Political Watch - opinion

Special leadership needed in South Africa

mandela and FW.jpg

It will take leadership of a special kind to ensure that South Africa does not squander the blessing of having had Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk together on the political scene 25 years ago.

This is one of the key lessons from a brilliant analysis of the history of Zimbabwe by Eddie Cross, a member of parliament in that country, published on his website last week and reproduced below.

In our article “ANC playing the race card with aplomb” we bemoaned the fact that in South African politics it seems the black ‘race card’ has just been swopped for a white one.

In his analysis of how “every country in the world has its ghosts from the past” to deal with, with special reference to Zimbabwe and to some extent South Africa, Cross places the seeming reappearance of the race card in perspective. There is a strong element of inevitability in this reappearance. How we deal with it, is what is really important.

This perspective is also reflected in an e-mail under the subject line “A Brit’s response”, presently circulating in South Africa and also reproduced below. The, to us unknown author, draws a parallel between the infamous reference by President Jacob Zuma to Jan van Riebeeck and England’s history of successive occupations by foreign forces.

Cross is spot-on when he writes: “How to deal with our ghosts? Clearly the first need is to be aware of them and the dangers of pandering to their provocations when they seem to offer an easy way to deal with opponents.”

 To this he adds: “We need to try and put them (the ‘ghosts’) to rest and that is not easy and requires statesmanship of a rare order - Mandela may be one of the few modern leaders in Africa who consciously tried to achieve this process in a fractured society.”

Just lucky or blessed?

South Africa at the end of the 1980s and early 1990s was afforded the rare and extraordinary opportunity to deal with its ghosts in a peaceful manner.

The key leaders that jointly delivered the 1994 settlement were Mandela and De Klerk. Were we just lucky to have had these two extraordinary leaders on the political scene at the same time?

 Personally I strongly believe the answer is “no”. We were divinely blessed. For one, if one reads the judgment in the Rivonia trial which sent Mandela to jail you will see that but for a ‘mistake’ Mandela would have been sent to the gallows. The judge said as much in reflecting on the way in which the charges against him were formulated by the state prosecutor.

 It is interesting that just about everyone from within the African National Congress circles who are now defending the renaming of a road in Cape Town to De Klerk, do so not only by invoking the “spirit of Mandela” and reconciliation – they are almost without fail people who had served in the ANC under his immediate guidance and leadership.

 Unfortunately these personalities are a fast disappearing generation within the ANC, putting the country at risk. As Cross writes: “Leaders that choose to use these ghosts for their own purposes take the risk that they will do serious damage to their countries. For this reason we all need to be careful how we handle the legacies that we inherit when we assume leadership in our countries.”

 If South Africans allow the spirit of reconciliation to die, it is not even a risk, but a certainty that the country will, in broad terms, follow in the footsteps of Zimbabwe and others who did not come to terms with their ghosts from the past.

Again in the words of Cross, “… consequences … have been to destroy the modern economy, wipe out the savings of the entire nation and cripple the banking system. This has left the people of Zimbabwe impoverished and more than a third of our population has sought refuge in foreign States across the globe.”

 What to do?

 We dare not let the spirit of reconciliation die. It is, however, far too important a task to leave in the hands of a few political leaders. Leaders at all levels and formations of society need to get involved – down to the level of individual interactions with fellow South Africans.

It will neither be an easy nor short walk to freedom and peace for all who live in South Africa, but for the sake of generations to come, giving up this new ‘struggle’ is not an option.

by Piet Coetzer

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