Mandela: A Multifaceted Symbol

I didn’t want to be presented in a way that omits the dark spots in my life.  –Nelson Mandela

Erasmo Calzadilla

Nelson Mandela. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — Mandela was a man and a symbol: an icon of the struggle against apartheid and injustice, but also a case study that shows us how “the apparatus” can subordinate even its most astute opponents to its own interests.

The apartheid regime was getting very bad press before the South African leader had become the country’s president. Even those who supported the South African government economically (I am thinking of the country’s ally, the United States) were losing face before international public opinion.

The struggle against institutional racism was a vigorous movement that was much talked about around the world.

Many believed that Mandela’s presidency would spell the end of segregation, or at least the beginning of true, radical change in the country. Today, twenty years after Mandela took office, one question imposes itself on us: can we legitimately claim that apartheid* is over in South Africa?

I won’t overwhelm you with statistics but I will only share some facts with you: 80% of the land is still in the hands of the white elite, South Africa is one of the countries with the greatest social inequalities in the world (according to the Gini index) and unemployment borders on 40%. I wonder what race most of the poor and unemployed in the country belong to?

With his faith and participation in the political games of bourgeois democracy, Mandela used his brilliant reputation to clean up the reputation of a system that is and will continue to be ruthless with those whose lot is to slither at the lowest steps of the social pyramid.

Perhaps he should have never accepted the presidency, if he knew that was not conducive to a true revolution in the country’s distribution of power.

Today, South Africa’s exploitative, export-based apparatus can continue to ground up poor blacks and whites without as many obstacles as before.

* We can take “apartheid” to mean, not only a concrete phenomenon that took place in a given region and at a given point in history, based on a certain set of principles and enforced through the use of barbed wire and other means, but also segregation in general.

9 thoughts on “Mandela: A Multifaceted Symbol

  • Meanwhile, next door in Zimbabwe, where whites were pushed off “their” lands and forced to emmigrate, the country has become an economic basket case, with inflation running in the thousands of percentages each year, or rather, each month. Many of its black citizens have also been forced to emmigrate to South Africa, both to work, and to smuggle food and products back in that have largely disappeared from the shelves in Harare. In South Africa the post-apartheid leadership has had to compromise and make the best of a bad deal. Realistically, are there better–or even other–alternatives? In the 1920’s and 1930’s the Soviet Union went on a forced march of primitive accumulation in order to build a modern industrial state–but at what price?! OTOH, modern, multi-national capital may exact just as dreadful a price (but for that matter, they are doing a pretty good job here in the U.S.A. of destroying both middle- and working-class.

  • That was not a very adroit avoidance of the question Moses but then I suspect you’re rather ashamed to admit where you get your information and better to have me think that you’re a moron than to tell me where you get the bulk of your thinking from and have that thought confirmed. .
    We’ve discussed a great many things here beyond life in Cuba and you’re just as disinformed on a great many other things as well.
    And…since you never read anything at ZNet as I do a great deal of stuff from the right , you’re hardly in a position to tell me that your sources trump what is presented daily at ZNet.
    See, I’ve dealt with the far right for years and I know from vast experience that they can’t deal with the cognitive dissonance ( brain strain) that arises when their fantasies collide with hard truths.
    A number of studies have shown that those, like you, when confronted with incontrovertible facts, block them out and retreat ever deeper into their already existing and erroneous thinking .
    To be fair , the studies also said that some on the left also do this but the overwhelming majority of those who do so are on the (erroneous) right.
    You have plenty of company.

  • My information sources? With regards to my comments here at HT, I LIVED in Cuba. I am married to a Cuban woman. I talk to other Cubans almost every day. Given this is a website about CUBA, I am guessing my “sources” trump ZNet/ZCommunications. Talking to Cubans about
    Cuba, you should try it some time.

  • On the other hand , I love democracy and the truth .
    Capitalism is the antithesis of democracy and talk radio is entertainment for very uneducated people .
    Do notice that neither Rush nor Beck have guests from the left to debate their idiocies and all those whom would intellectually embarrass Limbaugh are not permitted on the air by his screener . Hannity does not let opposition speakers talk by constantly interrupting them . He shut off Christopher Hitchens microphone when Hitchens was on his show.
    All of them are free to spout off stuff that would be shredded in formal debate with an educated opponent which is why they do not permit it.
    Unfortunately for you, you have no Bo Snerdly to screen me out and my regular shredding of your preposterous arguments shows how easy it is to put the lie to those talk show entertainers you parrot .
    BTW, just where do you get your information ?
    Can you recommend publications, or media outlets or other sources that back up your stuff ?
    My main source is ZNet/ZCommunications along with TomDispatch and several of the websites listed at TomDispatch for the truth but do listen to NPR ( National Pentagon Radio ) Public BS ( PBS ) Fox and some of the network stuff on a daily basis .
    I always like to compare how the moron right, the corporate right media and the left (Z is left and NOT liberal/progressive ) treat the same story.
    You should try it some time .

  • Your posts reflect your dislike of capitalism, the majority of the world’s economies, and even talk radio. It would suck to be you.

  • You can plant that post in your flower garden where the bullshit will do some good.
    That a MAJORITY of South Africans barely exist on less than US$2.00 a day puts the lie to your entire post as regards the opportunities available to the poor under capitalism .
    In the world today and more than ever, the rich are getting far richer and the poverty of an ever-increasing percentage of the world under capitalist economies gets deeper and more widespread.
    I have been listening to Rush Limbaugh , Glen Beck and Sean Hannity for about a week solid now while I work in my glass studio and I can their exact words in your posts .
    I have to assume that right-wing entertainers is where you get your hollow talking points because they are precisely the same .
    Now ask yourself :how many universities use the books, words or thinking of these three (or four when you are included ) in teaching the realities of the world ?
    Your stuff reads like a high school level civics class and has no bearing on reality.
    On your last sentence : that you actually think that the candidates handed to you to vote for were somehow chosen by you and not the extremely wealthy whose money is an absolute necessity for national election shows the disconnect between your thinking and reality .
    Answer this question: do you really think that the U.S. is a representative democracy in which the electorate determines which policies are to be followed by those elected and not by those who legally bribe them via “campaign contributions” ?
    And PLEASE, do not hand me the euphemistic “we are not perfect” as part of your answer.

  • That’s an easy one. I would
    always choose that country where through education, hard work and the freedom
    to decide the destiny for myself and my family, I am able to change my
    circumstance. Today, that means South Africa. Anti-capitalists such as yourself
    hope for a government to do all the heavy lifting to improve the quality of
    life. I just want government to level the playing field and then get out of my
    way. I don’t want a ration book, I want access to jobs that pay a living wage.
    I don’t want the government to pay for my health care, I simply need government
    to ensure that the cost of decent health care is affordable. I don’t need the
    government to limit my internet access to protect me from idiots who espouse
    failed government systems like the socialism that exists in your fantasies. I
    simply need government to guarantee my right to the government of my choosing.

  • South Africa is at peace with the United States only because it chose to remain with the same capitalist economy that enriches the very few and impoverishes the majority who live on U.S.$2.00 a day .
    Those conditions, for the majority of people living in a country with large gold and diamond deposits will not only remain unchanged for the future but will continue to deteriorate as capitalists worldwide take in an ever-higher percentage of the wealth .
    In the U.S. the top 1% took in some 90% of all the wealth created since the big recession supposedly ended and wealth inequality in South Africa is even worse.
    Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.
    Were you poor , would you choose to raise your children in “communist” Cuba or capitalist South Africa ?

  • Socialists often attempt to claim the moral high ground in their oft-repeated criticism of capitalist countries by spouting land ownership statistics. In this post, Erasmo writes, “80% of the land is still in the hands of the white elite”. After official apartheid ended in South Africa and blacks helped elect their first black President in Nelson Mandela does Erasmo suggest that Mandela should have simply expropriated the land that whites owned to distribute to blacks? That is what Castro did with private property owned by Cuban farmers, businessmen and Cuban professionals as well as foreigners and how well did that work out for Cuba? Most of the Cuban farmland is either underproductive or overrun by the maribou weed and the once thriving business districts are closed and run-down. Private property is sacred in capitalism and Mandela wisely chose to follow his instincts and respect private property rights. He certainly had pressure from disenfranchised blacks to take back from whites what many blacks considered had been stolen from them through colonization. Mandela chose the path of equal opportunity rather than equal results. It is historically a slower and more painstaking road but a far more just path to social equality. Taking property by force as most “revolutionaries” advocate never ends well.

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