’s stated policy.

  4. Great post. I notice on One News they done some pieces focussing on progress in South Africa since apartheid. Also notice they heavily glossed over the problems you mentioned which are obvious to many over the years and have been extensively reported. Such pieces may’ve been made to venerate the legacy of an ailing Mandela out of respect but also possibly support the “virtues” of the free-market on the side as a propaganda item. But One News isn’t the best place for your news coverage anyway.

    Mandela’s legacy is a bittersweet one, acceptance of free-market policies and the unfettered corruption that’s developed the bitterness of that legacy. Have to wonder how long the bitterness will continue before it will overpower what was sweet.

    The free-market media machine appears enthusiastic at lauding prominent figures who accept their prescriptions. Similar to South Africa I believe is many nations of the former Eastern Bloc. Find many who praised figures like Walesa in deposing Communism, quickly express nothing but scorn for him when they’re on the poor end of the new neoliberal order. Their high hopes quickly dashed with the onset of the machinations of reality. I wonder how many in South Africa are more critical of Mandela than what we typically find in our media diet.

    Then again I suppose many subversive figures when elderly wane in their influence. Their radical vigour of youth receding with age, many somewhat content with their fading lives whether it’s the product of wisdom or senility.

    I like the song “Sandrevan Lullaby – Lifestyles” by Rodriguez, particularly the following lines. An artist whose music was popular with those who opposed apartheid in South Africa.

    … Only time will bring some people around
    Idols and flags are slowly melting …

    … Clouds that pierce the illusion
    That tomorrow would be as yesterday…

  5. I think we all still have to remember the context of Mandela’s achievement. Apartheid had been South Africa’s official system since 1948, and for unofficially for many years before that. The consequences of decades of white minority oppression are not easily overcome and will require decades of courageous and visionary leadership to turn it around.

    • Apartheid was largely a response to the socio-economic and cultural condition of Afrikaners compared to the English speaking White section of society. In that terms it achieved the unstated goal of equalising the divide in living standards between the two groups by the 1960’s. In this regard the post Apartheid state is doing worse, albeit for a larger section of society.

      • So it had nothing to do with notions of white supremacy and the enslavement of an entire population? Seriously, Gosman, what planet are you on?

        • If it was about that why did it take until a Afrikaner Nationalist party took power to implement it?

          You do highlight the fact that many people’s understanding of the situation in Africa are lacking much background information and context.

          • It’s really great that you contribute to the discussions, even though you clearly delight in putting forward deliberately obtuse arguments. I suspect that I am wasting my time, but even a cursory bit of research helps with a bit of “background information and context.” Try this from

            “The roots of apartheid go back long before the National Party came to power in 1948 with the idea of apartheid, a system for systematically separating the races.

            In 1685, a law in the Cape Colony forbade marriage between Europeans and Africans, although it did permit Europeans and mixed race people to marry. Back in the 1850’s, the missionary and traveller
            David Livingstone , noticed the Afrikaner obsession with race. He wrote:
            “The great objection many of the Boers had and still have to English law is that it makes no distinction between black men and white. They felt aggrieved by their supposed losses in the emancipation for their Hottentot slaves, and determined to erect themselves into a republic, in which they might pursue without molestation, the ‘proper treatment of the blacks.’

            It is almost needless to add that the ‘proper treatment’ has always contained in it the essential element of slavery, namely, compulsory unpaid labour…”
            Extract from David Livingstone’s Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa.”

            Even allowing for Livingstone’s pro-British bias, his observation about the Arikaaners racial beliefs is true.
            So yes, while there may have been an economic rivalry between Afrikaaner and British in South Africa, do you really think that apartheid wouldn’t have happened the way it did if there wasn’t a deeply held belief about the superiority of the Afrikaaner people?

            • No but I suspect the drive and stubbornness associated with the Apartheid regime would not have been as great if the Afrikaners didn’t feel massively aggrieved and economically disadvantaged by the English speakers.

              As stated Apartheid was more a pro Afrikaner set if policies than just a pro white robe. You”ve highlighted there were already policies in place entrenching white domination. Apartheid simply expanded on many of these but for different reasons.

          • Both your points seem entirely congruent to me. The co-opting of groups with differing social and economic interests into one on the basis of similar racial and cultural characteristics is a fundamental tenant of whiteness as a social construction and inherently related to white supremacy as a key means of justification for it and the subjugation of the ‘other’ in this case the black majority. A similar process of co-opting whiteness happened here with many early “Crown” soldiers sent to subordinate Maori being of Scottish or Irish descent (not to mention English from various class backgrounds). With time, legislative support and economic reward those different economic, social, class and cultural backgrounds were kept secondary to the common interests associated with being colonial settlers.

            I have no doubt you are right Gosman that apartheid was equitable in improving the living standards between the groups of whites because of the subordination of the black majority. But I don’t see how post-apartheid has worsened that situation for whites? Maybe relative to other whites there has been some movement but relative to non-whites is it significant?

  6. Mandela is one of the few people that exist and are able to bring about real change, which almost never turns out as they intended. I sometimes wonder if the ANC would have been more progressive if he hadn’t been in Robben Island, and had been in the day to day direction of it.

    Somehow, I doubt it. The decision was made long ago that they would go for a colour-blind capitalism and other movements were routinely oppressed. PAC and other leaders were killed and turned over to BOSS, while the ANC went on an international diplomatic offensive to position themselves as responsible leaders. Some of us predicted this thirty years ago, and made ourselves very unpopular, but to me at least, making Cyril Ramaphosa filthy rich and having miners attacked by black cops is not what I fought for. Even pointing out that the South African armaments industry was supplying the same despotic regimes under President Mandela as under Botha was frowned upon.

    So Mandela – a great and important human being, but not one who built a paradise on Earth. I suspect he will not be judged harshly by history, but that his movement will be. Too many of us still need saints for us to evaluate everyone honestly.

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