In 1993 Nelson Mandela said that the free market would 'bring freedom and equality' for South Africa's black working class. But in the 1950s he was describing socialism as  "the most advanced stage of economic life evolved by man."

When asked how we would like to viewed after he died, Nelson Mandela told a BBC interviewer in 1997 that it was not up to him to make that judgement. That, he said, 'would be the task of history'.

While we certainly  will get a more critical assessment of Mandela's legacy from political activists and the alternative media  over the future months and years,  he is now being transformed into a political icon by the political establishment. His politics are, apparently, what we should all aspire to.

That these sentiments are being expressed by the likes of Barack Obama, Tony Blair,George Bush and our own John Key -  all champions of the 'free market'  -- should make  us all suspicious. Meanwhile the corporate media - the message boy  for neoliberalism - is busy  constructing god-like statues of the man.

Missing in all the verbiage is the cold fact that Mandela did not do what he promised  to do when he was released from prison in 1990.

Journalist John Pilger made this  point in a telling interview he did with Mandela in the early 1990s:

I had asked him why the pledges he and the ANC had given on his release from prison in 1990 had not been kept. The liberation government, Mandela had promised, would take over the apartheid economy, including the banks - and "a change or modification of our views in this regard is inconceivable". Once in power, the party's official policy to end the impoverishment of most South Africans, the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), was abandoned, with one of his ministers boasting that the ANC's politics were Thatcherite.

"You can put any label on it if you like," he replied. "...but, for this country, privatisation is the fundamental policy."

"That's the opposite of what you said in 1994."

"You have to appreciate that every process incorporates a change."

Under Mandela, the  policies of the ANC   moved rapidly towards privatisation, fiscal austerity, and budgetary discipline. By the time he addressed the Joint Houses of Congress of the United States on October 6, 1994, Mandela proclaimed that the free market as the "magical elixir" which would bring freedom and equality to all.

As Pilger notes:  'In 2001, George Soros told the Davos Economic Forum, "South Africa is in the hands of international capital'

But the signs that Mandela, the African nationalist,  would surrender  to the demands of capital were evident long before he was released from prison. In his autobiography, Mandela  praises Marxism as a "searchlight illuminating the dark night of racial oppression," and socialism as  "the most advanced stage of economic life evolved by man."

But, crucially, he retreats from the conclusion that capitalism must be overcome. Mandela fatally forgets that it is not enough to interpret the world, the point is to change it.

It was something  he forgot  when George Bush phoned  him immediately after he was released from prison . Bush tell him he had been put  his short list of world leaders whom he 'briefed' on important issues. Mandela was invited into 'the club' and his attacks on western imperialism became a thing of the past. He became the 'best friend' of conservatives and liberals alike.

South African socialists wanted a movement that would fight both apartheid and capitalism. They recognised that  overcoming apartheid could not, by itself, bring full liberation to South Africa's Black majority. But Mandela and the ANC, backed by the South African Communist Party and the trade union leadership,chose only to fight apartheid.

In 2012  we saw armed South African police gunning down striking miners, bringing  back memories of the brutality of the old apartheid regime.

Today the ANC is working in hand-in-hand with big business to the detriment of the South African working class.

South Africa remains one of the world's most unequal societies and the minority  white  population still control huge swathes of the economy. In the words of leading trade unionist Zwelinzima Vavi, its structure is 'akin to an Irish coffee - black at the bottom, with some white froth and a sprinkling of chocolate on the top.'


  1. Now we have the situation when the leading members of the ANC and the Communist Party live in mansions and drive around in expensive cars. Who can not forget the Communist Party describing the striking miners as a threat to South Africa's 'democratic revolution', virtually condoning the police crackdown. There is revolution still to be completed in SA - one that Mandela, through his actions, attempted to crush. He was a counter-revolutionary.


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