The Mandela Years: Reflections from Two Pluto Authors

With Nelson Mandela’s death last week, we asked two Pluto authors for their reflections on the lionised leader of the ANC. In contrast to the global championing of Mandela’s leadership, Marcelle Dawson and Patrick Bond each offer an alternative view.


Writing in CounterpunchPatrick Bond, author of Elite Transition: From Apartheid to Neoliberalism in South Africa (Pluto, 2000), provides an in-depth analysis of the Mandela years, arguing that:

There had been only two basic paths that the ANC could have followed. One was to mobilize the people and all their enthusiasm, energy, and hard work, use a larger share of the economic surplus (through state-directed investments and higher taxes), and stop the flow of capital abroad, including the repayment of illegitimate apartheid-era debt. The other, which was ultimately the one chosen, was to trudge down the neoliberal capitalist path, with merely a small reform here or there to permit superficial claims to the sustaining of a “National Democratic Revolution.

You can read the full article in Counterpunch here.

We asked Marcelle Dawson, co-editor, with Luke Sinwell, of Contesting Transformation: Popular Resistance in Twenty-First Century South Africa (Pluto, 2012; paperback forthcoming, 2014) for her thoughts on Mandela’s death. We’ve reproduced her response below:

It is difficult to know what to say about Mandela’s death. I’ve been very critical of his leadership, but my views have not really gone down very well in the face of Mandela’s status as a global icon – a saintly icon at that!

My criticism stems from the fact that it was under his watch that South Africa’s macro-economic policy, ‘Growth, Employment and Redistribution’ (GEAR) was introduced. This policy was a marked shift from earlier, pro-poor policies, which – on the surface, at least – appeared to have the interests of the majority of South Africans in mind. GEAR paved the way for partial privatisation and a slew of other neoliberal-inspired practices and policies, which have exacerbated inequality in South Africa. Indeed some black South Africans have risen to the top and the black middle class is thriving. In this sense, South Africa’s democratic transition in 1994 was also a victory for capitalism and I find it hard to revere the man to whom much of South Africa’s post-apartheid economic success is attributed. But, it is also difficult to ignore the emotional connection that millions of people around the globe –including scores of South Africans who continue to be oppressed by capitalism – have with Nelson Mandela. It has been fascinating to watch the news unfold from my vantage point of New Zealand and Canada. My frustration and disappointment in Mandela have been somewhat mitigated by the heartfelt tributes to Mandela that I have witnessed around the world. I have received a few notes from friends and acquaintances expressing their sorrow for ‘my’ loss, or saying how emotional they feel about Mandela’s death. I have asked myself over and over again whether – by virtue of being a South African citizen – I am obliged to feel a sense of loss or grief. Some have even gone so far as to express shock about the tragedy of Mandela’s death. The death of a 95 year-old man, whose health has been steadily declining, is neither a shock nor a tragedy. But we’re not really talking about some random old man, are we? So what is it about Mandela that has moved the world to tears? Racism and inequality are still rife in South Africa, so we cannot claim a unified South Africa as Mandela’s legacy. Mandela – the president – will certainly be remembered and admired for his leading role in ending apartheid. He will also be criticised – and rightly so – for his failings as a statesman, but I would not be fazed if these things were quickly forgotten. South Africa has a long way to go in terms of socio-political and economic progress, and we won’t get very far if we continue to look to Mandela for guidance. Growing up, my dad always used to say to my sister and I, ‘It’s easy to get left behind. All you have to do is stop moving.’ While some South Africans might feel hopeless now that Mandela is gone, I am far more sanguine. I am happy to forget Mandela – the president. Much as I wish to remember Mandela – the person, I must be honest and say that I didn’t know him. What I do think I will remember is Mandela – the idea. I will remember what he represented: he understood that violence sometimes is justified – it is easy to forget this, but it is an admirable quality in my view. More than this, though, I will remember his humility, dignity, and incredible capacity for forgiveness. These qualities do not make him unique, nor do they make him heroic. They make him human; something which his political successors have forgotten how to be.

Both Contesting Transformation and Elite Transition are available for purchase on our website. Contesting Transformation is due for release in paperback in April 2014. You can preorder your copy here for just £19.50 including UK P&P. A second edition of Elite Transition will appear in the first half of next year. In the meantime, the first edition is available here

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