David Africa writes:
As South Africans celebrate the birthday of their national hero Nelson Mandela all the accolades again praise him as a peacemaker, moderate, and a saint. This image of Mandela is one that has been aggressively cultivated since his elevation from prisoner to president with the first democratic election in 1994, and is a curious part of a political project with the twin objectives of moderating one of the primary symbols of the South African liberation struggle on the one hand, and appropriating this ‘new Mandela’ for a moderate or even conservative political project.
The saint-like status that Mandela has acquired in the West, traditionally hostile to Mandela’s politics and that of his organisation the African National Congress (ANC) is mirrored in the false adulation showered upon him by the local parliamentary opposition party the Democratic Alliance. The Democratic Alliance is mainly a coalition of former liberals and the remnants of the National Party that ruled South Africa until 1994. The capture of the Mandela icon and his transformation from militant to moderate saint is now almost complete.
And yet, this is not the Mandela that black South Africans know. The Mandela we know has always been a militant, from his days as a fiery youth leader in the 1940s, through leading the ANC Defiance Campaign against the Apartheid government in 1952 and being the first commander of that organisation’s armed wing when it turned to violent resistance in 1961.
His speech to the court in April 1964, as he and his fellow ANC comrades faced the real risk of the death penalty, is an articulation of a militancy that is at once reasonable and defiant. Throughout his long imprisonment Mandela refused offers of personal freedom in exchange for abandoning violent resistance to the Apartheid government.