Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Moderate Mandela

"Nelson Mandela Speaks" was published in 1993 by Pathfinder, a Marxist publisher associated with the small Socialist Workers' Party in the United States. De facto, the book seems to be the result of a close collaboration between the ANC and Pathfinder. It contains speeches and written declarations by Mandela from the crucial period 1990-1993, when the ANC and is allies were involved in a complex process of negotiations with and massive protests against the apartheid regime of South Africa. Some of the speeches were transcribed from tape recordings made by Steve Clark, Pathfinder's editor. Most, however, have been published elsewhere.

The volume starts off with Mandela's classical speech after being released from prison, "Now is the time to intensify the struggle", which contains the lines: "I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people". Otherwise, Mandela's speeches are surprisingly free from rhetorical flourish. They are concise, clear and too the point. The only exception (ironically) is Mandela's speech to the United States Congress in 1990. How many congressmen understood that the speech contained an allusion to Shakespeare's "Cymbeline"? How many could even place South Africa on a world map?

Mandela's drift to the "right" can be seen in several of the speeches. He often criticizes the PAC, a competing and more radical group. Both the ANC and the PAC were recognized by the Organization of African Unity (forerunner of the African Union). Mandela acknowledges that radicals within the ANC oppose negotiations with the apartheid regime, a position he rejects. He no longer calls for nationalizations, and has obvious problems explaining how a "government of national unity" or a "two-thirds majority" can be squared with consistent democracy and majority rule. On other issues, Mandela is intransigent and refuses to compromise. He reaffirms ANC's alliance with the South African Communist Party (SACP), visits Cuba and commends the Soviet Union for offering assistance to the ANC. He also believes that the armed struggle waged by ANC's armed wing "Umkhonto we Sizwe" was correct and necessary. Above all, he demands that the Western powers continue with their sanctions (or impose such) on the apartheid regime, unless a real negotiated settlement is reached.

"Nelson Mandela Speaks" seems to be a relatively good collection of speeches from the ANC leader, and I therefore give it five stars. The Socialist Workers' Party chose not to include their own specific analyses, letting Mandela speak for himself. Those interested in the SWP's view should consult Jack Barnes' article "The coming revolution in South Africa", in New International no 5, although it feels somewhat dated today (see my review elsewhere).

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