I AM PREPARED TO DIE

Nelson Mandela, A Long Walk To Freedom, John Mountford, Kill Mandela, Rivonia Trial

Nelson Mandela’s statement from the dock at the start of the Rivonia Trial took him two weeks to prepare and four hours to read, but it was the last sentence that stunned the courtroom into a thirty second silence:

“But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

In making this statement from the dock, and concluding with this sentence, Mandela broke two cardinal rules of defence testimony:

1) A statement, because it is not subject to cross-examination, carries little weight in establishing innocence or mitigation of sentence.

2) Telling a judge that you are prepared to die when staring a death-sentence in the face, is provocative and reckless in the extreme.

Mandela’s legal counsel advised him strongly against both, but he persisted and won the support of his fellow accused.

 

WAS HE RIGHT?

Was Mandela right to pursue this line of (non) defence? Looking at the pro’s and the con’s will help us decide:

CON’S

1) Although their defence was a joint decision, there is little doubt that Mandela’s opinion held the most sway in the group. As the head of Umkhonto we Sizwe and the ex-deputy president of the ANC, he was the political senior.

2) As the lawyer in the group, he was the most suited to stand up to the cross-examination of the state.

3) As a lawyer, he also knew that their defence counsel’s primary purpose was to get the best possible sentencing outcome for their clients. His choices frustrated that purpose.

PRO’S

1)  The decision gave Mandela the platform to make a lengthy political statement to highlight their grievances and beliefs to the world.

2) It was a powerful moral statement, showing that their cause was more  important than their own lives – a chance at martyrdom.

 

The outcome of the trial was a surprisingly good one for Mandela and his co-accused in that they did not receive the expected death sentence. But it so easily could have been different. Mandela might have been hanged, and would never have provided South Africa and the world with the leadership he did, albeit 27 years later.

Was Mandela’s decision a reckless, or heroic, one?

COMMUNISTS AND INDIANS

Nelson Mandela, Kill Mandela, A Long Walk To Freedom

Some prominent communists and Indians that were part of the Treason Trial with Nelson Mandela: clockwise from top left:

Bram Fischer; Joe Slovo; Yusuf Dadoo; Billy Nair; Helen Joseph; Rusty Bernstein; Ben Turok; Ahmed Kathrada (centre)

 

The South African government found an unusual ally in its fight against the ANC: the South African Communist Party.

Many liberal minded white South Africans might have been persuaded to support the opposition Progressive Party rather than the ruling party had it not been for the threat of communism. The communism bogeyman became one of the governments most powerful allies in driving the majority of the white electorate into the same laager. Apartheid, so the governing party proclaimed, was the foil to a Communist-inspired takeover in South Africa.

There can be no denying that the Soviet Union had it’s eye on Africa, and South Africa’s abundant minerals in particular, but the likelihood of communist revolutionary regime change ever happening in South Africa was remote. The irony of this was that Nelson Mandela, and the ANC Youth League, were extremely wary of communism:

‘We may borrow from foreign ideologies, but we reject the wholesale importation of foreign ideologies into Africa,’ the ANCYL said at the time of it’s formation in 1944.

This was an implicit rebuke of the Communist Party, which Mandela then felt was dominated by whites and undermined African initiative. Mandela was, as such, ‘firmly opposed to allowing communists or whites to join the league.’

Mandela was also cautious about the place of Indians and The South African Indian Congress in the struggle, who he saw as exploiters of black labour in their role as shopkeepers and merchants. The issue was taken up at an ANC NEC meeting, where Mandela’s view was voted down. Mandela, however, persisted, and raised the matter once more at the national conference. Once again Mandela’s view was rejected by the highest levels of the ANC, and he was forced to accept this position. He says of this:

‘Unity amongst the black people – Africans, Coloureds and Indians – in South Africa had at last become a reality.’

 

THE ANC WOULD HAVE FAILED

What kind of struggle would have occurred had Mandela and the ANCYL got their way, as they eventually did with the change from passive resistance to the armed struggle? In this, I suspect, Mandela made an error of judgement. Such a policy would have seen the ANC go the way of its later opposition, the PAC and AZAPO, both of which were exclusionary in their approach. Exclusion of any kind is never a lasting solution. It may win some short term popularity with extremists, but it will soon fizzle out and lose support in a democratic world order.

Most people reject those that they fear, not because of innate racism, but out of ignorance. When we come to know and understand those that we reject, we no longer fear them. Mandela’s rejection of whites, communists and Indians was based on the premise that they would undermine the African’s struggle for liberation. The opposite was, in fact, the truth: if it were not for the intellectual and organizational input of these three groups, the ANC would surely have failed to convince the world that it was a capable government in waiting for the entire population of SA.

FROM GHANDI TO MANDELA

Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi, John Mountford, Umkhonto we Sizwe, Violence

Probably the closest Nelson Mandela came to showing any propensity for violence prior to forming Umkhonto we Sizwe, was in bouts of stick-fighting as a young boy in rural Transkei. This was hardly likely to prepare him for his future as a violent revolutionary.

The ANC had, since its inception in 1912, adopted a strict policy of non-violence. In this they used Mahatma Ghandi, and his peaceful protests against discrimination under British ruled SA from 1893 – 1913, as their role model.

However after the Treason Trial ended in 1964, and tanks rumbled through the townships ahead of the May 29 stay-away, Mandela began to push the reluctant ANC towards abandoning non-violence. He had started the debate as early as 1952, but now was determined that it should be finalized. He told the NEC that he believed that non-violence was a tactic that should be abandoned when it no longer worked, and that the people were ahead of the ANC:

“If we did not take the lead now, we would soon be latecomers to a movement we did not control.”

THE ANC GIVES IN

Chief Luthuli eventually relented. He proposed that a military movement should be a separate and independent organ, under the control of the ANC, but autonomous. Persuading the Indian Congress was, however, an even more difficult nut to crack. In a meeting that went on throughout the night, JN Singh told the joint executive that ‘non-violence has not failed us – we have failed non-violence’. Mandela disagreed. Finally, towards dawn, there was a resolution: the official ANC policy would still be that of non-violence, while Mandela was authorized to go ahead and form a separate military wing: Umkhonto we Sizwe – The Spear of the Nation.

It had taken the ANC 50 years to come to this point; and it took another 30 years of the armed struggle to bring democracy to South Africa.

Approximately 7 000 deaths occurred during the period 1948 to 1990, when Mandela was released. From 1990 to 1994 there were 14 000 deaths.

Why did the ANC hang on to non-violence so grimly, when violent revolution had been the order of the day in Africa for decades?

Who was right – Mandela, or Ghandi?

What might have happened had the ANC not pursued the armed struggle?

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Nelson Mandela, Kill Mandela, John Mountford

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela answered to many names, but the one that is least known is the one that he was the most proud of. But we’ll get to that later.

 

First, let me share with you some of the ancestral, tribal and family names that define who Mandela was:

BANTU: Means “people” or “humans”, and is a general name for the approximately 600 ethnic groups who speak Bantu languages that have inhabited Africa from the earliest times.

NGUNI: The Bantu people who, sometime between the 2nd and 5th centuries, began a wave of southward migrations from the Great Lakes region in Central Africa. They were so named because of the vast herds of Nguni cattle they brought with them.

XHOSA: Part of the Nguni people who reached present day South Africa in the sixth century. Other Nguni people were the SWAZI and the ZULU, who inhabited the northern part of South Africa. The XHOSA pushed on farther south to inhabit the Eastern Cape region.

THEMBU: A tribe that is a part of the Xhosa people, to which Mandela belonged.

MADIBA: A Thembu chief who ruled in the eighteenth century. Mandela’s family trace their descent back to this specific forefather – as such they are known as the Madiba clan.

GADLA MANDELA: Mandela’s father and Chief of Mvezo, who belonged to the Left Hand House of the Thembu royal household. The Right Hand House provided heirs to the king, while the Left Hand House provided counsellors to the king.

ROHIHLAHLA: The name given to Mandela by his father at birth. It means ‘pulling the branch of a tree’, or ‘troublemaker’.

NELSON: The English name given to Mandela by his teacher on his first day of school. He has no idea why she chose that name for him.

 

Which brings us to the name I referred to in the beginning, the one Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela was most proud of.

Nelson Mandela, Xhosa initiation, Kill Mandela, John MountfordAt the age of sixteen, Mandela was initiated into manhood through the customary ritual of circumcision. At the final ceremony he was given his circumcision name: DALIBHUNGA.

To Xhosa traditionalists, and to Mandela himself, this name was the most acceptable for a man. It means ‘Founder of the Bungha’. The Bungha was the traditional ruling body of the Xhosa in the Transkei at the time.

And so, despite his not being destined to rule in the Thembu royal household, in the name of Dalibhunga, Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela’s future as a ruler was prophesied. Greater things lay in store. The rest is history.

WINNIE THE WITCH

PART ONE

Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela, A Long Walk To freedom, John Mountford, Kill Mandela

MY APOLOGY

My biggest surprise in reading ‘A Long Walk To Freedom’ is how it has changed my opinion of Winnie. I am now an admirer.

Winnie’s portrayal in the South African media after Nelson Mandela’s release in 1990 was brutal, and still is. And when Nelson Mandela filed divorce proceedings against her in 1992, it was open season on the fallen hero. I was one of those who took pot-shots at her, and delighted in her downfall. I apologize for that, not because she didn’t do what they said she did, but because I took a one-sided view of her. In my haste to condemn her wrong-doing, I conveniently ignored thirty years of magnificent right-doing.

THE SOCIAL WORKER

Winnie was no tough-cookie to start with. She was a soft-hearted social worker when Mandela first met her – the first black social worker at Baragwanath Hospital in Johannesburg. It was love at first sight for him. He told her on their first date that he wanted to marry her:

“Her spirit, her passion, her courage, her wilfulness – I felt all of these things the moment I first saw her.”

Such was her character reference from the supreme character of the 20th century.

When the Treason Trial destroyed Mandela’s successful law practice, it was on her small salary as a social worker that they survived and got married:

“Winnie understood, and said she was prepared to take the risk and throw in her lot with me.”

THE WITCH

Winnie’s father’s advice to her on the day of their wedding was prophetic. Speaking of Mandela’s 1st love being the struggle, he said:

“If your man is a wizard, you must become a witch!”

Winnie was Mandela’s strength in the trying times that lay ahead as the Treason Trial dragged on. He says of her:

“The wife of a freedom fighter is often like a widow, even when her husband is not in prison. Though I was on trial for treason, Winnie gave me cause for hope. I felt as though I had a new and second chance at life. My love for her gave me added strength for the struggles that lay ahead.”

However she was not content to only be a passive support to her husbands external trials, but she was determined to share in them with him. When the Women’s Pass Protest was proposed, Mandela advised Winnie not to participate. She ignored him, and was happy to be arrested. This was the first of many such arrests, before and after Mandela’s imprisonment on Robben Island.

Nelson Mandela had found in Winnie an equal partner in the struggle. She had heeded her father’s advice, and had lain the foundation to her future as the Witch behind the Wizard.