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Who sold out, Mandela or Mbeki?

Former South African Presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki. Photo credit: Alexander Joe

By Andile Mngxitama

I will come back to this topic fully in July. I’m working on a paper on whether Nelson Mandela sold out, by critically examining the “Madiba versus Winnie/Hani options”.

I know that lots of people repeat the mantra of ‘Nelson Mandela the sellout’ as a matter of faith and something that is settled. I think that with the benefit of the experience of 26 years into democracy, the picture is much more complex. But you will have to wait until July to get my full argument that will be evidence based.

This morning I just want us to focus on what the Mandela compromise gave us and what Thabo Mbeki did with the Madiba gift. Mandela’s deal which gave blacks nominal political power, but not redress, was time bound. Mandela cut a deal which bound our hands for 5 years.

The deal has no meaning after 1999. The deal gave us peace (without justice). It gave us the state, namely: the judiciary; the army; the police; control over the death squads; the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC); Eskom; and other instruments of power.

Black people, through their votes in 2004, gave the ANC a 2/3rds majority to change the Constitution or make policies to redress the historical anti black legacy. Mandela’s deal made this possible.

The Sunday question is this: what stopped Mbeki from using the 2/3rds majority to redress the legacy of slavery, colonialism and apartheid? There was no sunset clause to hold him back.

This to me raises the question: who is the sellout between Mandela and Mbeki? Mandela’s compromise was functional. What explains Mbeki’s refusal to use the power Mandela made possible?

Think before you comment and think hard.


Andile Mngxitama is the President of Black First Land First (BLF), a radical black consciousness organization.

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