Often one could feel the sense of hopelessness in newly independent Africa. “Hopeless, doomed continent! Only lies flourished here. Africa was swaddled in lies—the lies of an aborted civilization; the lies of liberation. Nothing but lies,” wrote Shiva Naipaul in his North of South.
Reading it while traveling in Mobutu’s Zaire it was impossible to ignore that unlike in the Western Hemisphere, the southern countries were richer than those to the north. None richer than South Africa, where things worked, but where the black majority had little political power.
When neighboring Zimbabwe won its independence from white-minority rule it was a worldwide festival. It wasn’t long, at all, before the expression “one man, one vote” became “one man, one vote, one time.”
Certainly South Africa had the most educated black population, and the largest white population, of any former colony. And the sense of injustice felt even by the white majority was palpable. Pathetic attempts at granting blacks some freeland by creating “independent homelands” weren’t taken seriously even by those who drew them up.
Right-wingers, even the late P.W. (Pete the Weapon) Botha, warned: “Adapt Or Die.”
The corporations, especially the mining companies, found that apartheid, or “apart hate” as some called it, interfered with business.
There was a liberation struggle, but it generally followed a different path than the bloody struggles to the north. Terrorism was avoided, even though the police state employed brutal tactics.
One person who was spared, though held for 27 years including 18 on bleak Robben Island, was Nelson Mandela or Madiba, his clan name, a founder of the African National Congress. Even though he admitted he had led a sabotage campaign when peaceful protest failed, he was not sentenced to death.
Although rumor had it that by the end he was running Robben Island, at the start his treatment was more like that being accorded Pfc. Bradley Manning in Quantico, VA, for his alleged role in leaking documents alleging war crimes.
No one really knew what to expect when Mandela was released en route to his election as South Africa’s first black ruler. He was known to be eloquent, and had put himself through college and law school, much of it while a political prisoner.
Then the horror story ends and the fairy tale begins. Unlike Robert Mugabe to the north, Mandela did everything possible to hold the country together. He didn’t want to drive whites out as Mugabe was doing, guaranteeing the economic destruction of what had been a country that could provide itself with everything it needed, partly because it was forced to by international sanctions.
If he was a Roman Catholic, Mandela might well be canonized. Yet this man, strong but not prideful despite hundreds of awards including the Nobel Peace Prize, wrote in Conversations With Myself that he was never a saint, even when he tried to do good. “I never was one. Even on the basis of an earthly definition of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”
The book was way too late. His people have already beatified him.
While he was president things ran fairly smoothly. Since he retired in 1999, his ANC constantly has been the victim of power struggles. Crime has soared, particularly violent crime. Corruption is rife.
Can the fairy tale continue after the 92-year-old, hospitalized this week with a collapsed lung, dies?
Or will it become more like Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country, where a black Anglican priest goes from Zululand to find his son, only to learn the boy has murdered a white man who had fought for black rights. Even then, though, there was hope, as the family of the victim began working to help blacks raise themselves up. But a year after it was written apartheid became law.