Thursday, February 26, 2009

The hijacking of Mandela

Stanley Uys on one of the most disgraceful moments in recent South African politics

There have surely been few more disgraceful moments in South African politics than the one enacted last week when Nelson Mandela was physically hijacked by the ANC to go politicking for Jacob Zuma.

Now 90, and frail, Mandela was flown in a private plane, without his usual bodyguard and medical backup, from his Johannesburg home to Idutywa in the Eastern Cape. Repeatedly, he had told his staff that he did not want to get involved in current politics, but his hijackers neither informed nor consulted the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which usually had supervised his travel arrangements. At the rally, Zuma helped to hoist him on to the stage.

The full story is told in last week's Sunday Times, which quoted a family friend: "Shame, the old man really doesn't deserve this kind of nonsense at this time of his life".

Just what pressures the Zuma gang used to persuade Mandela to go to Idutywa are still to be revealed. An ANC spokesman gave this assurance: "Mandela still has his full senses...he won't do what he does not want to do". But South African politics are confusing, and the assumption is possible that Mandela was manoeuvred into thinking that the ANC is still an honourable institution - a legend approaching its centenary - and that it is his solemn duty to protect it.

The question persists: does Madiba understand fully that the ANC is no longer a legend? Which ANC does he support - the one-time legend? The Polokwane manifestation (and the Jacob Zuma versus Kgalema Motlanthe schism within it)? The Cope breakaway (and the Lekota versus Mvume Dandala schism within the breakaway)?

Is Madiba keenly observing the run-up to the general election battle on April 22, and if so does he agree with Thabo Mbeki's brother Moeletsi that the ANC poll in the elections could be between 48% and 55%?

If Moeletsi, an experienced analyst, is right, then certain scenarios play out: ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe is "living in cloud-cuckoo land" if he thinks (as he publicly declared) that "We don't want a two-thirds majority; we want a three-thirds majority". Moeletsi is also right then to dismiss the possibility of the ANC securing a two-thirds majority; and he might just be right that the ANC will fall short even of a simple majority.

So which ANC does Madiba support? Either he keeps himself up to date with what is happening in the ANC, and makes his trips to Idutywa, or he goes to bed. To enlighten himself though, he might read the article Mondli Makhanya (Sunday Times editor) wrote last week about Julius Malema's election as president of the ANC Youth League. In the article, Makhanya recorded how he had asked a senior ANC member "how a movement with so noble a history could choose a hooligan to be its leader"?

The ANC member explained that the ANCYL was about militancy: each generation of leadership has to be more militant than the previous one. "And after Malema?" inquired Makhanya. "We cannot go backwards', answered the ANC member. "We will need someone more militant." Is this the ANC for which Madiba flew to Idutywa?

Madiba has no love for Thabo Mbeki, but in some ways Mbeki knows his own people better than most. Delivering the Nelson Mandela Memorial Lecture on July 29, 2006, then President Mbeki spoke about "the demons embedded in our society".

He said: "Thus, every day, and during every hour of our time beyond sleep, the demons embedded in our society, that stalk us at every minute, seem always to beckon each one of us towards a realisable dream and nightmare. With every passing second, they advise, with rhythmic and hypnotic regularity - ‘Get rich! Get rich! Get rich!" Is this the Idutywa ANC?

Is this the ANC membership as Madiba knows it? Is it because he no longer knows his own people that he allowed the Zuma gang to humiliate him? Does he accept what Justice Malala wrote in the Times last week: "The party (ANC), unless it does something dramatic, is finished. It will win this year's election, but 2014? And after that? It is over for the continent's oldest liberation movement. It is now just another grubby political party".

As for Madiba himself - his personal dignity and legacy - he could turn to Dylan Thomas's memorable poem: Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night. Here is a brief extract:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light...

...And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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