The Revolutionary Legacy of Nelson Mandela and Its Implications for the Pan-African Struggle

Lessons for the ongoing struggle in the United States and South Africa

Note: The following address was delivered on Saturday Feb. 15, 2014 at the Annual African American History Month forum sponsored by Workers World Party Detroit branch. Azikiwe spoke on a panel with Moncia Moorehead, managing editor of Workers World newspaper based in New York City. The event was chaired by Andrea Egypt of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition in Detroit.

On December 5, 2013, the world was shocked and saddened by the transition of Tata Madiba Rohlihahla Mandela at the age of 95. Although Madiba had been ill for many months and his condition required round-the-clock medical attention, his passing was nonetheless a great loss to the people of South Africa, the African continent, the Diaspora and indeed to the world.

Mandela was eulogized by people throughout the world. Inside South Africa an extended period of mourning was declared and the former African National Congress (ANC) leader and first president of a non-racial South African state was given a state funeral.

Memorial services were held throughout South Africa. Millions poured into streets and stadiums around the country to sing the praises of their leader who had spent twenty seven years in prison for his believe that the African people should be liberated from national oppression and economic exploitation.

Editorials and newspaper articles were published which presented a wide variation of interpretations of his legacy. Of course the corporate media within the imperialist states sought to remake Mandela in their own image.

There were claims that could have never been verified. For example, that he “forgave his enemies.” No one knows whether Mandela really forgave those who oppressed and exploited his people for centuries.

What was obvious is that he left a life of relative privilege in the rural areas of the Eastern Cape to pursue a career in Johannesburg. He would work in the mines for a short period of time and then attend college at the University of Witwatersrand where he studied law.

Mandela would meet Walter Sisulu, an organizer for the ANC during the early 1940s. He and his wife, Albertina Sisulu, would recruit Mandela into the national liberation movement where he became a cadre in the Youth League that was formed in 1943. He later joined the South African Communist Party and served on its Central Committee.

When Mandela began to enter the legal profession it was with a political agenda at the forefront of these efforts. He and Oliver Tambo would establish one of the few African law firms in the country where the majority population was under constant surveillance and persecution designed to perpetuate the system of racial capitalism.

In 1949, the ANC Youth League put forward a “Program of Action” that was aimed at initiating a mass popular struggle to directly challenge the system of apartheid that was formally instituted after the all-white elections of 1948. South Africa had been a racist state since the consolidation of British and Boer (Afrikaneer) colonial rule during the 19th century.

The Boers and the British fought a protracted war at the turn of the 19th and 20th century to determine which European power would be dominant over the land, labor and resources of the majority African population and the Asian work force that was imported to further solidify the system of oppression.

After the Anglo-Boer War an unholy Union of South Africa was established in 1910 under British control. During World War I, the German colonial forces in neighboring South West Africa (now known as Namibia) also fell under a British mandate.

German colonialism in Namibia had been as genocidal as the series of wars waged by the British and the Boers against the Africans in South Africa during the 19th and early 20thcenturies. In Namibia, an extermination order by General Lothar von Trotha in 1904 resulted in the slaughter of 80 percent of the Nama and Herero people.

The genocidal policies of the Germans in Namibia would prefigure developments in the 1930s and 1940s in Europe where millions were exterminated by the Nazis in Germany, Poland, Hungary and the Soviet Union. Africans were herded onto “native reserves” in order to rationalize a system of labor exploitation, land confiscation which built both South Africa and Namibia into lucrative outposts for capitalist profit-making and white supremacist ideology.

Intersection Between the Southern African and African American Struggles

As we have pointed out in a previous article entitled “Nelson Mandela, the ANC and the African American Struggle,” the connections between the freedom movements of South Africa and people of African descent in the U.S. extend back into the late 19th century.

Figures such as John L. Dube, Pixley ka Isaka Seme and Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje, all founders of the South African Native National Congress in 1912, which later became the ANC in 1923, were influenced by and interacted with African American leaders and organizations such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee Institute, W.E.B. Du Bois of the Pan-African Congress and the NAACP, and Marcus Garvey of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and the Negro World newspaper.

Both the U.S. and South Africa have striking similarities. According to sociologist Graham C. Kinloch, “In both cases, we are presented with a white Protestant minority which migrates to another society in order to develop a new home and maximize economic achievement. Contact with the indigenous population is negative and conflict ridden, resulting in high levels of racism in the competition for resources…. Furthermore, common to both situations is the importation of external race groups for economic purposes—a process which increases intergroup competition on all levels of the social system.” (1974)

This same assessment continues noting that “From a normative standpoint, both societies possess dominant elites which are highly ethnocentric, puritanical, and imbued with Protestant Ethic values of individualism and materialism. Social distance between elite and subordinate groups is maximized, despite a relatively high level of sexual exploitation and miscegenation.”

Both societies have witnessed the rise of popular movements in resistance to the colonial oppression and exploitation of the people. In South Africa and the U.S. large scale demographic shifts occurred during the post-World War I and II periods, when millions of Africans re-located from the rural to the urban areas.

Consequently, the impact of this migration, spawned by the development of monopoly capitalism, had a tremendous impact on the level of resistance to white oppression and their historical legacy of slavery and colonialism—which provided the basis for their Pan-African unity and cooperation—the peoples of the U.S. and South Africa have contributed immensely to the overall struggle against racism.

Historian George M. Fredrickson wrote in 1995 that “Politically aware African Americans and Black South Africans did not conceive of themselves as simply engaged in isolate combat with their own particular sets of white oppressors.

From the early to mid-nineteenth century onward, they were keenly aware of the larger struggle of Africans and people of African descent throughout the world against the efforts of Europeans or people of European ancestry to enslave, colonize, disenfranchise, and segregate people designated as black. Hence African Americans and Black South Africans shared a larger pan-African discourse and responded to changing international currents of black thought and opinion.”

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) International Affairs Director James Forman said in 1967 that “we see the world-wide fight against racism as indivisible. Southern Africa as a stronghold of the Herrenvolk mentality has high priority in the struggle. To win the battle there is to hasten the victory in the USA.”

The Struggle Today in South Africa and the United States

Since 1994 the ANC has been in control of the government in South Africa. The national liberation movement, which in alliance with the South African Communist Party (SACP), the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and other allies have maintained a politically-dominate position for two decades.

National elections have been scheduled for May 7 where it is anticipated that the ANC will remain in power despite debates over the margin of victory for the ruling party. The most formidable opposition to the ANC is the so-called Democratic Alliance party headed by a white woman Helen Zille, a former journalist and mayor of Cape Town.

Although South Africa has remained within the capitalist sphere of influence and relations of production for various reasons, there has been significant reforms and economic progress over the last two decades. The party has built housing for millions, provided utilities services to millions more, constructed a rapid transit train system in Johannesburg and other areas as well as becoming a significant force in continental, regional and international politics.

In 2012, South Africa joined the Brazil, Russia, India and China Summit (BRICS). The ANC election manifesto is targeting youth from the so-called “born free” generation who have come on the scene since 1994.

Nonetheless, there is much work to be done. Workers in the platinum and other mining sectors have been striking since 2012. These developments related to ongoing contradictions within the capitalist system, has split the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and brought into existence the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) which is now the majority union within the platinum belt in the Northwest.

We support the struggle of the workers against the bosses for better wages and working conditions. However, the overall workerist and anti-communist posture of AMCU should be noted by anti-imperialists based in the West. The plight of the workers in South Africa can only be solved through the organization of the workers based upon an anti-capitalist political program.

Also within COSATU, which is still by far the largest labor federation inside the country, there are differences over the role of organized workers within the ANC and the alliance which has dominated the government since 1994. Although the leadership of the National Union of Metalworkers in South Africa (NUMSA) has openly criticized the neo-liberal policies of the government, it remains to be seen how this will impact the national elections in May.

The ANC Election Manifesto launching rallies have been attended by tens of thousands of South African workers and youth. There appears to be great enthusiasm for the return of the ANC to power in 2014.

A recent incident occurred just this last past week when the opposition DA sought to hold a so-called “jobs march” to the ANC headquarters at Luthuli House in Johannesburg. Initially the ANC sought to halt the march in court.

On the day of the scheduled anti-ANC demonstration, thousands of ANC members, many of whom were youth, came to Luthuli House to defend the party from these political attacks. Some of the youth were carrying bricks and the police prevented the DA from entering the area.

This raises the question of what is the DA program for South Africa. It is clearly not an anti-capitalist program or one that recognizes the African majority as the vanguard of the National Democratic Revolution.

Although the ANC has not moved towards nationalization and large-scale land redistribution as has been done in neighboring Zimbabwe, the imperialists are still committed to reversing the existing reforms that have been carried out in the areas of affirmative action, gender parity, LGBTQ rights and a Pan-African and Non-aligned foreign policy.

The outcome of these debates will be decided by the South African workers, farmers and youth. We must defend their right to self-determination and support all progressive and revolutionary policies put forward by the ANC and its allies inside the country.

In regard to the impact and lessons to be learned from South Africa inside the U.S., it is quite obvious that the world economic crisis is not abating and that the bankers and the bosses have not halted their plans for the further impoverishment and disempowerment of workers and the nationally oppressed.

In the city of Detroit, which is a majority African municipality which played a significant role in the anti-apartheid struggle during the 1980s and 1990s, we are facing an attempt to re-institute an apartheid-like system.

This is manifesting itself through the declaration of a financial emergency, the imposition of corporate agents over the affairs of Detroit and the elimination of thousands of jobs in the private, educational and public sectors. It is no accident that most of the cities where emergency management has been imposed are occupied by majority African populations.

Our struggle through the Moratorium NOW! Coalition has been to place culpability for the crisis on the banks and corporations. We have pointed out the racist character of the attacks on the city and its implications for other municipalities around the country.

We have called for the cancellation of the bank debt and for existing resources to be utilized for reconstruction based upon the interests of the workers. In South Africa last year, the SACP through its Red October campaign also focused on the role of the banks in the economic crisis there.

In summation the current capitalist crisis can only be resolved through socialist economic planning. The wealth of the people must be controlled and distributed by them.

Capitalism has no future in the today’s world. We must work among ourselves in alliance with the peoples of the world to build a future based upon the interest of the most oppressed.



By Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor, Pan-African News Wire







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