SAR, Vol 14 No 1, December 1998
OF REAL HEROES ... AND REALPOLITIK
Nelson Mandela in Canada! Recent events here had some of the resonance of an aging athlete's last tour of the arenas to receive the kudos of the crowd on the eve of his retirement. Only this time the record of accomplishment was all the more real, the plaudits all the more deserved, the ceremonies all the more moving. A man who spent twenty-seven years in prison and emerged both to embrace his jailers and to lead his people. Hero of the century indeed.
Of course, it was a bit galling to note just who were sitting there preening themselves in the front row at the various events, politicians and business people who had had little good to say about, and even less help to give, the ANC during its long years of struggle against apartheid. Still, as veteran anti-apartheid activists craned their necks to catch a glimpse of Mandela from the cheap seats, they tried not to think such profane thoughts, preferring to ride the euphoria of the moment (as at Toronto's Skydome, with 40,000 school-kids shouting out their solidarity with Madiba) which, to put it mildly, was considerable
Not that, as Mandela prepares to step down from office, everything is comfortably in place back home. A previous editorial in these pages spoke of the wide gamut of challenges that face Mandela's presumptive successor as President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki (see "Mbeki's Blues," SAR , vol. 13, no. 4, but also, as an example, Salim Vally's article in the present issue on the deep cracks that have appeared in South Africa's post-apartheid education policies). And some of these problems were raised in various media background stories that surfaced during Mandela's visit to Canada.
Still, the one moment on his Canadian visit when Mandela became decidedly testy with media questions concerned a much more immediate issue: his country's military intervention in neighbouring Lesotho, an intervention that occurred even as Mandela was being wined and dined in this country. In fact, a certain defensiveness on Mandela's part may well have been in order - if Roger Southall's authoritative account in these pages of the "hamhanded" (his word) nature of SA intervention in Lesotho is to be believed. Controversially, Southall does give the elections themselves a qualified passing grade on the "free and fair" index, despite the more sceptical opinion on this issue of many Lesothans themselves. But of South Africa's own blundering arrogance he has no doubt. Read him and weep.
Even more sobering is the fact that the Lesotho intervention seems part of a broader pattern of inter-state conflict in the region - one marked, alarmingly, by the growing ascendancy of realpolitik and by the aggressive assertion of "national interests" not easily reducible to extra-continental imperialist machinations. Self-evidently, this denouement is not quite what militants of the liberation movements had in mind for the region during the heroic days of armed struggle against white minority rule. Weep, then, but weep even more for the Congo than for Lesotho, since it is in the Congo that military escalation has reached by far its most alarming proportions. Currently the forces of five countries (Angola, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe) are deployed there alongside a congeries of Congolese factions - while, in this case, South Africa seeks in the person of Mandela to play the role of peace-maker! Indeed, it is the Deputy Foreign Minister of South Africa, Aziz Pahad, who sounds the grimmest warning: "If this continues, the danger of a massive African war is a reality. A major conflict on the continent will set us back many years."
SAR readers will recall a recent article by Carole Collins that provided essential background information for understanding events in the Congo ("Southern Africa: A New Congo in a New Region?" SAR , vol. 13, no. 3). It is a topic to which we will have to return in future issues. Suffice to note here that the knock-on effects of such conflicts across the region are considerable. Thus, even as the execrable Mugabe mutters darkly of carrying his military support of the Kabila regime directly into Rwanda and Uganda themselves, riots erupt in Harare protesting such expensive external adventurism at a time of deep economic crisis at home. Evidence of just how difficult it is now becoming to disentangle domestic developments from regional conflicts is also revealed in another article in this issue. Pierre Beaudet, in recounting the dismal story of the reactivation of war between MPLA and UNITA in Angola, feels constrained to devote considerable attention precisely to the war in the Congo in which the MPLA government also now finds itself embroiled.
Perhaps Mandela can further embroider his mantle as statesman through his present efforts - rather against the odds, it must be feared - to neutralize outside intervention and bring warring groups in the Congo together to talk through a new and mutually acceptable political and constitutional dispensation. More power to him if he can, not least because it is the kind of political role he is perhaps, in "retirement," most suited to play - rather like the role now assigned by Africa to his much revered Tanzanian counterpart, Julius Nyerere (who currently chairs an international effort to bring peace and reconciliation to deeply troubled Burundi).
Note, incidentally, that Mandela follows Nyerere's example in another important respect: in his willingness to step down from power even while others might cede him his right to continue - the better to permit a peaceful succession and create a positive democratic precedent for his country. The contrast with many other African leaders could not be more striking, a case in point being Sam Nujoma, the current president of Namibia. No particular hero he (Nujoma is, after all, the foil for Namibian Sam Ndeikwila's barbed parable on presidential power in Africa that we offer below), Nujoma now seeks a constitutional amendment to permit himself a hitherto unthinkable third term.
It is just this bid for continued power, and the undemocratic sensibilities characteristic of Swapo from which it springs, that provides the context for another story central to these pages: the resistance to Nujoma's domestic realpolitik offered, at considerable cost and even risk to himself, by Namibian politician and diplomat Ben Ulenga. As chronicled by Lauren Dobell and highlighted on our cover, the "Ulenga moment" may thus offer an additional parable, one that underscores the kind of heroism that can still be offered by a younger generation of southern African politicians. Perhaps such heroism, sustained and emulated, may yet turn the dreams of the best of the region's freedom fighters into reality.
Southern Africa Report
Contents - Vol 14 No 1
"Swapo and Dissent"
Editorial: Of Real Heroes . . . and Realpolitik - 1
The Ulenga Moment: Swapo and Dissent - 3
by Lauren Dobell
The Statesman who Brought Honour to Africa (a parable) - 9
by Samson Ndeikwila
Lesotho: Democracy at Gunpoint? South Africa Intervenes - 12
by Roger Southall
Update: Current Moment in Maseru - 18
by Tsebo Mats'asa
Angola: The War Machines: . . . Again - 19
by Pierre Beaudet
Is GEAR Illegal? - 24
by Carolyn Bassett
Education on Trial: The Poor Speak Out - 27
by Salim Vally
Review: The House Gun - 32
review by Lois Browne
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