« back
Nelson and Winnie Mandela & the Bremen Solidarity Award

23.10.2022 | Focke Museum Bremen: Nomazulu Thata

South Africa’s independence still in the making: Bremen Solidarity Award for Nelson and Winnie Mandela in 1988 expressed optimism of the times

The Bremen Solidarity Prize is a prestigious award that rewards the commitment of individuals and organizations working to overcome injustices in North-South relationships against and beyond colonialism and the racism supporting it; and its legacy still hanging on. The first recipients of this award were Nelson and his first wife Winnie Mandela in 1988. The honor was given to them for their commitment to fighting for justice for all South African citizens irrespective of complexion. Mandela taught the world that no defeats, repressions, obstacles, and challenges; there is integrity within all of us that can persevere.

The authors of Bremen Solidaritätspreis must be concerned about what has become of the Rainbow Nation that Mandela sacrificed his life for the betterment of all citizens who live in it. Mandela must be turning in his grave. It can be safely said that South Africa today is not what Mandela fought for. It is not only South Africa that is in social, political, and economic turmoil, the winds of change are also blowing across Africa: African countries that liberated themselves from centuries of colonialism are socially, politically, and economically unstable. Regression is the buzzword.

After 27 years of incarceration in many parts of Apartheid prisons (Robben Island and Pollsmoor Prison) Mandela was released: he humbly but elegantly emerged into freedom to face the great task ahead of him. When he left prison, Africa and the world had changed: African countries had reached independence from colonialism: and some were also marred by conflicts and counterrevolutions. Political and economic developments were changing the global set-up negatively, especially on the African continent. Mandela had no time to catch up before tackling South Africa's transformation from apartheid to a rainbow nation.

Shortcomings of early transition phase spoiled South Africa. Political independence is not enough: to be allowed to vote factually means it cannot be the rainbow independence they anticipated. Black South Africans were cheated in the economic processes that led to independence. The government of ANC is not in the interest of the majority of South Africans.

South Africa’s economy is still prospering in reference to other African economies. It became the only country that introduced social benefits for the unemployed. Black South Africans rightfully boast about their developed country. It was black African cheap labor and its raw materials that made South Africa a giant of the African economy. This, along with other factors made black South Africans believe they are better Africans; South Africa did not belong to Africa despite the geographical evidence. They forced themselves to imagine it as some nation away from Africa, some island of its own only by imagination.

South Africans shunned work they characterized as inferior: they would rather receive social benefits than do dirty work for a living: Hence the push and pull of migration to economic giant South Africa. It is those “dirty jobs” that migrants targeted. Economic migrants fleeing from poverty and destitution in their own countries were met with hostility and arrogance. Xenophobia destroyed black migrant lives: Hundreds of them were attacked, some died of stabbed wounds, and their investments were looted by black South Africans who were not able to determine where their economic woes originated from.

Press fast forward: “South Africans must thank Jacob Zuma for introducing the African Republic of South Africa and not some outpost of European values.” Pun intended. Prince Michela in The Sowetan Times thanks Jacob Zuma for giving back black South Africans their black identity and realizing that South Africa is an African state like all of them. They must thank Zuma for giving them the shock of their lives to realize this fact.

The reactions of millions of Africans across the continent regarding the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma are implicated in the above statement. The African way is ruled by kings, chiefs, and indunas in a setting of unwritten rules. Africans are a people that know their own set of rules: they were baffled and incensed when Jacob Zuma was sent to jail for his disdain for constitutionalism. To ask a ruler to be accountable to the law is foreign to African settings. Laws in African countries are changed willy-nilly to serve the rulers.

Cars, buses, and trucks were set alight creating chaos: all these emotions were a message of solidarity with Zuma irrespective of the facts on the ground about his jail sentence. The fact that Jacob Zuma broke the constitutional law is not taken into consideration. Zuma does not understand why rules are not bent to suit him. Zuma thought he was above the law; he was once President of South Africa.

The incarceration of Jacob Zuma brings to question the conflict between two laws: the African customary laws and the constitutional law, one of which Jacob Zumba abhorred hence he sees himself in prison. "South Africa will not look like Denmark or Germany but will be nearer to Nigeria and Kenya in the future", said Machela. Indeed, this is true because African leaders do not want enlightened Africans. Customary laws are not documented but passed on verbally. Most citizens have no idea about the constitution; thereby complying with customary laws and staying loyal to the powers that be. Constitutional laws conflict with parts of the customary laws much to the advantage of leaders like Zuma.

While listening to the news reporting chaos and looting, it became evident that it was not only about former President Jacob Zuma in jail. It was about social, political, and economic problems far beyond Zuma's imprisonment. The message the black population is sending to the ANC ruling elite is much bigger than the mass lootings of shopping malls, and the mass destruction of property resulting in loss of lives. Black South Africans are hungry, poor, and unemployed; have come to realize that they were given voting rights to cast a ballot vote for the ANC, an arrangement that managed to swap apartheid with some other power behind their backs. Just being bestowed with civil rights is not enough and it cannot be the future South Africa they anticipated.

What is happening to South Africa is not new to Africa; this is exactly what happens when African governments neglect most of its citizens that are poor and destitute. Jacob Zuma is a criminal: he is a person who is corrupt but will want to cover his corrupt attribute with arrogance. If Zuma is pleased about the violence that has erupted after his incarceration, it means he is not anywhere different from criminals who are looting and destroying property, putting the entire nation in a precarious state of economic and political uncertainties.

A simple question should be asked, why are most people still poor in a rich country like South Africa?

With the end of the apartheid regime, the World Bank and IMF knocked at the doors of South Africa promoting the Washington Consensus. It was forced on ANC negotiators as the only way to economic transformations packaged with stringent rules for running the South African economy. Globalization took over the economy of South Africa before the majority understood what was going on in these laissez-fair discussions. It is an underestimate to say ANC negotiators slept on the wheel. To best describe the ANC negotiating team: they were overwhelmed by economic transformations: they were made to negotiate complex economic synergies beyond their pay grade.

Again, the economic transition was doomed when ANC failed to implement the central demands of the Freedom Charter, namely overcoming social and economic imbalances as expressed also by Naomi Klein’s “Shock doctrine”, e.g., the USA California rift and the tragedy of DRC or Congo. She referred to the widening gap of deprivation experienced by commoners and the acceleration of elite wealth monopolies in still mostly white hands. This is the bone of contention and not of the migrant workers flooding South Africa in search of survival in still industrially advanced South Africa.

What is painful about the chaos in South Africa is that it is xenophobia against African migrants and discrimination against ethnic subgroups, which used to be lambasted as black-on-black violence. The people affected negatively are the indigenous commoners, while the elite is hiding and rule in the suburbs. Black entrepreneurs who invested heavily in high-density residential areas, predominately black populated will suffer equally. How ironic; on the one hand, commoners protested violently against holding Zuma accountable for embezzling state money and abusing power, on the other hand, they target shops, schools, and amenities they depend on daily, ignoring the fact that a weaponized police force will lash out against them in 2012 Marikana fashion. Confronted by a vicious neoliberal onslaught (World Bank, IMF, Globalists, media, and surveillance proliferation) commoners will find it exceedingly challenging to regain and maintain Ubuntu values.

The Mandela Solidaritätspreis may look lackluster against the backdrop of violent developments, but it is needed even more in these difficult times. Bremen has played a decisive role in working-class struggles and then in the Third World Solidarity Movement: Bremen is proud to have honored the Mandelas. Mandela’s commitment to justice and human rights cannot be written in a single story of South African freedom and justice alone. His legacy transcends beyond the borders of South Africa, a uniting figure in a world divided by race and ethnic diversities.

« back