1960s >> 1964 >> no-718-june-1964

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.

But even more significant is another passage.

“I approached this question (guerrilla warfare) as every African Nationalist should do . . . I attempted to examine all types of authority on the subject . . . covering such a variety as Mao Tse-tung and Che Guevara on the one hand, and the writings on the Anglo-Boer War on the other.”

The point in this, which Mandela’s sympathisers are bound to miss, is that both Mao Tse-tung and the Boers were once fighters against oppression. They used the same sort of arguments about human dignity and freedom which Mandela now uses. Yet in the end they have themselves imposed hard dictatorships, under the thrall of which Mandela and his friends have suffered.

What reason is there to believe that the African Nationalists, if they ever got power, would be any improvement on the Boers? The history of capitalism says that there is no reason whatever.

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