Thursday, November 02, 2006

Mandela and the Crocodile

I've always been a big fan of Nelson Mandela. Not the African National Congress (the ANC: bourgeois /Stalinist nationalists, who do not -and never did- deserve the support of the left either in South Africa or internationally), but Mandela himself: what a human being! His personal demenour when finally releaded after 27 years in prison was one of the most moving things I have ever witnessed, and surely ensured the peaceful transformation of South Africa into a non-racial bourgeois democracy.

But I thought even Mandela might have some critical words to say on the occasion of the death of the vicious, murderous racist who was, in effect, his jailer for 27 years: PW Botha. I underestimated Mandela's magnanimity: after a message of condolence to Botha's family, Mandela went onto say: "While to many Mr Botha will remain a symbol of apartheid, we also remember him for the steps he took to pave the way towards the eventual peacefully negotiated settlement in our country".

Mandela's statement goes on: "Our correspondence with Mr Botha while we were in prison was an important part of those initial stages, as was the agreement to a personal meeting in Tuynhuys" (a reference to the secret meeting set up by Botha's head of intelligence, Neil Bernard, described in the UK Independent of 2 November 2006 , in an article by John Carlin: 'The Crocodile and the Saint").

The most you can say for Botha is that he made a few very minor reforms to apartheid and was far-sighted enough to realise that apartheid had to be reformed - and so was willing to meet with Mandela. But he also presided over the incarceration of Mandela for 27 years , and was responsible for a murderous campaign against the ANC and other anti-apartheid forces.

If you or I were in Mandela's shoes, we'd say something like "I'm glad the murderous old racist piece of scum is dead, and I hope he didn't die easily". But that's not Mandela's way: he could even shed a tear for the 'Great Crocodile" - and it wasn't a crocodile tear, either.

For myself, I admire Mandela's generosity of spirit; but I have to say that I am more in tune with Mandela's fellow Robin Island prisoner Tokyo Sexwale, who (according to the UK Independent) gave condolences to Botha's family, but said he deeply regretted the former leader had never attempted to heal the wounds or apologise for the bloody atrocities that occured on his watch.

"It is his government that was repressive, brutal, committed murder and torture. We know that when a man has passed you cannot say bad things. But he died without (admitting) his mistakes".


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