Since the death of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela a number of voices have asserted that Nelson Mandela, and other leaders who negotiated a peaceful transition in South Africa with the apartheid government, were “sell-outs”. Bishop Sithembele Sipuka of Mthatha, vice-president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, disagrees. The bishop, rather, encourages South Africans to be grateful to that generation for what they did in difficult circumstances, reports the country’s Catholic weekly The Southern Cross.
A bishop has said that South Africans should be grateful to the leaders who negotiated an end to apartheid, rather than demonising them as “sell-outs”.
Bishop Sithembele Sipuka of Mthatha was responding to recurrent criticism of the late President Nelson Mandela and his colleagues which claims that they agreed to a bad deal for black South Africans in 1994. In that view, Mr Mandela—whose centenary will be marked in July—was a “sell-out” rather than a genuine liberator.
Bishop Sipuka in a commentary noted that “some of those who demonise the leaders of the past for being sell-outs are leading parties that are in coalition with other parties which in normal circumstances they would have no cooperation with because of mutually opposed ideologies”, referring to the Economic Freedom Fighters’ coalition and cooperation agreements with the Democratic Alliance in several metros and municipalities.
“They do this because pragmatism demands it. Yet in public platforms these leaders lambast the leaders of the past who in their circumstances could not find an ideal, perfect and radical solution and so settled for what was practical at the time,” Bishop Sipuka said.
“Theirs was not the season to call for radical solutions because it would not have worked. Let us be grateful to the leaders of the past who negotiated less than perfect solutions, but in doing so laid a foundation for us today to call for more just and fair solutions because our time allows it,” he said.
He noted that the condemnations of the leaders of 1994 found a voice during last month’s mourning period for Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
Much of the praise for her, especially from radicals, portrayed Mr Mandela and other leaders as “moderates and even ‘cowering sell-outs’ who compromised the cause of the oppressed”, while Mrs Madikizela-Mandela was seen as “the lone voice that was calling for radical change”.
“Time plays a big role in addressing issues. Things that were not conceivable yesterday and could be spoken of or done only in a tentative and moderate way, with the passage of time those things can be spoken of today in a radical way because yesterday’s moderate efforts laid the foundation,” said the bishop.
“So instead of lambasting the leaders of yesterday for selling out with the negotiated political settlement, they should be appreciated for what they could do at the time to save the country from destruction. Instead of being antagonistic towards yesterday’s leaders, the present generation should ask itself how it takes things forward in a more radical way than yesterday because time allows it today,” he said.
“While it is easier and even fashionable today to call for radical change, it was not so in the early ‘90s,” Bishop Sipuka explained.
“The minority government of the time was strong and the world was ambiguous in its support for change. Politics had to be played and a negotiated settlement be made if this country was not to go up in flames,” he pointed out.
“In 1990 there were people who saw the racially-based inequalities as normal, and were prepared to fight and destroy this country to keep things as they were, together with those countries that supported them.
“Thanks to time, those who were opposed to radical change are now gradually realising that this cannot continue, and even if they wanted to continue, the tide of time has changed,” Bishop Sipuka said.
“We can today raise these issues without too much fear that the country would be destroyed civilly and economically,” he said.
“It is disingenuous and politically opportunistic to judge the well-meant solutions of the past determined by their own circumstances by today’s circumstances.”
This article first appeared in 9-15 May edition of The Southern Cross. Republished with permission. © The Southern Cross
Image: Russell Pollitt SJ