Is white love for Madiba real?


His is a legacy of convenient shades by those whose enjoyment of apartheid privileges continues while his own suffer, writes Clyde Ramalaine.

Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Mandela, son of Qunu’s hinterland has finally closed his eyes. His death creates an opportunity for us all to interpret his legacy.

A legacy that portends many shades laced with convenience at times.

Is there any truth to the fact that Nelson Mandela appears distinctly endeared in the superlative to whites?

This strange phenomenon is worth examining.

While some will shoot it down as not provable by scientific research, it does not detract from my assertion, which I will endeavour to prove.

Mandela, the face of the South African collective political freedom struggle, a freedom fighter considered a terrorist by apartheid and its supporters, in this dispensation, attests a twisted legacy.

This founder member of the ANC military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe, in this epoch, has his personal and political history whitewashed by a need of some to regard him as a saint the opposite of his kin.

Mandela never professed sainthood; he gladly admitted the errors of his judgement in various areas – personal and political – suggesting the iconic status invoked upon him has little to do with Mandela himself, but the need of some to ease their conscience.

Mandela, as an ANC leader, remained a loyal member famed for quipping that when he died and eventually arrived at the pearly gates of heaven he would ask for the ANC corner to register his membership.

My conundrum is as much as Mandela is adored by Africans for being the symbol of the fight for freedom from apartheid’s oppression, racism and indignity, he is also the much-worshipped hero for whites.

When whites talk of Mandela, there is a spontaneous celestial admiration, almost challenging the intensity and depth of the black constituency from whom he came from.

The unpeeling of the factual evidence for this adoration of Mandela is worth an attempt.

However, it is my contention that the exact moment for Mandela’s heroism to many whites remains dodgy and speculative.

When blacks talk of admiration for Mandela, it is out of the umwelt of a rich and long history of struggle, yet when whites speak of him it is out of the context of a 1995 Rugby World Cup when he donned the No 6 jersey.

I think to most Afrikaners Mandela became a hero that day and, in the absence of that day, one may only speculate if he would have held such a venerated position.

Thabo Mbeki, our second democratic president, also wore the jersey in 2007 yet he is not a hero to Afrikaners.

In my search to find when Mandela became a hero for whites, I had to recall that Mandela at the time of the 1994 elections simply did not hold such a hallowed presence in the minds of whites for his victory was not influenced by the white constituency of voters.

Despite his prison sentence of 27 years (the subject of many white-inspired commercial ventures), he was not able to convince whites that he fought for a just cause.

Regardless of his symbolic international status, he was not able to muster the support of South African whites.

Despite the historic 1992-94 period that set the tone for our first democratic elections, Mandela remained a figure among many that represented the enemy and a less trustworthy character for whites.

The 1994 election results attest to the fact that Mandela as the face of the ANC could not eclipse the ANC in the minds of white voters for the party.

At the dawn of democracy, the ANC secured 62.65 percent of the vote while the National Party scored 20 percent of the vote.

Hence at the dawn of democracy, who Mandela was to whites was highly questionable for it did not translate into an outright majority of white votes for the ANC or for him as a person.

It appears Mandela eclipsed the ANC in the minds of white voters until the party became the antithesis of what Mandela according to whites stood for.

Today it is easy to hear; the ANC has betrayed the values of Mandela, a common theme thrown around by some who purport to know.

The interesting thing is the benefactors of apartheid gladly chorus this song yet we do not know from what platform.

We salute Mandela the face of the ANC-engineered reconciliation for being brave to work for reconciliation.

Yet this reconciliation today appears underwritten by blacks.

Reconciliation is often colloquially murmured as the proverbial sell-out act in which white apartheid privileges and acquisitions were guaranteed in a post-apartheid environment.

Is it possible that the historic moment of the adoption of our democratic constitution in 1996 became the signpost of the admiration of Mandela by whites?

Notwithstanding the fact that Mandela, an elected ANC president, was leading the nation at that celebrated occasion, the voting patterns in national and municipal contexts remained static.

Notwithstanding him having donned the green and gold jersey in 1995, visiting Betsie Verwoerd in Orania, and making many overtures to white constituents in a plethora of engagements (at times to the annoyance of blacks), the 1999 election results for the ANC remained the same when Mbeki was elected.

That suggested the Mandela magic did not necessarily change the voting patterns of white voters when it confirmed the black support.

Perhaps he managed to crawl deep into the hearts of whites when he opted not to seek a second term.

Is it that because we are on a continent where it is commonly accepted that once a leader rises to power, he would never step down, Mandela became the notable exception?

Did Mandela become this hero par excellence for whites when he became the joint Nobel Peace laureate with FW de Klerk and the symbol of peace and reconciliation?

Maybe, but Chief Albert Luthuli, the decorated past president of the ANC attained that as far back as 1960.

Just when did Mandela, an ANC freedom fighter, terrorist, MK soldier, militant, the pimpernel and attorney become the extraordinary hero, icon, saint and who knows what for our white South Africans?

It appears his true history is sanitised, eclipsed by a single term of presidency as the maximum symbol of heroism when whites did not in the first place trust his organisation, nor him with their vote and continue not to trust the ANC.

South Africa will never have another Mandela.

If Mandela, being who he was, could not sway white voters, will anybody be able to persuade them?

It could be that Mandela is a hero to whites because he liberated them at no cost to them, hence all the praise at the expense of all other ANC leaders and presidents.

He is their hero because what he stood for (according to them) never challenged their position as apartheid benefactors.

The presidency is the only period of Mandela’s life that sensibly defines the epoch in which this white admiration for him was born, entrenched and now consummated in the divinity of sorts.

This legacy is used today to lash the ANC as a naked, useless, dishevelled mess that brought South Africa only turmoil, insults and a sense of indignity as it dismally failed in every sphere, this while Mandela was a collective hero adored miles apart from this collective responsibility of claimed failed delivery.

Mandela stood in the tradition of the less celebrated (by whites) Oliver Reginald Tambo and many others who conspicuously remain into oblivion as narrated by the South African white citizenry.

Can we embrace Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela in his fullness and not what suits us in convenience?

A life that did not start in 1994, but 95 years ago as a rural Mveso-born country boy defined as black by a system that celebrated a white identity.

Yes, a system that made Mandela; a system that challenged him to ask why; a system and its benefactors that defined him as a k****r.

A system that defined him as a prisoner by charging him with treason when all he and others did was to declare apartheid a heresy.

In typical white fear rhetoric, Mandela is the insurance against the rest of the uncivilised, endemically corrupt, bloodthirsty and revenge-crazy black people.

In selfishness, these will not enable him to rest his eyes, because even in his death he must still guarantee their protection from his own.

A sanitised legacy of many shades wrought in self-interest and laced with fear when blacks have embraced their common destiny, gladly paying the proverbial bacon for the breakfast.


This article first appeared on IOL

Clyde N. S. Ramalaine
Political Commentator & Writer Chairperson of TMoSA Foundation