Nelson Mandela, the iconic leader of the liberation struggle in South Africa, has died at the age of 95. He will long be remembered for his principled and courageous refusal to abandon the struggle. Arrested in 1956 for “high treason”, Mandela used his court trial to put South Africa’s apartheid system on trial instead, giving hours long speeches on the brutality of that system of racism. He subsequently spent 27 years imprisoned on Robben Island, during which time he caught tuberculosis. It is suspected that the lung infection of which he died is related to that experience so many decades ago.
All socialists should pay tribute to the courage and integrity that Mandela showed, a courage that was really the individual expression of the heroism of the struggle of the black South African working class and youth of that time. In fact, during the 1980s, the black youth and workers of South Africa led the world; they were the inspiration of millions globally.
Terrified World Capitalism
That movement, and Mandela himself, struck fear in the hearts of global capitalism – a fear for which they are still not forgiven to this day. The Wall St. Journal, in its editorial on Mandela, opens with this attack, for instance: “The bulk of his adult life, Nelson Mandela was a failed Marxist revolutionary and leftist icon, the Che Guevara of Africa.” World capitalism will not forget the fright it got during those years, when all the black majority of South Africa saw of capitalism was bitter racism and poverty and, as a result, the South African Communist Party played a leading role in the struggle there. They feared losing the entire apple cart. It was as a result of this fear that world capitalism brought pressure to bear on their counterparts in South Africa, as represented by South African president de Klerk, to reach an accord with the ANC.
It is no accident that an accord was reached in the year 1990, one year after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“Free” Market in South Africa
Unfortunately, the ANC and Mandela never moved beyond the Stalinist brand of socialism, and when the Soviet Union collapsed and the conclusion was drawn that the “free” market was the only solution, Mandela himself was sucked up into that trend.
The result was that the regime that followed was forced into the position of competing for private capital investment. But the owners of capital – the capitalist class – choose where to invest based on where their profits will be greatest and most secure. If wages and/or taxes are too high, if environmental regulations are too great, or if the working class is too militant, then all these will be barriers to investment. Thus it is that South Africa is reported to be one of the economically most unequal countries in the world, with over half the population living in poverty.
And thus it is that the regime that followed carried out a brutal attack on striking miners at Marikana in 2012. (See story here.)
Today, it appears that a new wave of struggle is developing in South Africa. Once again, it may be that the South African working class may lead the world. This time, let us hope that they complete what they took up and overthrow the entire capitalist system. That would be the greatest tribute they could leave to the courage and integrity that Nelson Mandela displayed in his revolutionary years – a tribute to those who came before and led the way.
In the coming days, we hope to have more on the life and times of Nelson Mandela and what he represented.