In the latest issue:

Short Cuts

Jonathan Parry

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Mandela: Death of a PoliticianStephen W. Smith
Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close

In the early 1990s, after more than four decades of stringent enforcement, South Africa ceased to be a country where races were segregated by law. Yet no one in a position of power was called to account for the relegation of millions of South Africans to derelict Bantustans, the forcible removal of hundreds of thousands of non-white urban dwellers to shanty towns and rural areas, the coercive discrimination in every aspect of public and private life, the systematic abuse by the police and the military, the countless assassinations by hit squads, the disappearances and arbitrary detentions, the manipulation of a ‘third force’ to exacerbate so-called black-on-black violence, the cross-border raids into neighbouring countries, the destabilisation of Southern Africa, and the ‘bush wars’ in Angola and Mozambique.

As we have been told time and again since he died on 5 December, Nelson Mandela was instrumental to the political bargain that proposed forgiveness in the hope of a better future. Whatever we think of South Africa now, we still contemplate with horror the abyss into which it was widely expected to plunge twenty years ago. How far have things really moved on? Will the historic compromise hold or has the country been raised up for a moment only to descend with an agonising jolt, like the victims of strappado, once a common practice in its torture chambers, where prisoners whose hands were pinioned behind their back were dropped at the end of a rope tied to their wrists? And what of the moral high ground on which Mandela and his vision of reconciliation are now enshrined? It’s right – and proper – to regard him as the paragon of human integrity, a rare figure in history, but he was more than everybody’s friend on Facebook: he was a politician, and that’s the way he has to be appraised.

Public opinion, which has now canonised Mandela, would be outraged were a ‘warlord’ such as Charles Taylor not brought to justice, though Taylor gave up power in 2003 when he left Monrovia for exile in Nigeria. In 2006, when the former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano negotiated with Joseph Kony for his peaceful surrender, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) rejected the deal because it would have granted the commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army impunity. Kony is still at large and many civilians have continued to suffer from LRA exactions. It is highly unlikely that Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, indicted by the ICC as ‘an indirect co-perpetrator’ of war crimes and genocide in Darfur, will benefit from a deferral of the charges brought against him and, having been part of the problem in Khartoum, become part of a solution, as the International Crisis Group recently suggested. All this is to say that Mandela’s passing confirms the fragility of his depoliticised approach. What is eulogised as a saintly generosity that allowed institutionalised discrimination to be ended in South Africa is regarded with suspicion in other places where there are, or were, no Mandelas. But national reconciliation is not a mystical absolution so much as a political strategy. How far has it worked in South Africa? This question goes to the heart of Mandela’s legacy and what we make of it.

For three reasons, Mandela’s death at 95 ought to be welcomed. First, the grand old man of the ANC had been much diminished for many years. He announced his withdrawal from public life in 2004 (‘Don’t call me, I’ll call you’), but made a final, crucial intervention in 2009, when he endorsed Jacob Zuma’s bid for the presidency; in retrospect this was not a sign of good judgment. His family, who continued to see him regularly, lamented his loss of short-term memory, and his intermittent mental confusion. ‘He is no longer a full person,’ the South African cartoonist Zapiro – Jonathan Shapiro – remarked in 2008, after a private interview with Mandela. He was later given flak for showing Mandela in his sickbed with the country by his side anxiously holding his hand. Mandela’s speech bubble read: ‘I know it’s hard, but we have to start letting go …’ The cartoon was published in April when the old man was hospitalised for the third time in twelve months. A fourth stay in intensive care stretched through the summer. Zapiro was right.

Second, we now have a chance to rediscover ‘the man behind the legend’ and, in particular, the young revolutionary eclipsed by the elder statesman. We can see, for instance, that he was not just a young Turk, the co-founder, in 1944, of the ANC’s Youth League, but the driving force behind the movement’s armed struggle, which included acts of terrorism. As early as 1953 he saw that there would be ‘no easy walk to freedom’ – the title of his programmatic speech – and promoted the ‘M-Plan’ (M for Mandela), urging the ANC to form clandestine cells capable of organising armed resistance. Nowadays, with the mawkish patina of hindsight, the title of Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, is widely misunderstood as a Kumbaya invitation to join hands for a moral-historical promenade. In reality, as Stephen Ellis was able to show in 2011, Mandela joined the Central Committee of the South African Communist Party in 1960 to help impose the SACP’s strategic choice of armed struggle on a reluctant ANC leadership. Mandela was the first leader of the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (‘Spear of the Nation’), and held that position when – on 16 December 1961 – 57 bomb blasts ripped through the country: for some this was the opening salvo of a ‘terror campaign’; for others it announced the advent of ‘emancipatory violence’.

Does it matter that Mandela was a communist who believed in the liberating virtue of firearms and explosives? It matters that he became a communist in 1960, in the aftermath of Sharpeville, where 69 protesters were shot dead by the South African police. It also matters that the SACP was still in 1960 the organisational and political spine of the ANC, which was founded in 1912 as a party of notables rather than a fighting force. Finally, it matters that Mandela saw the use of or abstention from armed insurrection as, in his own words, ‘not a moral principle but a strategy, as there is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon’. But did he approve of the killing of ‘soft targets’ – bystanders – as carried out by the ANC at the height of the township violence in the mid-1980s? Mandela’s character, and his judgments, changed while he was in prison. He once confided to Bill Clinton that he had been an ‘angry man’ during the first 11 years on Robben Island. That would have been until 1975, the year his family – Winnie and their two daughters – were for the first time allowed to visit him. Only then did Mandela come to see that hatred and enmity were mimetic, a trap laid by the ‘evil’ other: fall into it and you and your adversary become hard to tell apart.

It took long and solitary years of confinement for Mandela to come to see the other – even a racist other – as himself in different circumstances, and to fight these –circumstances rather than the people whose attitudes they had determined. Perhaps this is what was later referred to as ‘the Madiba magic’. In any event, there was plenty of opportunity for reflection in that small, dank prison cell, whose only window remained walled up for 16 years. A maximum security prisoner almost totally deprived of agency, Mandela never gave up the idea that he had sovereignty over his life, and the will to make it exceptional. Thanks to Clint Eastwood’s film starring Morgan Freeman, we all know the ending of Mandela’s favourite poem, Henley’s ‘Invictus’:

It matters not how strait the gate,
   How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
   I am the captain of my soul.

But we tend to ignore the earlier lines:

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
   Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
   Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

Not much is known about the early years of prisoner 466/64. In 1978, Christo Brand, an 18-year-old from a rural Afrikaner family, became Mandela’s guard on Robben Island, ten kilometres off Cape Town. Brand still works as a tourist guide in the penitentiary, which is now a museum. When I spoke to him last summer, he said that at first he had been deeply mistrustful of the ‘terrorist’ he kept under lock and key. Older colleagues had warned him about Mandela’s fits of anger, especially the ‘terrible tantrum’ he had thrown in 1969 when his eldest son died in a car accident and he wasn’t allowed to attend the funeral. Yet little by little Brand and the sexagenarian Mandela began to understand each other. Mandela studied Afrikaans, the language of his jailers and the idiom of oppression which the youth of Soweto had just violently rejected. Brand helped him practise. ‘What dreams do you hold for your life?’, he kept asking his young guard. ‘Mandela never discussed politics as such. He was always personal,’ Brand recalled. But Mandela also used Afrikaans to express his defiance. Every day, when he and the other political prisoners broke rocks in the quarry, he would challenge a brutish guard in one of the watchtowers. ‘Remember,’ he would hiss from below, ‘there is someone higher up than you.’

On 9 March 1980, when the Johannesburg Sunday Post appeared with the headline ‘Free Mandela!’, and called on its readers to sign a petition, the struggle acquired an iconic figurehead and a new momentum. Fewer than 15,000 South Africans had dared to sign by the end of that month, but a spell was broken. After 16 years of enforced obscurity during which his name could not be cited, after the Soweto uprising of 1976, the Black Consciousness Movement and Steve Biko’s martyrdom, Mandela was once again in the public eye. ‘Between the ANC and oblivion stood the lone and battered figure of Winnie Mandela,’ Anne Marie du Preez Bezdrob wrote in Winnie Mandela: A Life (2004). The pathos of individual heroism became a defining feature of Winnie Mandela’s life, but the same was true of the ANC, a moribund organisation until the freedom fighters of the Soweto generation rejuvenated its ranks. An upbeat rallying cry replaced the leaden ‘Down with apartheid!’ The South African cause finally had a name under which to travel the world. In 1988 the Wembley concert organised for Mandela’s 70th birthday took up the refrain: ‘Free Nelson Mandela!’

The third and strongest reason to feel relieved at Mandela’s death is that it marks the demise of the South African exceptionalism he had come to embody. ‘One man, one vote’ somehow turned into ‘one man, one country’ in the eyes of many. ‘Mandela was extricated from the masses,’ Winnie said when I met her in June. ‘He was made an idol, almost Jesus Christ! This is nonsense, a lot of nonsense. The freedom of this country was attained by the masses of this country. It was attained by the children who gave their lives in 1976, who faced machine guns with stones and dustbin lids. It was attained by women who were left to fend for their families. They fought the enemy! We are the ones who fought the enemy physically, who went out to face their bullets. The leaders were cushioned behind bars. They don’t know. They never engaged the enemy on the battlefield.’ There is a degree of bad faith in her argument but also a lot of truth. Nelson was clearly extraordinary, but South Africa should not have been mistaken for ‘Mandelaland’. If any one person can stand in for the country, it’s surely Winnie, half ‘mother of the nation’ and half township gangsta, deeply ambiguous, scarred and disfigured by the struggle.

The Rainbow Nation should go to the grave. Not just because the dream has clouded reality, but because South Africa has been held to standards of racial harmony that cannot be met – or not for the moment. There is no consensus about what will happen now: at one extreme, the believers in ‘Mandelaland’ (chiefly outside the country); at the other, the dour prophets of ‘the next Zimbabwe’. The doomsayers rarely point to the fact that more than 80 per cent of privately owned land in South Africa is still in white hands, not much down from 87 per cent twenty years ago, at the end of apartheid. South Africa’s agriculture, among the least subsidised in the world, is productive and profitable for about 50,000 almost exclusively white commercial farmers; the black rural population is worse off than it was. One day it will find a voice, but the fact that the ruling ANC has never unequivocally disavowed Robert Mugabe’s ‘fast-track land reform’, a land grab in all but name, isn’t reassuring.

South Africa – more populous, urbanised and industrialised, among many other differences – is certainly not Zimbabwe, but Zimbabwe was the South Africa of the 1980s, promising racial reconciliation and postcolonial success. After ‘liberation’, Mugabe was shortlisted for the Nobel Peace Prize and a young reporter, Andrew Meldrum, chose to live in a place ‘Where We Have Hope’, the title he gave his 2006 memoir, written after Mugabe had thrown him out of the country. There are good enough reasons to ask whether South Africa has now embarked on the familiar postcolonial trajectory – a question considered sacrilegious thirty years ago in Zimbabwe. The ‘transformation’ of post-apartheid South Africa as promised by the ANC is not underway. Institutional capacity is dwindling and corruption endemic; the comrades in power are also comrades in business; ‘the role of the opposition is much more difficult than in the past,’ Helen Suzman wrote in 2007; the new school system is worse than Bantu education under apartheid in the eyes of Mamphela Ramphele, Steve Biko’s former companion, who intends to challenge the ANC in next spring’s elections; social inequality is as jarring as it was before 1994; only the happy few at the top enjoy a properly multiracial environment, while, according to a 2010 Afrobarometer survey, the vast majority of those at the bottom harbour xenophobic feelings; unemployment oscillates around 25 per cent, and soars above 40 per cent for South Africans under thirty, of whom two thirds have never had a salaried job. How long will it be before people dream of liberation from the liberation of the Rainbow Nation?

The ‘miracle’ in the 1990s was real. The settlers were not forced into a mass exodus as they were in Algeria in 1962 at the end of a vicious civil war, or ‘thrown into the sea’ as they’d anticipated. Mandela, the ex-detainee, did much as president to release the land of apartheid from its racial imprisonment. He also set his country on a different path from the standard postcolonial cursus in Africa by stepping down in 1999, at the end of a single term. Leadership within the ANC has remained collective. No ‘big man’ has been able to cow South Africans into fear and silence. During the exuberant memorial service for Mandela in Soweto’s soccer stadium, the current president, Jacob Zuma, was booed so volubly by the crowd that his image was taken off the giant monitors and replaced by a photograph of Mandela – quite a symbol! Zuma, at best referred to as ‘a man of the people’ (Chinua Achebe’s postcolonial curse), was rejected by the people, who felt their true leader was Mandela.

In the real South Africa – neither Mandelaland nor the next Zimbabwe – Zuma got his just desserts, hustled offstage because people are tired of all the graft and extravagance. The president, his four official wives, numerous mistresses and 21 recognised children cost the state more than US$150 million a year. This comes in addition to the $27 million for ‘security upgrades’ in Zuma’s country residence which, according to a preliminary investigation, have much more to do with frivolous luxury at the expense of the taxpayer. Yet it would be wrong to believe that governance in South Africa degenerated only after Mandela’s presidency. His successors can’t withstand comparison with Madiba – that’s a big part of their problem. However, Mandela the politician cannot be entirely exonerated for their failure.

When he finished his term in office, the rate of HIV among pregnant women in South Africa already stood at 22.4 per cent in the absence of any measures by his government to stem the Aids epidemic. Mandela’s immediate successor, Thabo Mbeki, a champion of the ‘African renaissance’, denied on ideological grounds that the disease was transmitted virally: his beliefs cost the lives of more than 300,000 South Africans, whom he deprived of access to anti-retroviral drugs. Then there was the Strategic Defence Procurement Package, a weapons acquisition programme worth $4.8 billion with enormous kickbacks for the ruling party. The deal was finalised in 1998-99, on Mandela’s watch. Madiba was not only blind to the greed around him, he set a bad example for those who, unlike him, had their fingers in the till. Mandela could ‘touch’ South African businessmen for the home he wanted to build in Qunu, the village he grew up in and where he is now buried; or he could ask Gaddafi to support the ANC at the next election. Since those days, such ways of raising money have become routine, but those who ask do not have Madiba’s moral authority.

Siki Mgabadeli was only 12 when Mandela walked out of prison and 16 when he was elected president. Today she is one of the best known faces of the new South Africa, the leading financial journalist on national TV and host of several FM radio talkshows. ‘In 1994, we were marketed as the “Rainbow Nation” like a fancy commodity in an ad,’ she told me. ‘But, in truth, Mandela was too preoccupied with white fears and not enough with black grievances and expectations of a better life. I know it isn’t easy to right the wrongs of three centuries of colonialism in 19 years, but from the onset Mandela was too timorous.’ After 27 years in detention, he was also desperate for advice in a volatile post-Cold War world. A friend of Mandela and the managing director of a billion-dollar family business, Bertram Lubner, now in his eighties, told me that in 1992 he ‘took’ Mandela to the World Economic Forum in Davos. On the plane, he read over the speech Mandela was to deliver, changing the ‘nationalisation of key sectors of the South African economy’ to ‘there will be a public sector perhaps no different from such countries as Germany, France and Italy … in which the state plays an important role in such areas as education, health and welfare.’ In subsequent meetings with Mandela at Davos, the Indian prime minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, and the Chinese vice-president, Wang Zhen, rammed the point home. ‘You’d better take the time to grow familiar with capitalism,’ Wang Zhen concluded.

While Mandela was a crucial catalyst, it took more than his leadership to bring about the transition from apartheid. International sanctions played a significant role in the weakening of the old regime, and so did armed resistance, but the prerequisite was the end of the Cold War. Only when the geopolitics of Southern Africa had been disentangled, when 50,000 Cuban soldiers had left Angola in exchange for Namibia’s independence, and Pretoria had given up its ‘forward defence’ (the destabilisation of the neighbouring ‘frontline states’), could an internal solution be reached. In December 1988 the Tripartite Accord between Cuba, Angola and South Africa, negotiated by Ronald Reagan’s point man for Africa, Chester Crocker, drew the Cold War to an end in Southern Africa, well before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Fourteen months after the agreement, Mandela was released. It is remarkable, but seldom acknowledged, that the superpowers walked away from apartheid, leaving South Africans to find their own solution.

The apartheid regime gave up, but it was not a case of unconditional surrender. Since the mid-1980s Pretoria had been busy negotiating, first secretly and then in broad daylight, what in the language of 18th-century siege warfare was called a ‘belle capitulation’. The fortress with its precious storerooms would be handed over intact to the assailants and, in return, the lives of the besieged would be spared. In South Africa, it took four momentous years to negotiate the details of the surrender instrument, the so-called ‘sunset clause’ – a government of national unity for the five years following democratic elections – proposed in 1992 by the SACP leader, Joe Slovo. In this regard, the outrageous decision by the jury in Oslo to award the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 jointly to Mandela and de Klerk, the forgiving victim and the penitent perpetrator, made perfect political sense. The apartheid regime was cornered, but then it had been for quite some time. Pretoria clung onto agency in much the same way as Mandela had in the darkest hours in his prison cell. The former detainee never forgot his hard-won lesson. In fits and starts, reflecting its internal contradictions, the apartheid regime made peace first with its Marxist neighbours and then with the ANC, Mandela’s party, to which Marxist doctrine was central, at the very moment communism became a spent force.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, entrusted by Mandela to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, another South African giant, was a cathartic exercise bogged down in a politics it couldn’t escape. Just how much truth was revealed when a figure such as P.W. Botha could simply refuse to appear at the sessions and get away with it? It’s a credit to Winnie Mandela that she consented to testify, though she fought over every word of testimony with Tutu and, in the end, didn’t come clean. There was no need: she had already been granted impunity by the outgoing regime as part of the grand bargain. As several protagonists of the apartheid system have since confirmed, she was spared by ‘the enemy’ – two words she still utters with deeper conviction than anyone else in South Africa – so that her former husband, the indispensable partner in peace, would remain untarnished. Winnie has always stated her hostility to ‘reconciliation’ and ‘forgiveness’. When I spoke to her in the summer, she said something so eminently quotable that I wondered how many people have heard it before: ‘The reason we hate each other the way we do is because we know each other, we engaged the enemy physically, we shot at each other.’ I don’t know how many of the South Africans who lived through apartheid, roughly two thirds of the current population, feel the same way. Strangely, the ‘born frees’ don’t seem to care about the past.

In the end, a crime against humanity, condemned as such by the United Nations, has remained unpunished. The question is not whether this decision was good or bad. It was a political wager with an uncertain outcome. Why did Mandela take the risk? Because he foresaw the chance of national reconciliation, of an incremental coming-together or, at least, peaceful coexistence: if the circumstances could only be changed then people would change, even the most diehard racist or the most vengeful victim. But, as Mandela explained in his first speech as a free man, on 11 February 1990, from a balcony in Cape Town, he was not standing before his audience ‘as a prophet’. The outcome at that point remained unclear. In particular, he didn’t know then that, at his death, circumstances in South Africa would not have really changed for the better: this is his defeat and, above all, the defeat of the ANC. Will the people persist with reconciliation and redeem their leader? I don’t think so, but I was proved wrong in the 1990s, when Mandela permitted the triumph of hope against all expectation by giving everybody a second chance, even his jailers.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Letters

Vol. 36 No. 2 · 23 January 2014

Stephen Smith says that it matters that Mandela became a communist in 1960 (LRB, 9 January). This, as R.W. Johnson notes in a letter in the same issue, has now been confirmed by the South African Communist Party. In my recent book Young Man with a Red Tie: A Memoir of Mandela and the Failed Revolution 1960-63, I revealed that Mandela participated in the secret conference of the underground party in December 1960 at which the resolution to prepare for armed struggle was unanimously passed. It is entirely credible that Mandela was then co-opted onto the central committee to work closely with Joe Slovo, Walter Sisulu and others in establishing Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the ANC.

The significant issue is whether Mandela was ever ideologically committed to the Leninist ideal of a two-stage national democratic and socialist revolution, espoused by the Communist Party in ‘The Road to South African Freedom’, the programme adopted at another secret conference in October 1962, by which time Mandela was in jail awaiting trial on charges of inciting an unlawful stay-at-home against the declaration of a white republic. I was his legal adviser during that trial, in which he refused to recognise the authority of a white court. Dressed in traditional African gear, he wanted to be seen as the embodiment of African nationalism in order to counter the claim of the rival Pan-Africanist Congress that they were the true patriots. He had been alarmed on a recent visit to other African countries to find that the ANC was viewed not as a genuine African organisation but as being under the control of white communists.

From my discussions with him both during the trial and before that as one of his underground support team, I concluded that he was never committed to the CP’s aim of a socialist South Africa, laying the foundations for a classless communist society. He was, and remained, an African nationalist whose aim was a non-racial democratic South Africa. However, as Smith points out, he was a remarkable and courageous politician, who saw great practical advantages in working closely with the communists.

Bob Hepple
Cambridge

send letters to

The Editor
London Review of Books
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address and a telephone number

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.