Mandela, his legacy and its betrayals

Africa in Words will be taking a short break from posting new content over the Christmas period, but we will be back refreshed and raring to go in January.

Meanwhile, so you can still get your Africa in Words fix, and also so we can celebrate the wonderful variety our guest posters in particular bring to the blog, we thought we’d revisit some of our favourite posts on Africa in Words.

It seemed appropriate to start by thinking about Nelson Mandela, and in particular debates about betrayals of his legacy by Zuma and today’s ANC.

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mng censoredAlthough this post by Katie Reid (one of our Editors) dates back to 2011, its wellspring, the controversial Protection for State Information Bill, aka the ‘Secrecy Bill’, has been brought into sharp focus recently over rumours – and the accompanying social media storm – that the revised Bill had been sneaked through and signed into law on December 12th, while South Africa grieved Mandela in 10 days of national mourning. The circulated document was, however, not signed by Zuma and was simply an “act form”, not a fully-formed act at all. It was therefore not ratified and un-policeable with no legal status whatsoever. It was, in essence, a result of a slip in semantics – it was, in fact, files containing the Bill that were inaccurately described by Parliament as “Act 41, 2013”.

The Bill criminalises the possession and dissemination of classified state information, even if such information is in the public interest. Although it is widely recognised that the revised Bill in its current state is better than it was, aspects of it are still considered unconstitutional, and it is still part of a Human Rights watch. For the last Bram Fischer Memorial Lecture, former Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo spoke of the significance of freedom of information and freedom of expression to the democratic revolution and people’s empowerment, and of their essential role in fighting acts of corruption.

Katie’s post, which ranges over the accessibility of the public space for comment, and its framing and re-framing of the South Africa that is available to English-speaking media outside of South Africa, was written over two years ago. Though the world is irrecoverably changed with Mandela’s passing, still the Bill passes back and forth between parliament and its president. Its incendiary potential and core betrayal of anti- and post-apartheid ideals is perhaps never more poignant than now, and it has debated and questioned across media by stringent critics – including Nadine Gordimer – from its very inception. (For recent news on the Secrecy Bill, check IOL news)

‘100% Jacob Zuma’ was an extremely interesting and well-conceived post by Ben Poore and Emily Hogg of Queen Mary, University of London, which also explores the betrayal of Mandela’s legacy. The post, which reviews Mark Sanders’ lecture “100% Zulu Boy: Judging Jacob Zuma, Obiter Dicta” explores ways the ‘100% Zulu boy’ is constructed and performed, and comments appositely on issues of huge political significance to South Africa today: tribalism and interpretation, cronyism and elite power politics, as well as issues of language and, most significantly, race and gender.

Sanders’ extraordinary tactic in the course of the lecture was not merely to unpick the intricacies of the juridicial-legal history of rape and adultery trials in colonial and postcolonial case law: more striking was the insistent and hypnotic reading of long passages in Zulu by Sanders himself, a move that disoriented a largely Anglophone audience in interesting ways. The surprise it offered perhaps echoed the surprise offered by the judge in Zuma’s trial, Willem van der Merwe, who unexpectedly offered his closing remarks in Zuma’s native tongue. Sanders found himself resistant to the suggestion that this was merely the show of some secret patriarchal solidarity conspiring against the complainant. Rather, Van der Merwe’s masquerade was precisely that – but one that took the form of a communique to Zuma; by switching into Zulu, Sanders argued, the judge demonstrated that being a Zulu Boy is not a natural, incontestable formation but rather a role to be played.

Gavin Brown’s post on the Anti-Apartheid picket raises some important points about archives and archiving, as well as the significance of white political prisoners to anti-apartheid solidarity – something that often seems to be submerged by the rhetoric about Mandela. The role of these white prisoners is perhaps difficult to appreciate in the re-invocation of narratives of the strict divisions along racial lines during apartheid – divisions that Mandela himself so convincingly strove to eradicate.

When I set out to research the history of the Non-Stop Picket of the South African Embassy in London, I knew I could trace enough former participants in that protest to make the project viable. I expected that many of these former activists would have kept their own modest archives of papers and ephemera from their anti-apartheid campaigning in the late 1980s. I knew I would be able to piece together other fragments of the story from the archives of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement, and from papers deposited in South Africa. What I didn’t anticipate was that we would discover that, in 1994, when the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group (who organised the Non-Stop Picket) ceased to exist, the entire contents of their office had been packed away and stored privately, gathering dust, ever since.

In 2012, Katie Reid used her own research and time spent in Cape Town, including a visit to Robben Island, to think through a Royal Shakespeare Company performance of Julius Caesar, Shakespeare’s ‘African Play’. The play was set in a modern day African state after independence, and part of Katie’s post explores the influence of the ‘Robben Island Bible’ – a copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare which had been smuggled into the notorious South African prison during Apartheid in the 70s and was passed around amongst the inmates.

Mandela wrote his name next to Caesar’s lines, ‘cowards die many times before their deaths/The valiant never taste of death but once’ – according to Mandela’s official biographer, Anthony Sampson, Mandela chose this passage as his favourite.

RobbenIslandBible_Mandelaincell

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We’ll be back next week with more posts from our archives; in the meantime, season’s greetings to all our readers and contributors!



Categories: Reviews - Books, South Africa

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