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Long Walk to Freedom

December 29, 2013

After the death of Nelson Mandela the press eulogised Mandela as a forgiving, docile figure. Politicians and statesmen were quick to position white South Africans and Europeans as agents for change whilst almost eliminating the participation of greats in the ANC (Tambo, Slovo, Sisulu, Bopape, Sobukwe…). I saw more about the guy who wrote that song than the men and women who fought to sing their own anthem.

Perhaps most frustratingly, I saw the press lazily clipping the same passages from Mandela’s memoirs. Quotes that celebrated his education, an education that robbed him of his history in the manner his people were robbed of their land three centuries before his birth. Passages about forgiveness and “freedom for all people, white and black” (p751) that handily skipped over the fact that white South Africans adopted that philosophy with the tardiness one might expect of a people who have known nothing but status and privilege earned only through accident of birth.

Mandela wanted to free the oppressors of their oppression, yet so much coverage of his passing celebrated white and European complicity in the freedom movement whilst ignoring white and European complicity in Apartheid itself. After all, Apartheid was just a formalisation of attitudes, beliefs and culture inherited by the Afrikaners from the Dutch, who inherited their white supremacy from the British. Had Britan won the war, judging by how their settlers treated the Kenyans, they’d have established a society with the same values (or lack of them).

I re-read Long Walk to Freedom. Here are some quotes I think deserve attention too.

On his British education:

I did not yet know that the real history of our country was not to be found in standard British textbooks which claimed South Africa began with the landing of Jan van Riebeeck at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652. […] I began to learn discover the history of the Bantu-speaking peoples began far to the north, in a country of lakes and green plains and valleys, and that slowly over the millennia we made our way down to the tip of this great continent. (p27)

On non-violence:

Non-violence and passive resistance is effective as long as your opposition adheres to the same rules as you do. But if peaceful protest is met with violence, it’s efficacy is at an end.  (p182)

On Socialism:

I saw [socialism] as the most advanced stage of economic life then evolved by man. (p557)

On FW de Clerk:

Despite his seemingly progressive actions, Mr de Clerk was by no means the great emancipator. He was a gradualist, a careful pragmatist. He did not make any of his reforms with the intention of putting himself out of power. He made them for precisely the opposite reason, to ensure power for the Afrikaner, in a new dispensation. He was not prepared to negotiate the end of white rule. (p692)

After an FW de Clerk’s attack on the ANC at Convention for a Democratic South Africa talks in 1992:

I am gravely concerned about the behaviour of Mr de Clerk today. He has launched an attack on the ANC and in doing so has been less than frank. Even the head of an illegitimate, discredited minority regime, as his is, has certain morals to uphold.  (p715)

On 17 June 1992,  a heavily armed force of Inkatha* members secretly raided the township of Boipatong and killed forty-six people. Most of the dead were women and children. It was the fourth mass killing of ANC people that week. […] The police did nothing to stop the criminals and did nothing to find them. No arrests were made, no investigation began. Mr de Clerk said nothing. (p724)

*a Zulu led organisation, violently opposed to the ANC and secretly funded by the National Party

On Marxism:

Marxism’s call to revolutionary action was music to the ears of a freedom fighter. The idea that history progresses through struggle and that change occurs in revolutionary jumps was similarly appealing. […] I found that African Nationalists and African Communists  generally had for more to unite them than to divide them. (p138)

On white supremacy:

It is important for African Nationalists to be armed with evidence to refute the claims of the whites that Africans are without a civilised past that compares to that of the West.  (p353)

We are not anti-white, we are against white supremacy … we have condemned racialism no matter by whom it is professed.

The lack of human dignity experienced by Africans is the direct result of the policy of white supremacy. White supremacy implies black inferiority. Legislation designed to preserve white supremacy entrenches this notion. (p437)

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