White liberals are obsessed with Nelson Mandela everywhere outside South Africa. Black people inside South Africa however are far more blasé about him. In a demographically youthful country where much of the population only came of age once he was out of office, he had already become a part of the vanishing past even before his death.
The generations that lived through Apartheid as adults make up a surprisingly small percentage of the black population. With its high crime rates and high AIDS rates, South Africa has a life expectancy in the fifties. Afghanistan, Sudan and Haiti all have higher life expectancies than South Africa.
There is a reason that many Americans and Europeans remember Mandela’s campaign against Apartheid better than black South Africans do. They are more likely to still be among the living.
To Western whites, Mandela is an iconic figure, a latter-day Gandhi, but to South Africans of all races his memory is entangled with the corrupt infrastructure of the African National Congress and its leaders. Even in office, his approval ratings were shaky among whites and less than perfect among blacks who had their own tribal divisions and conflicts. Out of office he became a convenient symbol for the ANC.
For South Africans, Mandela was a real-life political leader. For the foreigners mourning him as the greatest leader in human history, he existed in some nebulous territory of virtue unrelated to real life political decisions like harboring mafia boss Vito Roberto Palazzolo and favoring his own Xhosa Nostra.
To younger black South Africans, Mandela either occupies the vague space that Martin Luther King does for younger African-Americans, an important figure whom they don’t really identify with or feel made a difference in their lives, or as a sellout who failed to squeeze the white minority for everything they had.
Like Gandhi, Mandela is a more controversial figure inside South Africa than he is outside it. But to many he isn’t even that. In a country torn apart by disease, poverty and crime; he appears far less relevant than he does in Washington or Brussels. Few South Africans want inspiration. Instead they want results.
After leaving office, Mandela blasted his own African National Congress accusing it of being “as corrupt as the Apartheid regime” and warning that, “Some Africans have made mistakes. They now throw their weight about as a majority. There are some Africans who inspire fear in the minorities.”
That began a process that would allow Mandela to detach his reputation from the corrupt sinkhole of the African National Congress. But it is another of the Mandela myths that the ANC became corrupt only after his tenure. The African National Congress was always corrupt. The only difference is that it has become more flamboyantly corrupt now that it has a majority that will always vote for it.
South Africa is for all intents and purposes a one-party state. And it was Mandela who blasted opposition Democratic Party voters as white racists who “would one day die with a heavy conscience.” What other outcome of that could there have been except a one-party state and what outcome of a one-party state could there be except the total corruption that we see in South Africa today?
As a Communist, Mandela had always envisioned a one-party state.
“Under a Communist Party Government South Africa will become a land of milk and honey. Political, economic and social rights will cease to be enjoyed by Whites only. They will be shared equally by Whites and Non-Whites. There will be enough land and houses for all. There will be no unemployment, starvation and disease,” Mandela wrote.
Today South Africa has a 26 percent unemployment rate and a 17 percent HIV rate. There is no equality. Instead, like all wealth redistribution schemes, inequality has been spread along with resentment and a pervasive feeling of injustice for everyone.
South Africans distrust the judiciary and the police. And they distrust the leaders that they elect. Even without the massive brutal Zimbabwean redistribution schemes that Mandela was smart enough not to endorse, but that many black South Africans continue to demand, much of the white population is thinking about leaving. Nearly a million have already left. And they’re not alone.
The middle class blacks that the hopes of post-Apartheid South Africa depend on are nearly as eager to leave as their white counterparts. And taking their place are illegal immigrants from nearby Zimbabwe.
Among the 18-34 age group, 56 percent of whites, 53 percent of Indians and 43 percent of those of mixed race want to leave the country. Among blacks the number is only at 33 percent which still means that a third would like to leave.
The South Africa that Mandela leaves behind is a land in search of a people. There is no milk and honey. Instead there is a desperate scramble for a way out of the country by every race and creed able to agree only on wanting to leave. Post-Apartheid South Africa is an experiment that Western liberals love to admire, but that nobody seems to want to actually live in.
“The people of South Africa, led by the S.A.C.P. will destroy capitalist society and build in its place socialism where there will be no exploitation of man by man, and where there will be no rich and poor, no unemployment, starvation, disease and ignorance,” Mandela wrote.
Today 77 percent of South African households face food insecurity and most teachers are not able to teach students how to read independently. The Communist utopia of universal literacy, plenty and equality has not come and isn’t coming.
To many white liberals, Mandela has taken his place in the pantheon alongside Gandhi and the Dalai Lama as a Third World saint who led a resistance based on forgiveness and acceptance. This need for Third World saints that led to a white cult growing around Gandhi and the Dalai Lama has more to do with the decline of spirituality in the West than with the reality of the three political figures who like most leaders understood the value of symbolism when it came to cloaking their more human agendas.
Mandela was neither a monster nor a saint. Instead he occupied a troubled middle ground which saw him employ terrorism and align with unambiguous monsters like Castro and Gaddafi. The man who preached a utopian creed with a violent edge proved to be a pragmatist. If there is any virtue to take away from his life, it is that when push came to shove, he chose pragmatism over ideology.
Those progressives who worship Mandela as a saint might instead consider that his real lessons were not moral or ethical, but political. And those lessons still weren’t enough to save South Africa.
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