Whither South Africa

Post apartheid South Africa has just cleared one more corrupt anti-apartheid politician, as having been unfairly targeted by his enemies.

Media reports indicate that South Africa’s former deputy president, Jacob Zuma had raped an HIV positive woman, who was the daughter of an old family friend. Zuma got off the hook officially, with a mere apology to the nation for not using a condom and an audacious declaration that he is back in the race for presidentship, despite the rape trial.

But this is not about the campaign against unprotected sex, abut HIV awareness or about the burning issue of rape being largely by known persons. This is about the irony of an old anti-apartheid hand, patently corrupt and depraved, getting back into the political race, with a mere apology, ala the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up after apartheid yielded political space, so that the whites could continue to bleed the blacks under the benign noses of South Africa’s black leaders.

While most of the biggest white pirates won immediate mercy from the commission for their noxious acts of omission and commission, perhaps one of the very few who had to drop out of sight was Winnie Mandela, the woman who had ensured that the world did not forget that Nelson Mandela had been interred in the deadly Robben Island jail for almost two decades, while most of his fellow anti-apartheid warriors had bartered principle for the political expediency of setting up a government in exile in European comforts.

The great hero of South Africa was projected as a universal hero. While Jawaharlal Nehru and the rest of our Independence brigade never hesitated to accept every British offer of parole to slip out of jail, here was a man who stuck it out inside, never venturing out at all, no matter what blandishments were offered, no matter who fell ill or died outside, no matter what happened. He refused to accept the regime's ' generosity ' to bargain with his righteous stand. He was the man who remained in prison uninterruptedly.

He could afford to do so, confident that while he and his cohorts either left the country or went to jail, his memory was kept fresh in the mind of the whole wide world by his wife, Winnie Mandela.

She used the time honored tactics that had paid rich dividends to the Gandhi-Nehru brigade, whose assiduous cultivation of the western media has left the lasting impression that it was they and they alone who won India her independence; the silent sacrifices of the other freedom fighters submerged in a conspiracy of silence. 
In this case too, the lady took full advantage of the western media to ensure that her jailed husband remained in the headlines; it was she who raised awareness of him, not only across Africa, but across the whole world; it was she who plotted and maneuvered against the apartheid regime, shifting house constantly, often fugitive, but keeping her embattled family under her wings, balancing political work with parenting and with police beatings; all the while ensuring that the world could not forget her husband in that dreaded jail.

Nelson Mandela finally came to power, when Winnie triumphed in getting her aging husband out of jail, after years of battling and fighting and politicking across the globe.

Honorably? No bargains for freedom? But triumph was short-lived. The end of the Mandela dream.

For what was the first thing her Nelson do? Chuck her out of his life and his fame. He and his colleagues soon realized that by carrying on the battle against apartheid on the streets, Winnie had earned tremendous popularity. For Winnie’s was not a case of ' they also serve who stand and wait '; she neither stood nor waited, she plotted and battled and maneuvered and fought and kicked all the time. This so frightened the battery of old warriors that the wife of South Africa’s president and the most long lasting warrior against apartheid was pilloried and publicly humiliated, hounded out of her marriage and put away from the limelight.

There was Nelson Mandela, the man who had sat it out in jail, leaving the dirty work, of fighting to rid the country of apartheid, to his second wife. He had divorced his wife of eleven years, Evelyn to marry Winnie, whose royal African lineage was to stand him in good stead as he maneuvered himself to the forefront of the political stage. And then he left all his political and family responsibilities on her capable shoulders, while he made a lengthy political statement by remaining in jail.

Perhaps, when the hour of triumph was at hand, it was difficult for those who had sat it out in jail, in London or elsewhere, to swallow the obvious popularity of the one who had stayed at home to fight on home territory? The hounding of Winnie Mandela started in right earnest. Sordid allegations, of liaisons, of violence, of other matters surfaced.

Was former terrorist Nelson Mandela as yet unclouded that he could not accept allegations of blood on Winnie's hands so blandly?

Were the hands of all those other anti-apartheid leaders so clean and anti-septic? Was freedom from apartheid actually won without a blow? If the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi had been so effectively revived, why did the world not hear about it?
Winnie’s political execution was swift and savage; and it was horrendously public. As public as Nelson's immediate plunge into his prime time romance.

Like Britain's beleaguered Prince Charles, South Africa’s Nelson Mandela too assiduously built up the ground for “prime age" marriage. First a spate of newspaper stories about the budding of a "regal romance", made in heaven " for the unofficial first couple of Black Africa, between Nelson Mandela, finally president of South Africa at 78, and Graca Machel, 51, widow of Samora Machel the freedom fighter who led Mozambique's liberation battle against the Portuguese and was rewarded with Presidentship and the education minister ship for his wife, later widow.

After weeks of news of the development of the romance and photos of the couple hand-in-hand come an innocuous sounding report of the remarriage, in august 1997, of Nelson Mandela's little known first wife, not Winnie Mandela, but her predecessor, Evelyn Maze-Mandela. This prime time marriage comes at age 77, 40 years after her divorce from Nelson... to ease her loneliness. The selected groom, Simon Rakeepile was widowed only six weeks before his remarriage.

Next step...

Good friends in the media kept Gandhi and Nehru in the public eye. While most of his anti-apartheid cohorts remained virtually anonymous to the rest of the world, it was Winnie who kept Nelson Mandela in the public eye. But just as the Partition had to happen to enable Nehru to take over as Prime Minister immediately, so too South Africa had its Truth and Reconciliation Commission to allow Nelson Mandela his days of glory.... fast, before it was too late.

So the world looked on at the spectacle of a woman being publicly condemned, while her husband enjoyed prime time romance, and the perpetrators of apartheid got off scot-free, 'confessing' their crimes to continue their economic plunder under the benevolent eyes of international financial giants.

And the poor of South Africa? Who gave Mandela the status of a savior? They remain where they were: sunken in poverty, with poor housing, few jobs, less health and education, just as it was under the apartheid regime. Only the color of the Boss man has changed, from white to black. How much else has changed?                      


More by :  Kusum Choppra

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