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
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To heal Britain’s cracks, it’s time for us northern graduates in London to return home

Isn’t it time for people like me, who’ve had privileges and experiences not open to everyone, to start heading back to our local communities, rather than reinforcing London’s suffocating dominance?

I’m from Warrington. The least cultured town in the UK. My town.

I moved to London almost exactly five years ago. Not because I particularly wanted to. Not because I wanted to depart the raucous northern town that I still call home. Because it was my only choice, really. I’d done my stint in the call centres and had some fun. But that couldn’t, surely, be my lot?

After university, I’d already started feeling a little weird and out of place back in Wazza. There were fewer and fewer people who didn’t look at me like I’d just fallen off a futuristic space flight that’d given me a different accent and lofty ideals.

Of course, that’s because most people like me had already skipped town without looking back and were all in the capital trying to strike beyond the ordinary.

The young, the cities, the metropolitan elite are still reeling after last week’s vote and wondering how people, half of our people, have got it so horribly wrong. We’re different, divided, done for.  

One thing I’ve clung onto while I’ve been in London is the fact that I’m from Warrington and proud. It might not be a cultured town, but it’s my town.

But I wasn’t proud of the outcome of the EU referendum that saw my town vote 54.3 per cent to 45.7 per cent to leave.

To be fair, even in my new “home” borough of Hackney, east London, the place with the third-largest Remain vote, one in five people voted for Brexit.

Yes, in one of London’s hottest and most international neighbourhoods, there are quite a lot of people who don’t feel like they’re being taken along to the discotheque.

Perversely, it was the poorest places in the UK that voted in largest numbers to leave the EU – that’s the same EU that provides big chunks of funding to try to save those local economies from ruin.

In many ways, of course, I understand the feelings of those people back in the place I still sometimes think of as home.

Compared to many suffering places in the UK, Warrington is a “boom town” and was one of the only places that grew during the last recession.

It’s a hub for telecoms and logistics companies, because, ironically, its good transport links make it an easy place to leave.

But there are many people who aren’t “living the dream” and, like anywhere else, they aren’t immune from the newspaper headlines that penetrate our brains with stories of strivers and scroungers.

Warrington is one of the whitest places in the UK, and I’m sure, to many locals, that means those immigrants are only a few towns away. There’s already a Polski sklep or two. And a few foreign taxi drivers. Those enterprising bastards.

We have never seriously addressed the economic imbalance in our economy. The gaping north-south divide. The post-industrial problem that politicians in Westminster have handily ignored, allowing the gap to be filled by those who find it quick and easy to blame immigrants.

When schemes like HS2, which is plotted to smash right through the place I grew up, are pushed against all of the evidence, instead of a much-needed, intercity Leeds to Liverpool investment to replace the two-carriage hourly service, it’s like positively sticking two fingers up to the north.

But I am also a big problem. People like me, who get educated and quickly head off to London when things aren’t going our way. We invested in ourselves, sometimes at state expense, and never really thought about putting that back into the places where we grew up.

There weren’t the right opportunities back home and that still stands. But, rather than doing something about that, people like me lazily joined the gravy train for London and now we’re surprised we feel more kinship with a 20-something from Norway than we do with someone who we used to knock on for when we should have been at school.

That’s not to suggest that our experiences in the capital – or mine at least – haven’t made us a thousand, million times better. 

I’ve met people who’ve lived lives I would never have known and I’m a profoundly better person for having the chance to meet people who aren’t just like me. But to take that view back home is increasingly like translating a message to someone from an entirely different world.

“You know, it’s only because you live in a country like this that a woman like you is allowed to even say things like that,” assured one of my dad’s friends down at the British Legion after we’d had a beer, and an argument or two.

Too right, pal. We live in what we all like to think is an open and tolerant and progressive society. And you’re now saying I shouldn’t use that right to call you out for your ignorance?

We’re both Warringtonians, English, British and European but I can increasingly find more agreement with a woman from Senegal who’s working in tech than I can with you.

It’s absolutely no secret that London has drained brains from the rest of the country, and even the rest of the world, to power its knowledge economy.

It’s a special place, but we have to see that there are many people clamouring for jobs they are far too qualified for, with no hope of saving for a home of their own, at the expense of the places they call home.

It’s been suggested in the past that London becomes its own city-state, now Londoners are petitioning to leave the UK.

But isn’t it time for people like me, who’ve had privileges and experiences not open to everyone, to start heading back to our local communities, rather than reinforcing London’s suffocating dominance?

We can expect local governments to do more with less, but when will we accept we need people power back in places like Warrington if we want to change the story to one of hope?

If this sounds like a patronising plan to parachute the north London intelligentsia into northern communities to ensure they don’t make the same mistake twice... Get fucked, as they say in Warrington.

It was Warrington that raised me. It’s time I gave something back.

Kirsty Styles is editor of the New Statesman's B2B tech site, NS Tech.