Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Friday, July 20, 2007

Mandela's Legacy
Xolela Mangcu, a commentator whose viewpoint I always enjoy, whether agreeing or disagreeing, writes a great op-ed piece in the Business Day. He primarily is concerned with defining why Mandela is so important, and what his legacy of leadership was, but begins with a commentary which is close to my heart. He talks about the double-standards so often applied by our white population around prosecution:
"I sometimes find the hypocrisy in the white community quite astounding on these matters. The very same people calling for Jacob Zuma to be prosecuted for the sake of the rule of law or for Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe to be taken to The Hague turn around, without batting an eyelid, and plead forgiveness for Adriaan Vlok and Johann van der Merwe.

But where is the sense of justice for the families of Siphiwo Mthimkhulu and his comrades? Does this not reveal a certain callousness about black life if consideration is given only to the perpetrators.

I am not big on punishment, but if we are to have it then we must be evenhanded in its application.

Thirteen years into our democracy, FW de Klerk argues that the prosecution of people such as Vlok will set back the goals of reconciliation."
This sense of double-standard is seen so often in the community. Yengeni, who took a discount on a Mercedes-Benz to influence a decision is a wanton criminal and 'yet another example' of widespread corruption, yet white, white-collar criminals who steal millions - in some cases billions - of Rands are incessantly given the benefit of the doubt and spoken of in empathetic terms. There are few things that make me more irritated.

As Xolela Mangcu did, I digress. He goes on to write about the strength of Mandela being seen in his absence, on how we have come to define our nation in racial terms:
"Sometimes the significance of leaders is felt through their absence.

By leaving the political stage timeously, he forced us to learn how to govern ourselves and to face our demons head on. And demons we found in abundance — mainly in our own consciousness.

Instead of speaking of citizens, we came to speak of natives and liberals and racists and colonialists and imperialists and foot-lickers and sell-outs and coconuts. There is very little sense that those we disagree with may simply have different ideas from our own, and nothing beyond that.

I sometimes get the sense that we have not reconciled with our own achievements, many of which are in our constitution.

Absent such a consciousness of ourselves and our history, we follow whichever con man comes along, including one Robert Mugabe.

However, Nelson Mandela stands there as a reminder of some of the great achievements of progressive people all around the world. In the midst of all the intolerance and the cynicism, Mandela reminds those people of their best selves.

But he also reminds those who erred that there is always another way.

What a wonderful gift to bequeath to humanity."
Read the rest here.