Written by Alejandro Iturbe
Friday, 20 December 2013 13:37
Nelson Mandela, leader of the South African black population, former president of that country and without doubt one of the most prominent figures of the twentieth-century international politics died on December 5. Millions of black South Africans mourn the death of their beloved leader and so do many black or democratic freedoms fighters around the world.
We understand and respect their pain: for the whole period of his political career Mandela was seen as the symbol of the struggle against apartheid, the sinister political regime adopted for decades by the South African white bourgeoisie. Despite his limitations, Mandela has the great merit of having placed the struggle against apartheid in the forefront of international politics.
However, at the same time, all representatives of imperialism, organizers and supporters of exploitation and oppression, like Obama, Merkel, Cameron, Rajoy , and a long etcetera render him homage as well. How can a political figure be revered by the oppressed masses as well as be honored by their worst enemies?
This apparent paradox is due to a deep reason: the imperialism honors Mandela because it values the importance of his work for having diverted the black revolution and kept South Africa in the framework of capitalism. And for convincing the black masses to accept leaving the racist Afrikaner  leaders unpunished for their crimes and allowing the white bourgeoisie to continue controlling the country.
To understand how this process happened it‘s necessary to revisit the history of South Africa, the mechanisms that put an end to apartheid and Mandela’s role in this process during his political career. Therefore, while respecting the pain of the masses before his death, we want to express our position without the hypocrisy that is often expressed when a political figure dies.
South Africa has almost 50 million inhabitants and is the most developed and industrialized country in Africa. The axis of its economy is the mining activity, especially the extraction of gold, diamonds and platinum (it is the world’s largest producer of the metal).
The country suffered two white settlements: by English settlers first and then by the Dutch, who gave rise to the so-called Afrikaners. The Afrikaners were gaining dominance and, in 1910, they began to build the apartheid regime in which blacks had no vote or political rights. This system was completed in 1948.
As part of this system, legal aberrations were formed, as the Bantustans (in Lesotho, for example), supposedly “independent” black republics where their inhabitants could only come out with special permits, including for working daily. If those permissions were violated they would be harshly repressed.
The level of exploitation of the black population was close to slavery: this gigantic population lived in slums, of which the most famous was Soweto on the outskirts of Johannesburg, with nearly one million people crammed in the worst condition with almost no basic service guaranteed.
It was on this basis of overexploitation and an immense repressive state apparatus that the South African white bourgeoisie, sharing British and Dutch capital, built their power and their wealth.
The end of apartheid
The black population fought hard against the apartheid, for their political rights. Periodically black rebellions faced harsh repression and savage massacres (the most known are those of Sharpeville in 1960 and Soweto in 1976).
As part of that fight, the African National Congress was founded and, from the 1950s, it begins to have increasingly rapid growth to become the political expression and the leadership of the majority black population. Its best known and most popular and prestigious leader was Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned between 1962 and 1990. He continued heading the movement from prison and, during this period, he won a great prestige and influence on national and international grounds.
The struggle of black people against the apartheid regime was growing and increasingly radicalized as well as the international isolation of the regime. Its downfall seemed inevitable and the possibility that this struggle swept the regime in a revolutionary way was real and so goes further on the path of a socialist revolution of the black people to destroy the capitalist foundations of white domination.
The possibility of expropriating the white bourgeoisie by the masses in their revolutionary struggle was on the horizon. That would mean the expropriation of nearly all South African bourgeoisie.
Faced with this situation, and to curb and control the revolutionary process, the majority sector of the South African white bourgeoisie and imperialism worked out a plan for a transition to “dismantle” apartheid in an orderly way and, at the same time, guaranteeing its economic domain, by maintaining the ownership of companies and banks. The black Bishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize for this service, was one of the main mediators of this plan, supported by the imperialist powers.
A pact was agreed and in return for the end of apartheid the capitalist system and bourgeois economic domination would be maintained. Thus, the white bourgeoisie turned away from direct state control and accepted the leadership of the ANC but maintained their role as the ruling class. For this, they had the collaboration of Nelson Mandela – who negotiated with De Klerk, the last white president, and was released in 1990 -, the African National Congress, the leadership of the black trades union congress (COSATU) and the Communist Party. They halted the struggle of black people and participated in the negotiations and the transition until 1994, when Mandela was elected president.
In other words, with this pact, Mandela left his position of leader of the struggle against the apartheid to capitulate to the white bourgeoisie and imperialism in a negotiated transition that didn’t question the capitalist economy and the country’s class structure.
The role of the ANC
By assuming the management of the post-apartheid regime and government in 1994, the ANC changed its character. Until then, despite the severe limitations of their bourgeois nationalist conceptions, it had been the expression of the struggle of the South African people against the apartheid. From there, they became the administrators of the South African bourgeois state. Following this decision, they made a new alliance with the old Afrikaner enemies. By this alliance, in return for services rendered, the leading cadres and leaders of the ANC turned into a black bourgeoisie, junior partner of the white, which profits from the business and haggling of the state. For example, the current president Jacob Zuma was accused of corruption in 2005, when he was vice-president, for receiving a high commission for the purchase of weapons abroad. “They live in the same houses and the same neighborhoods as whites,” the black workers say when they see the enrichment of their leaders.
It must be said that this policy began with Mandela himself, who left active politics in 1999. Many presidents from the ANC succeeded him (Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, who applied increasingly neoliberal policies to improve the profits of imperialist capital). For example, the majority of South Africans demand the nationalization of mining, largely in the hands of foreign companies. The company Lonmin, owner of the Marikana mine, where recently an important strike was fiercely suppressed, has its headquarters in London.
The COSATU is the leading South African Trades Union Congress, built in the struggle against apartheid and in opposition to the old “whites-only” unions. During this period, it gained weight and prestige. It was a global example for the workers’ struggle.
Ally, and also a member of the ANC, it supports their governments and their policies. This yielded great benefits to its leaders in numerous governmental or parliamentary positions, and also in private companies. For example, its former head Cyril Ramaphoosa, who led the struggle of miners against the apartheid when he headed the national mining union (NMU) is now a part owner and board member of the company Lonmin.
It is no coincidence the increasing number of vanguard fighters who say: “The ANC and Cosatu don’t represent us” and begin to establish new unions independent from Cosatu (as we saw in the Marikana mine strike) and propose to build a political alternative outside the ANC.
The current reality
The end of apartheid was a great triumph of the South African black people who, by eliminating this regime, obtained liberties, political rights and an electoral system based on “one person-one vote”. The Bantustans are gone and for the first time in the history of the country, a black president was elected (Mandela).
But the economic structure of the country was not touched at all and continued being dominated by the white bourgeoisie; with the advantage that now they have a regime and black governments to defend their interests. At the same time, the new black bourgeoisie took advantage of the CNA access to political power to accumulate economic strength and become part of the ruling class in South Africa.
To keep this economic structure, the national unemployment rate is 25%, but among black workers it reaches 40% and 25% of the population lives on less than US$ 1.25 daily, considered the level of poverty and hunger.
After nearly 20 years since the end of apartheid, the white bourgeoisie has great perks and wealth, while the vast majority of black people continue to live in poverty and misery. The difference is that now the white bourgeoisie has the black bourgeoisie formed over the past decades as partner. This explosive inequality is the basis of a large increase in social violence: there are 50,000 murders a year (in proportion, 10 times more than in the US). And Mandela, who succeeded in curbing the revolution of black people and brought that fight to the dead end of pacts with the white bourgeoisie and imperialism is largely responsible for this situation.
It is necessary to make a balance sheet of the journey undertaken by Mandela, who went from fighting to capitulation. Profound conclusions should be drawn from this fact. In the 1990s, the South African black people gained democratic and political rights which undoubtedly must be defended. But they continued subjected to the worst capitalist exploitation for the benefit of a white minority and now also the new black bourgeoisie. The South African people will never achieve true liberation without destroying the foundations of this capitalist exploitation. They must strive to improve their living conditions, but to truly succeed this fight should proceed by the way of a working class and socialist revolution to destroy the race and class exploitation remaining in the country.
It was Mandela who prevented it from happening in his moment. Therefore, the South African bourgeoisie and the imperialists honor him with justice. We reiterate; we respect the pain of black South African people and the many fighters who mourn his death worldwide. But on our part, for his huge capitulation, we don’t offer him homage and call the black people and fighters to draw the necessary conclusions from the facts in the recent decades in South Africa.
 Obama – U.S. president; Merkel – President of Germany; Cameron – Prime Minister of England; Rajoy – Prime Minister of Spain.
 Afrikaners (including the Boer subgroup) are the white population descended from Dutch and other European settlers who colonized South Africa from 17th century. They constitute approximately 5% of the total population.