Why West loves Mandela (and hates Mugabe)

The late former South African President Nelson Mandela and his Excellency President Robert Mugabe

The late former South African President Nelson Mandela and his Excellency President Robert Mugabe

Stephen Gowans
IN the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death, hosannas continue to be sung to the former ANC leader and South African president from both the left, for his role in ending the institutional racism of apartheid, and from the right, for ostensibly the same reason. But the right’s embrace of Mandela as an anti-racist hero doesn’t ring true. Is there another reason establishment media and mainstream politicians are as Mandela-crazy as the left?

According to Doug Saunders, reporter for the unabashedly big business-promoting Canadian daily, The Globe and Mail, there is. In a December 6 article, “From revolutionary to economic manager: Mandela’s lesson in change,” Saunders writes that Mandela’s “great accomplishment” was to protect the South African economy as a sphere for exploitation by the white property-owning minority and Western corporate and financial elite from the rank-and-file demands for economic justice of the movement he led.

Saunders doesn’t put it in quite these terms, hiding the sectional interests of bond holders, land owners, and foreign investors behind Mandela’s embrace of “sound” principles of economic management, but the meaning is the same.

Saunders quotes Alec Russell, a Financial Times writer who explains that under Mandela, the ANC “proved a reliable steward of sub-Sahara Africa’s largest economy, embracing orthodox fiscal and monetary policies . . . ”

That is, Mandela made sure that the flow of profits from South African mines and agriculture into the coffers of foreign investors and the white business elite wasn’t interrupted by the implementation of the ANC’s economic justice programme, with its calls for nationalising the mines and redistributing land. Instead, Mandela dismissed calls for economic justice as a “culture of entitlement” of which South Africans needed to rid themselves.

But it was not Mandela’s betrayal of the ANC’s economic programme that Saunders thinks merits the right’s admiration, though the right certainly is grateful. Mandela’s genius, according to Saunders, was that he did it “without alienating his radical followers or creating a dangerous factional struggle within his movement”.

Thus, in Saunder’s view, Mandela was a special kind of leader: one who could use his enormous prestige and charisma to induce his followers to sacrifice their own interests for the greater good of the elite that had grown rich off their sweat, going so far as to acquiesce in the repudiation of their own economic programme.

Predictably, Saunders ends his encomium to the party-betraying Mandela, the “good” liberation hero, with a reference to the “bad” southern African liberation hero, Robert Mugabe. “One only needs look north to Zimbabwe to see what usually happens when revolutionaries” fail to follow Mandela’s economically conservative path, writes Saunders.

Mugabe’s transition from “good” liberation hero to “bad”, from saint to demon, coincided with his transition from “reliable steward” of Zimbabwe’s economy (that is, reliable steward of foreign investor and white colonial settler interests) to promoter of indigenous black economic interests. That’s a transition Mandela never made.

Had he, the elite of the imperialist world would not now be flocking to South Africa for Saint Mandela’s funeral, overflowing with fulsome eulogies.

Stephen Gowans is a Canadian writer and political activist resident in Ottawa. This article is reproduced from http://gowans.wordpress.com

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