Let’s Have a Clear-Eyed View of Mandela

12 Dec

Dec. 12. I first heard about South African apartheid during my freshman year at college in ’65 or ’66.. Two men who said they were in the armed wing on the ANC spoke one evening and I was fascinated. I recall I did one of my first papers in political science on South Africa and it was full of passionate calls for support for the cause of freedom there (to the dismay of my professor who wanted a more fact based approach).

I can’t say I did anything about it until the mid-1980’s. I was heavily involved in Middle East activism starting in 1982. Some of the folks we worked with noticed that students at Yale were trying to get the Yale Corporation to sell off stocks in companies doing business with South Africa. I’m hazy about the details, but Paula and Frank Panzarella and a number of us started the South Africa Action Committee in New Haven. We had a rally and then we talked about building shanties at Yale to give students a tiny taste of what it was like in the South African Bantustans. Frank had the building know-how and a group of activists put them together on Beinicke Plaza (which we renamed Alan Boesak plaza in honor of a South African activist). I did a google search and came up with this account about the shanties.

I remember getting a call at 3 in the morning that Yale police were on their way to tear down the shanties. 40 or so students and people from the community occupied the shanties first and then after ignoring the calls to leave from the police were arrested and taken to some gym for booking. Can’t recall what the bail was or who paid it, but when we were released we came back on the campus and 1,000 people were there to greet us. There were fiery speeches and the shanties were rebuilt on the spot. Then for many months there was a pre-Occupy Occupy. You could go down to the shanties and meet up with people for political discussions at any time day or night. Eventually interest waned, one shanty remained in a state of neglect and it was burned down by a alumni.

Somewhere around this time a prominent New Haven developer and I think president of a group called the Young Millionaires announced that he was heading a shindig in Sun City South Africa. After fruitless appeals we picketed one of his properties, New Haven’s Palace Theater that had a number of popular musical and comedy events. We kept that up for months.

Enough reminiscing.

This morning Ronnie Karsils, a former South African anti-Apartheid leader and SA Communist Party official spoke on Democracy Now.  After 50 minutes about the old days Gonzalez and Goodman questioned him about Karsils June piece where he talked about a “Faustian” bargain the anti-apartheid leaders made with the white South African government in the ‘90’s to keep capitalism in exchange for removing all political apartheid. That was interesting.  Read Karsils article here.  He realizes now that the ANC and South African CP made an error. They could have had a better deal.

 Here’s another critical piece about Mandela by Slavoj Zizek “Mandela’s Socialist Failure”.  I like much of it, but don’t agree that Mandela died “bitter”. Read John Pilger’s account of a ‘90’s interview he did with Mandela in South Africa.  Mandela seems self-satisfied, with no trace of  bitterness, impatient with criticism of “privatization”.

Though there have been important gains in literacy and some aspects of health, the AIDS problem is hideous and unemployment and poverty is worse. Who can forget the massacre of miners last August at Marikana?   It recalled the Sharpeville massacre of ’60. Just like in ’60 they arrested the miners and not the police.  While we salute Mandela for his liberation struggle, his decades in prison, his undiminished support for Palestinian freedom,  we have to reject sentimentality (especially from the hypocritical jackal politicians who try to tear off chunks of his reputation) and take a clear-eyed view of Mandela’s achievements and faults.

P.S.  Just noticed that Black Agenda Report has a number of articles about Mandela.  No doubt they’re an essential read.

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