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50 Years Ago: Mandela Speaks

In Pretoria Nelson Mandela has stood trial, with eight others, on charges of attempting revolution by violence. If he is found guilty—and he does not deny that he helped to organise acts of sabotage—Mandela could be sentenced to death.

It is inevitable, in the prevailing conditions and atmosphere in South Africa, that Mandela's case should arouse considerable sympathy. To many of those who resent the repressions and indignities which the coloured people of South Africa are subjected to, Mandela's admitted activities are anything but crimes. They are his people's cries for help.

It is a truism that violent repressions are bound to provoke violent resistance. Because of this, a man in Mandela's predicament can often come to be thought of as almost a saint. But history has shown how a saint under duress at one time, can be a devil in command at another. The past is crowded with men who have been imprisoned—and even sentenced to death—for their opposition to a repressive power and who, when they eventually themselves took over their country, proved to be no better than the power they had deposed. De Valera, Nkrumah, Ben Bella are only three like this who spring to mind.

What of Mandela?

During his trial he set out his views in a four and a half hour speech. It is instructive to examine this speech, especially some of the more revealing passages in it.

“We all (Ghandi, Nehru, Nkrumah, Nasser) accept the need for some form of Socialism to enable our people to catch up with the advanced countries of the world . . .”

It is common for the leaders of rising nationalist movements to tag the name of Socialism onto the measures of state control they would like to impose to try to advance their country's economy. The correct description for these measures is state capitalism, which in large doses has often led to the imposition of a dictatorship, and which in any case never offers a country's workers a future any better than private enterprise capitalism.

(Socialist Standard, June 1964)