Political and strategic legacies tend to be obscured in the mourning over the passing of a great leader and human being. Let us honor his memory not by regarding him as a flawless saint but as a comrade.
By Ran Greenstein
It is difficult to say anything not full of clichés about the death of Nelson Mandela. When tributes are pouring in from all over the world to the greatness of a unique leader, elevated to the status of a global icon and a saint, it is easy to forget that before he became a widely admired statesman who led South Africa through a peaceful transition to democracy, he had been a radical militant who dedicated his life to to a struggle against injustice, for freedom and equality.
We know and will continue to hear about his central role in the reconciliation between black and white people, living in a country scarred by racial divisions and political conflict. But what about his earlier career, before he was arrested and sentenced to life in prison – together with many of his colleagues – in the infamous Rivonia trial of 1964?
Three crucial political innovations form an essential part of his legacy, which was developed over a period of decades jointly with contributions by many other activists and intellectuals. Mandela’s leadership qualities and his status as first among equals cannot be denied, but we must recognize, as he himself did on many occasions, that he did not operate on his own but rather as part of a group of people who shared collective responsibility for the direction taken by the ANC and the South African anti-apartheid movement more broadly.
The first innovation was the move toward mass mobilization and popular struggle. Before the rise of the Mandela generation in the 1940s, the ANC was perceived to be an elitist organization, largely composed of educated African professionals – teachers, clerics, lawyers, businesspeople – who spoke on behalf of the impoverished black masses but made little attempt to get them into action. Their mode of operation was that of conferences, petitions, article in the press, legal and diplomatic campaigns – all useful tactics no doubt but without the involvement of the constituencies most directly...Read More