Nelson Mandela: The mouse that roared

From the New Statesman, 15 April 1994. The assassination of Chris Hani, the leader of the South African Communist Party, in 1993, proved a turning point. As the country threatened to erupt in violence, a date for the first multiracial general election was

Today, we come to pay homage to one of South Africa’s greatest sons. He paid the supreme sacrifice so that we could be free. The greatest monument we can build in his honour is to elect a democratic government on 27 April.

Nelson Mandela, Soweto, on 10 April, the anniversary of Chris Hani’s assassination

When Chris Hani was gunned down outside his home in a Johannesburg suburb last year, there was no date for the South African elections. The constitutional talks dragged on, while the township violence continued to claim lives. Hani, the former chief of staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe and leader of the South African Communist Party, used all his influence with young militants to persuade them to support a negotiated settlement. He was, as legend has it, a “soldier for peace”.

His assassination, planned by the right-winger Clive Derby-Lewis, and carried out by the Polish immigrant Janusz Walus, brought the political process to a crossroads. To this day, no one is certain whether there were other unseen hands behind his destruction. But to call off the talks would have unleashed chaos. Six weeks later, a date for the elections was set. Since then, Hani has assumed the role of saint and martyr.

Last weekend, thousands gathered at Orlando Stadium, many sporting T-shirts bearing the message: “He lived and died for me”. The religious imagery was deliberate. The National Party has made much of the African National Congress’s alliance with the “godless” communists. “Comrade Hani may well have become a Catholic priest, but because he grew up under the apartheid regime, his life took a different course,” said his successor as leader of the SACP, Charles Nqakula. Hani is still needed.

The township militants have not given up their arms. They streamed into the stadium, some behind the banners of the SACP, bearing spears, knives, two-foot-long nails, even golf clubs – any traditional weapon they could lay their hands on. A few had guns stuffed into their belts. They spoke excitedly of Inkatha men heading towards the stadium. That would have been a suicidal mission.

But on the way back from the rally, one person was killed and four people injured as their bus travelled past an Inkatha hostel. At the gates to the stadium, ANC security guards dutifully frisked women for weapons, while the armed men forged past them. They stormed round the circuit in gangs, accompanied by cheers and cries of apprehension from the crowd.

At last, Nelson Mandela’s grey Mercedes was spotted. Cheering broke out. “Nelson! Nelson! Nelson!” He descended from the car, jostled on all sides by journalists and body-guards, and walked slowly round the stadium, raising his fist in salute to the crowd and smiling broadly.

On reaching the podium, he said loudly and clearly: “Chris Hani was a man who died preaching peace. On this day, all South Africans should commit themselves to reconciliation. It is time that each one of us assumed responsibility for putting an end to crime and violence.” He was speaking to everyone, including white South Africans.

But behind the high walls guarding their homes, the whites are growing nervous. The planes entering the country are half-empty. The planes leaving are full. Thousands have joined the “chicken run” to Zimbabwe, Britain and other countries. Theirs is not a permanent exodus. They are spending a month abroad, while they gauge the situation back home.

Nobody knows what is going to happen “after the election” – the most over-used phrase at the moment. People are stockpiling tinned food, candles and gas cylinders “just in case”. Even white liberals, who are determined to vote ANC, confess to feeling apprehensive. When the rules governing “petty apartheid” were abandoned, wealth remained the great divider.

But now the country is truly in transition. Former Umkhonto we Sizwe guerrillas are in the process of joining the South African Defence Force. New black presenters are appearing on state-sponsored TV. Soon, the changes will reach everyone’s workplace. The ANC has promised “affirmative action”. Does that mean there will be new colleagues, new bosses and new work priorities? Of course, they support the principle, but what about the practice? Mandela has done his utmost to soothe people’s fears.

At Orlando Stadium, he praised the work of the security forces and said they deserved “our full confidence and support”. He gave an account of his visit to Natal a few days earlier, after a state of emergency had been imposed there with his agreement. Eight youths, who had been carrying AK-47s and revolvers, came to him and complained: “‘You wanted a state of emergency and now they have arrested us and taken away our guns.’ I said: ‘No, you must expect the South African police and the South African Defence Force to be even-handed. Don’t expect to be exempted. We want peace.’”

But it is not so much civil war, as change itself that is feared. The National Party has staged a remarkable comeback by insisting that only it can be trusted with the transition to a truly multi-racial society. The attempt had been brazen. F W de Klerk has proclaimed: “I, not the ANC, liberated this country from apartheid.”

The ANC is still on course for an over-whelming victory. The latest poll puts its support at 62 per cent. But the NP’s share of the poll has risen six points in recent months, mainly at the ANC’s expense. In the short term, its aim is to deprive the ANC of the two-thirds majority needed to draw up a new constitution for the country.

Under the interim constitution, de Klerk is certain to be one of two vice-presidents under Mandela’s leadership, and the NP has argued: “No partnership works if one of the parties is too large and the other too small.” Perhaps the best sign that de Klerk trusts the ANC to govern the country democratically is that he is already positioning himself for the election after next. He wants the NP to be the multi-racial right-wing party of the future, just as the ANC will be the multi-racial party of the left.

It is a shrewd gambit. The NP can never again win with the support of whites alone. In any case, the white vote has splintered, with up to one-third of Afrikaners supporting far-right demands for an independent volkstaat. Support for General Constand Viljoen’s Freedom Front has risen to 5 per cent – enough to secure him a possible seat in South Africa’s transitional cabinet. De Klerk has had to forage elsewhere for votes among conservative blacks and the coloured and Indian communities.

Mandela has been making light of the NP’s renaissance. The crowd at Orlando Stadium laughed delightedly when he said: “We are dealing with a mouse. The National Party is a mouse and they think they can fight an elephant. We, the African National Congress, are the elephant. If a mouse overfeeds itself, it will gain weight, but it is still a mouse.” The ANC can count on the support of the vast majority of black people. But in the Western Cape, the elephant is growing afraid of the mouse. In this bastion of the coloured community, which for years enjoyed preferential labour over black people, the NP is marginally ahead of the ANC. De Klerk’s popularity rating is 62 percent; Mandela’s is 17 per cent.

Mandela’s car was stoned recently on the way to a meeting by the very same young gangs who would once have thrown rocks at the security forces. It is in the Cape that the NP’s propaganda has been crudest. It has not only played the traditional swartz gefaar (fear of blacks) card, but has also adapted the US Republicans’ “Willie Horton” campaign tactics. An advertisement shows the face of a young black woman next to the words: “Could you look her in the eye and tell her you’re giving her rapist the vote?”

The Indian community has also been reconsidering its previous staunch support for the ANC. It, too, has been using an elephant metaphor. The saying goes: “When two elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.” They are particularly fearful of being squeezed between Inkatha and the ANC in Natal, where they settled in great numbers generations ago. One in four Indians may not vote at all. The ANC has been incredulous at the NP’s bid for support. “After 46 years of NP rule, these people want you to vote for them,” said one of their posters in astonishment. By its own admission, the NP has only just realised the error of its ways and refashioned itself as a “new” multi-racial party, while the ANC has been multi-racial since its foundation in 1912.

The most galling of all is the NP’s pose as the party of peace and stability, when it is suspected of complicity with the “Third Force”, the shadowy security apparatus that has been accused by the Goldstone Commission of trying to disrupt the election. In Orlando Stadium, Mandela protested that de Klerk was party to atrocities committed by the Third Force “by omission and connivance”, but the difficulty has been proving links between the two.

The hand of the Third Force is seen everywhere. Where there are killings, there are rumours of white men in balaclavas either directing or participating in operations. Inkatha is increasingly regarded as an instrument of the Third Force. Even whites, who traditionally preferred Inkatha, with its respect for “cultural differences”, to the “communist” ANC, are beginning to worry that if civil war comes, it will be thanks to Chief Buthelezi’s warriors.

The pity is that, outside KwaZulu and a few Inkatha strongholds, the strategy of disruption has failed. The elections are expected to be free and fair for the great majority of South Africans. The homelands, including Bophuthatswana, have been brought into the fold. The South African far right is participating in the elections in the form of Viljoen’s Freedom Front. The date fixed after Chris Hani’s assassination has held fast.

Mandela has talked to every South African leader bar the neo-fascist Eugene Terre-Blanche in his bid to ensure that the voting goes smoothly. He personally embodies forbearance and tolerance. But the ANC has spent years planning to “take power”. It is the language that Hani and every ANC leader was schooled in. For most South Africans, those words have a happy ring. For a minority, they inspire suspicion and fear. Hani’s death symbolised the hope to come and the conflict accompanying it. There has been no resolution yet, but hope remains strong.

 

Nelson Mandela in Mmabatho in March 1994. Photograph: Getty Images
John Moore
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The man who created the fake Tube sign explains why he did it

"We need to consider the fact that fake news isn't always fake news at the source," says John Moore.

"I wrote that at 8 o'clock on the evening and before midday the next day it had been read out in the Houses of Parliament."

John Moore, a 44-year-old doctor from Windsor, is describing the whirlwind process by which his social media response to Wednesday's Westminster attack became national news.

Moore used a Tube-sign generator on the evening after the attack to create a sign on a TfL Service Announcement board that read: "All terrorists are politely reminded that THIS IS LONDON and whatever you do to us we will drink tea and jolly well carry on thank you." Within three hours, it had just fifty shares. By the morning, it had accumulated 200. Yet by the afternoon, over 30,000 people had shared Moore's post, which was then read aloud on BBC Radio 4 and called a "wonderful tribute" by prime minister Theresa May, who at the time believed it was a genuine Underground sign. 

"I think you have to be very mindful of how powerful the internet is," says Moore, whose viral post was quickly debunked by social media users and then national newspapers such as the Guardian and the Sun. On Thursday, the online world split into two camps: those spreading the word that the sign was "fake news" and urging people not to share it, and those who said that it didn't matter that it was fake - the sentiment was what was important. 

Moore agrees with the latter camp. "I never claimed it was a real tube sign, I never claimed that at all," he says. "In my opinion the only fake news about that sign is that it has been reported as fake news. It was literally just how I was feeling at the time."

Moore was motivated to create and post the sign when he was struck by the "very British response" to the Westminster attack. "There was no sort of knee-jerk Islamaphobia, there was no dramatisation, it was all pretty much, I thought, very calm reporting," he says. "So my initial thought at the time was just a bit of pride in how London had reacted really." Though he saw other, real Tube signs online, he wanted to create his own in order to create a tribute that specifically epitomised the "very London" response. 

Yet though Moore insists he never claimed the sign was real, his caption on the image - which now has 100,800 shares - is arguably misleading. "Quintessentially British..." Moore wrote on his Facebook post, and agrees now that this was ambiguous. "It was meant to relate to the reaction that I saw in London in that day which I just thought was very calm and measured. What the sign was trying to do was capture the spirit I'd seen, so that's what I was actually talking about."

Not only did Moore not mean to mislead, he is actually shocked that anyone thought the sign was real. 

"I'm reasonably digitally savvy and I was extremely shocked that anyone thought it was real," he says, explaining that he thought everyone would be able to spot a fake after a "You ain't no muslim bruv" sign went viral after the Leytonstone Tube attack in 2015. "I thought this is an internet meme that people know isn't true and it's fine to do because this is a digital thing in a digital world."

Yet despite his intentions, Moore's sign has become the centre of debate about whether "nice" fake news is as problematic as that which was notoriously spread during the 2016 United States Presidential elections. Though Moore can understand this perspective, he ultimately feels as though the sentiment behind the sign makes it acceptable. 

"I use the word fake in inverted commas because I think fake implies the intention to deceive and there wasn't [any]... I think if the sentiment is ok then I think it is ok. I think if you were trying to be divisive and you were trying to stir up controversy or influence people's behaviour then perhaps I wouldn't have chosen that forum but I think when you're only expressing your own emotion, I think it's ok.

"The fact that it became so-called fake news was down to other people's interpretation and not down to the actual intention... So in many interesting ways you can see that fake news doesn't even have to originate from the source of the news."

Though Moore was initially "extremely shocked" at the reponse to his post, he says that on reflection he is "pretty proud". 

"I'm glad that other people, even the powers that be, found it an appropriate phrase to use," he says. "I also think social media is often denigrated as a source of evil and bad things in the world, but on occasion I think it can be used for very positive things. I think the vast majority of people who shared my post and liked my post have actually found the phrase and the sentiment useful to them, so I think we have to give social media a fair judgement at times and respect the fact it can be a source for good."

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.