26 Feb 2012

Appraising Mandela and Mbeki

Written by  Adekeye Adebajo

No. 208: Appraising Mandela and Mbeki / Adekeye Adebajo / The Sunday Independent
26 February 2012

As the ANC celebrates its centenary, it is worth assessing its African footprint under two of its most illustrious contemporary leaders: Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki. Mandela, SA's first democratically elected president in 1994 and Nobel Peace Laureate, grew up in a chiefly Xhosa household, attending elite Methodist schools modelled on the English education system.

He developed great respect for English democratic institutions and gentlemanly manners.

Madiba studied at the black elite Fort Hare University, where he read Shakespeare and Victorian poetry, and also met Oliver Tambo, the future head of the ANC. Moving to Joburg, he met another ANC stalwart, Walter Sisulu, who became his confidant, and both spent most of Mandela's 27 years in jail together.

Madiba helped to found the ANC Youth League in 1944. He gradually metamorphosed from a black nationalist who expressed concern that SA Indians were dominating the liberation struggle to a prophet of multiracialism.

He also read the writings of pan-Africanists such as George Padmore and Kwame Nkrumah.

At first inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's tactics of "passive resistance", Mandela eventually played a leadership role in the ANC's Defiance Campaign of 1952, before initiating the "armed struggle" that led to a life sentence in 1964.

Madiba's visit to Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zambia, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Ghana, Senegal and Guinea in 1962 gave him great insights into continental diplomacy and the tactics of other African liberation movements. He was particularly influenced by Algeria's Front de Libération Nationale.

Mandela emerged from prison in 1990 without any apparent bitterness towards his former enemies, and indefatigably promoted national reconciliation.

He has been widely celebrated as a political saint and one of the greatest moral figures of the 20th century. The charisma of this "Founding Father" helped SA's young, democratic institutions to flower.

In contrast to Africa's other post-independence founding presidents such as Zambia's Kenneth Kaunda, Kenya's Jomo Kenyatta and Tanzania's Julius Nyerere, he bowed out gracefully at the end of his first presidential term in 1999.

One of Mandela's enduring legacies will be his peacemaking efforts.

He tirelessly reached out to his former enemies at home, and sought to mediate in disputes in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Lesotho.

During his presidency, SA largely shunned a military role in Africa for fear of arousing allegations of hegemonic domination based on the discredited destructive past of the apartheid army


In what came to be known by some as the "Mandela Doctrine", he told his fellow leaders at the Organisation of African Unity summit in Burkina Faso in 1998: "Africa has a right and a duty to intervene to root out tyranny...

"(We) must all accept that we cannot abuse the concept of national sovereignty to deny the rest of the continent the right and duty to intervene when behind those sovereign boundaries, people are being slaughtered to protect tyranny."

Mandela's successor, Thabo Mbeki — SA's president between 1999 and 2008 — can in some ways be regarded as this age's Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's legendary founding leader.

Both believed in Africa's ancient glory and sought to build modern states that restored the continent's past. Both were Renaissance men: visionary intellectuals committed to a pan-African vision.

Both were instrumental in the creation of the OAU and the AU. While Nkrumah championed the "African Personality", Mbeki promoted the "African Renaissance".

Both were accused of monarchical tendencies at home, and in the end were toppled in apparent acts of regicide: Nkrumah in a coup by the military, while Mbeki was "recalled" by the ANC.

Even as deputy president, Mbeki had sought to step out of Mandela's shadow through visionary leadership.

He called for an African Renaissance as a doctrine for Africa's political, economic, and social renewal, challenging Africans to discover a sense of their own self-confidence after centuries of slavery and colonialism that had systematically denigrated their cultures and subjugated their institutions to alien rule.

He was the chief architect of the New Partnership for Africa's Development in 2001 and the birth of the AU in Durban in 2002.

Mbeki sought to use the Renaissance vision to convince fellow South Africans — who had for years been indoctrinated by racist white rulers to view Africa as a place of darkness and disease from which they existed apart — to embrace not just a new SA identity, but a new African identity.

He had studied economics at Sussex University in England and, as a child, had attended the black elite missionary school Lovedale, reading Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Joseph Conrad.

His political mentor was the ANC leader in exile, Tambo, from whom he learned the skills of winning over enemies, stitching disparate coalitions together and avoiding direct confrontation.

With his father, Govan Mbeki, having been jailed with Mandela on Robben Island, Mbeki grew up deeply immersed in the liberation struggle.

At Sussex, Mbeki had imbibed the ideas of Aimé Césaire, Léopold Senghor, WEB Du Bois, and Frantz Fanon. His Master's thesis focused on industrialisation in West Africa, as a strong pan-African awareness developed.

From 1971, he spent two decades of exile working for the ANC in Zambia, Nigeria, and Swaziland.

From this first-hand experience, SA's future president befriended Nigerian military ruler Olusegun Obasanjo and developed great admiration for the country's fierce sense of independence.

Under Mbeki's presidency, SA established solid credentials to become Africa's leading power. He skilfully used both a strategic partnership with Nigeria and his chairmanship of the AU to pursue his foreign policy goals on the continent.

He was more prepared than Mandela to send peacekeepers abroad, which increased SA's credibility as a major geo-strategic player in Africa.

Nearly 3 000 SA troops were deployed to the DRC, Burundi and the Sudan's Darfur region. SA permanently hosts the AU's Pan-African Parliament, which was established in Midrand in 2004.

But despite Mbeki's efforts at integrating SA into the rest of Africa, it is unclear how deeply entrenched these initiatives are within the country's population and its political, intellectual and business elite.

Many in Africa question whether Mbeki's heirs will maintain the same level of commitment to the continent that he demonstrated.

Many African governments and people have often expressed unease about what they perceive to be SA's mercantilist trade and xenophobic immigration policies.

Paradoxically, SA is both the most pan-African and the least pan-African country in Africa: its national anthem starts with the words "God bless Africa"; its ruling party is called the African National Congress; its other main rival black liberation movement was called the Pan-Africanist Congress; and many of the leaders of its liberation movement grew up in exile in Lusaka, Gaborone, Harare and Dar-es-Salaam.

Mbeki and Mandela both attended Christian missionary schools, becoming anglophiles.

Both were formal men who rarely showed their emotions in public. Where Mandela ruled like a patriarch, leaving policy details to his lieutenants, Mbeki was a policy wonk who revelled in the mechanics of governance.

Where Mandela was charismatic and popular among the masses, Mbeki relied on political manoeuvring within the ANC. These very different leaders have, however, left a heavy African footprint on the sands of time.

Dr Adekeye Adebajo is executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution, Cape Town, and author of The Curse of Berlin: Africa After the Cold War.

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