The death of Nelson Mandela led to an international outpouring of acclaim for a man once labelled as a terrorist. Hypocritical fawning from the right wing and mixed feelings on the left, where, whilst remembering the sacrifice and heroism of Mandela the freedom fighter,we are more circumspect about Mandela and the ANC’s post-apartheid record in government, shackled as they were by international capitalism. It is a tragic fact that gross economic inequalities remain between black people and white people in South Africa. Events like the Marikana massacre in which 34 striking mine workers were shot dead by police suggest that political freedoms like the right to strike and right to assembly have not improved by very much. In their day to day lives, whilst a small layer of black bourgeoisie gets rich, millions of black proletarians still struggle to get by in unsuitable and insecure accommodation without running water or electricity and for many even basic medicines remain unaffordable. There have been improvements in these areas since the end of Apartheid but the standard of living for the average black household is still far below that of the average white household.
There are however a number of other, less obvious, post-apartheid legacies which have had an undoubtedly positive effect on international struggles, each sourced to a different anti-apartheid leader who whilst capitulating to capitalism retained a degree of radical rhetoric.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu has, since the end of apartheid, campaigned tirelessly on the issue of gay rights. Likening the gay rights struggle to the anti-apartheid struggle, Tutu has denounced fellow clergy and others for homophobia stating that he would rather go to hell if heaven was anti-gay. The impact of Tutu’s intervention as a respected leader of the movement and a clergyman to boot has probably been underestimated. In addition as a black South African, Tutu’s support for gay rights shatters two contrasting myths, firstly that homosexual behaviour is somehow not part of African culture (whatever that is supposed to mean) and secondly, that Africans are somehow inherently homophobic.
Nelson Mandela (who has also expressed support for the gay rights cause) remained a fervent supporter of the Palestinian people to the end. Mandela has been widely quoted in life and death for saying:‘We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians’. Mandela’s support along with a growing sense of correspondence between the situation in Israeli occupied Palestine and South Africa under apartheid; with Gaza and the increasingly walled-in West Bank looking like a middle eastern bantustan, strict internal visa controls and of course relentless physical repression.Massacres at Sharpville and Soweto can be compared to those of Deir Yassin, Sabra and Chatila. Though the Palestinians are not a majority as their black counterparts were in South Africa, a demographic shift is taking place in which soon a Zionist minority will be seeking to hold on to power over a larger number of Palestinians in Israel and the Palestinian territories doubtless leading (as it did in apartheid South Africa) to heightened repression. Also analogous has been the heroic struggle against that repression. The apartheid analogy has helped to reframe the Palestinian cause as a new anti-apartheid movement with all the historical precedent and moral weight that goes with that, leading in recent years to an internationalisation of the movement for Palestinian liberation.
Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded Mandela as President of post-apartheid South Africa, helped to popularise the hitherto academic concept of global apartheid albeit, initially in the rather trivial context of South Africa being denied the right to host the football World Cup in 2006.Developing the theme, Mbeki described a world divided into a wealthy, politically powerful, largely white, minority in the First World and a poor, overwhelmingly non-white majority in the Third World.
Ultimately Mbeki was a reformist (and not a very good one at that) but his description of the world rings true as a ‘soft’ social democratic version of Maoism Third-worldism and should be welcomed for that.
The analogy with apartheid and the struggle against it is inspiring because the anti-apartheid movement was victorious (though as we’ve noted, much of apartheid’s legacy obviously remains in force). The application of Maoism Third-worldism to the anti-capitalist struggle has the potential of truly liberating the Third world masses, including those of South Africa, for whom a post-apartheid, but still capitalist system has so far left them little better off.
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