Nelson Mandela: Fighter, Peace-Maker, Legend, and Lessons of Liberation for Africa’s Youth


Nelson Mandela. Photo: YouTube

The Struggle for economic justice, wealth redistribution justice, political empowerment, and land liberation continues in South Africa. The struggle will produce new heros.  Today, on Mandela day, we remember Nelson Mandela 

“I am the First Accused…..”  With these five-words Mandela launched his statement of defense at the so-called Rivonia Trial, in 1963. He was convicted and handed a life sentence for sabotage and treason. He spent 27 years in prison.

Rivonia reveals Mandela the Warrior.  He spoke about why after decades of peaceful resistance he and a few select members of the ANC formed Umkhonto We Sizwe — or Spear of The Nation, to wage armed struggle against the Apartheid regime. 

On March 21, 1960, the Racist regime committed the Sharpeville massacre of young students. The numbers killed ranged from 69 and higher with 180 wounded. Umkhonto was formed in 1961. To minimize casualties it confined itself to bombing government installations. It also sent Africans to train outside the country in case full-scale guerrilla war became necessary. Mandela said, Quote: “…. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness, nor because I have any love of violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation, and oppression of my people by the Whites.”

He said to prepare himself he studied Clausewitz, Mao Xedong, and Che Guevara. He trained in Algeria with the FNL who had defeated the French in their war of Independence.

Mandela said he was inspired by African ancestors who fought colonial incursions, not by outside agitators as the State claimed. Yes, the ANC worked in alliance with the South African communist party; both shared the goal of creating a non-racialist country. 

Mandela said: “It is true, as I have already stated, that I have been influenced by Marxist thought. But this is also true of many of the leaders of the new independent States. Such widely different persons as Gandhi, Nehru, Nkrumah, and Nasser all acknowledge this fact. We all accept the need for some form of socialism to enable our people to catch up with the advanced countries of this world and to overcome their legacy of extreme poverty. But this does not mean we are Marxists.”

Mandela ended with the now famous words, quote: ” I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”  

The Rivonia speech needs to be read by everyone interested in the war against White Supremacists — not only the White Supremacists in South Africa.

By the time Nelson Mandela was released in 1990 from almost three decades imprisonment by the Apartheid regime he was 72. How much did he have left? Had he come out an angry and embittered man? Was he ready to lead?

Mandela performed brilliantly during the Historic June 21, 1990 TownHall Meeting at City College moderated by ABC Nightline’s Ted Koppel when he visited New York City. 

The Rev. Calvin Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church asked: Given the state of race discrimination in this country did  the U.S. have moral authority on fighting racism? Mandela said he was aware of the race problems in the U.S. But he believed there were more qualified Americans to address the issue. He wanted to keep the focus on putting pressure against the apartheid regime. There was a reason for this answer.

The Apartheid regime was lobbying to have U.S. sanctions lifted. When Koppel said the regime could make its case by claiming it had made more reforms than in the previous 40 years, Mandela threw a sharp verbal left-hook at Koppel:  “I should know better about this matter than you Mr. Koppel.”

Mandela was just warming up. 

When an audience member wanted to know whether a post-apartheid ANC government would pursue capitalism or Socialism Mandela said the ANC wanted to end economic inequity; he noted that one company controlled 75% of all shares on the Johannesburg stock exchange; the ANC wanted maximum production; full employment; and social justice. They would let others ascribe the labels to the economic system.

The evening was most memorable for how Mandela stood his ground, on principles. 

Koppel, either directly, or through questions posed by leaders of prominent Jewish organizations, pressed Mandela on the ANC’s relations with Fidel Castro, Muammar Quathafi, and the PLO’s Yasser Arafat. Mandela said Libya, the PLO and Cuba supported the ANC “to the hilt” in the fight against Apartheid. 

Cuba accelerated the collapse of Apartheid when its soldiers, fighting alongside Angola’s army and SWAPO guerrillas destroyed the vaunted South African military at the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale, in Angola, between 1987 and 1988.

Mandela told Koppel that “for anybody who changes his principles depending on whom he’s dealing with –that is not a man who can lead a country.” 

Mandela had the moral authority to remain unbending. He pointed out that: he’d already met privately with leaders of major Jewish organizations to address their concerns; that the ANC had members from the Jewish community; that Quathafi had refused for the ANC to open an office in Libya because the ANC worked with members of the Jewish community; and that before he was incarceration he’s been trained as a lawyer by a Jewish law firm in South Africa. 

When Koppel continued his one-dimensional grilling, Mandela delivered an uppercut. 

Going back to the question posed earlier by Butts, Mandela said: “I have replied to one of our friends here that I have refused to be drawn into the differences that exists between various communities inside the U.S.A– you have not commented that I’m going to offend anybody by refusing to involve myself in the internal affairs of the U.S.A –why are you so keen that I should involve myself in the internal affairs of Cuba and Libya? I expect you to be consistent.”

What followed was six seconds of complete silence by Ted Koppel, which is an eternity in broadcast TV time. 

“I don’t know if I have paralyzed you?” Mandela asked Koppel, and followed with a mischievous smile. He was a gentleman. He reached out and shook hands with the humbled Ted Koppel.

The energy, the vision, the intelligence, the generosity, the lack of bitterness, the wisdom — all were evident that night. Nelson Mandela served one-term as president in South Africa. The struggle was never about him. It was never about so that Mandela can become President one day.

By the time he became President Mandela had been robbed of his most prime productive years by the almost three decades incarceration. What was his original vision for South Africa? 

During his statement at the 1963 Rivonia treason trial, when he faced the death penalty, he bravely told this wicked outpost of Monopoly Capitalism, “We all accept the need for some form of socialism to enable our people to catch up with the advanced countries of this world and to overcome their legacy of extreme poverty….” 

Steve Biko, leader of the Black Consciousness Movement who was murdered in 1977, echoed this position, saying, “The Whites have locked up within a small minority of themselves the greater proportion of the country’s wealth and if we have a mere change of face, of leaders in government positions, what is likely to happen is that Black people will continue to be poor and we will get a few Blacks filtering through into the so-called Bourgeoisie and our society will be run as almost of yesterday.”

This is precisely what we have in South Africa today — and in the post colonial state in other African countries. Serving one-term was also Mandela’s way to repudiate the African-president-for-Life syndrome. The promise of building new societies in Africa squandered with so much energy, resources, and time deployed by ruling elite to maintain power. 

As recently as the first decade of the 20th century China, like Africa today, was the playground of global monopoly capital and imperialism, with U.S. Marines, invading China. With the Revolution in 1949 China took control of its destiny. Its sovereignty. Its resources.

As recently as 1960, income per head in China was; $90; and in Ghana, $183. By 2017: in Ghana, it was $1,642; and, in China; $8,827.

The Youth of Africa must take the lesson of Mandela’s selflessness and continue fighting as we’ve seen recently in Zimbabwe, in Ethiopia, in Algeria, in Sudan, and in Uganda. They must rid Africa of ossified entrenched leadership, agents of neocolonialism,  so that Africans can take control of their sovereignty and resources and transform their societies.

That would be the most fitting way to Honor the Life of Nelson Mandela. 


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