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Nelson Mandela Had Little Choice
Posted: Wednesday, May 5, 2004

by George Alleyne,

Much has been written and said about the decision of Nelson Mandela to forgive the European descent settlers who had imprisoned him for 27 years, imposed the hateful system of apartheid on his country, South Africa, and condemned millions of indigenous South Africans to live and die in sub human conditions. The truth is that Mandela would have studied the examples of Kenya, Zimbabwe and Cuba and understood that a truly free South Africa could neither physically retake the diamond and gold mines and prime agricultural land without jeopardising his country's and people's new found freedom. Mandela would have recognised that he could not have done, for example, as the Jews, many of them foreigners, had done, when with the creation of the State of Israel they had expelled Palestinians from lands that their forbears occupied for close on 2,000 years, seized the lands and declared them their own.

There would have been the risk that the very country, which had financed, in frighteningly large part, not only the seizure of the lands, but the supply of arms and ammunition to defend this action, would have sought either to destabilise South Africa or to initiate international military intervention. In turn, there was the risk that indigenous South Africans, aroused emotionally as the European Jews had been, may have lacked, not unlike the Jews, needed restraint. But unlike the Jews they would have been denounced as terrorists, and so too would have been Mandela, and Israel's ally undoubtedly would have sent in troops. But even if events did not lead to the deaths of European descent South Africans, but the seizure of their mining and other companies, in which, incidentally, United States and European investors had substantial shareholding, there would have been a demand for full and immediate compensation. Failure to effect payment to mines in areas which had been forcibly seized by Dutch and English settlers would have led to an economic boycott by Europe and North America.

Demand for compensation would not have been the sole issue, but merely a tactic. Any adopting of a high moral ground by the new South Africa, or for that matter the adopting of the argument of the Jews that Palestine, now Israel, was properly theirs, along with seized lands and what lay beneath them, would have meant not only economic isolation, but a second Bay of Pigs. Only this time it would have been successful. I had referred to the Kenya-Zimbabwe experience. The best farmlands had been seized by the Boers late in the 19th century in two areas of South Africa, which they had declared them State controlled and owned by them. It was the same process that would take place in Kenya and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), after these two countries had been forcibly seized, along with others in East Africa, and declared British colonies. I have dealt with the Kenyan and Rhodesian situations in earlier Columns. Kenyan and Rhodesian farmers had their lands expropriated by British interests, and men who once conducted thriving businesses cultivating needed crops were now excluded from this and relegated to menial and subservient positions.

"This again," E A Brett would quote in his Colonialism and Underdevelopment in East Africa: The Politics of Economic Change, 1919-1939," Page 269, "was the direct result of the colonial state at the behest of the dominant expatriate interests, and its effect once more was to block the development of a fully capitalist system in order to create a structure of servile dependency which would maximise monopoly interests. The overall result was to freeze relationships in the rural sector into a rigid hierarchy with European and Asian processors at the top, their Asian (and to a limited degree African) agents in the middle, and the great mass of the peasantry consigned irrevocably to the bottom." Helge Kjekshus cites on Page 76, Ecology Control and Economic Development in East African History: The Case of Tanganyika 1850-1950: "It is important to emphasise that the failure of Africans to move upwards did not stem in any way from any of the attributes supposedly associated with ‘traditional values' - indeed the full power of the colonial state had to be brought in to eliminate small Asian and African middlemen who were competing only too effectively on the market where the opportunities existed. Their failure stemmed directly from the limits imposed on the operation of the free market system by the state."

There had been a deliberate policy by the British and other European powers to direct as much of an African colony's resources as possible, where this was feasible, not only into agriculture, but mining as well, with a view to the export market. This policy would help to create the monster that European and European descent South Africa would become. "For the love of money," we are told in the First Book of Timothy, Chapter 6, Verse 10, "is the root of all evil." And the British and the Dutch in South Africa, with their nakedly inhumane treatment of indigenous South Africans, as were the British in other parts of Africa were the essence and embodiment of evil. In keeping with this evil policy of racial segregation and apartness - apartheid - and keeping the indigenous South Africans under heel, the British constructed an extremely expensive railroad system in South Africa principally for the comfort and economic benefit of the British and European settlers. Interestingly, the first class fares were relatively cheap, but the third class fares for indigenous South Africans were high in comparison to what had been charged for passengers travelling first class.

When Nelson Mandela achieved his freedom in 1991, and South Africa its freedom in 1994, Mandela and his African National Congress understood that they had few options. And that their options did not include doing unto their former oppressors what they had done unto them. Theirs had to be a realistic policy, by which they could hope that with the introduction of a more equitable system of taxation; greater access by the majority to University education, including skills development; with increasing investment and involvement of indigenous South Africans in the commanding heights of the economy that one day they would be able to redress, and peacefully, the imbalance of history.

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