Update: Perceptions have changed and ordinary South Africans are coming to realize that democracy is a deception and the Rainbow Nation is a myth.
Monday, 15 July 2013
Robben Island – where Nelson Mandela was famously imprisoned – has become a shrine to democracy. Barack Obama made a second visit during his recent African odyssey and was “deeply humbled to stand where men of such courage faced down injustice and refused to yield. The world is grateful for the heroes of Robben Island, who remind us that no shackles or cells can match the strength of the human spirit”.
He told South Africans that “Madiba’s moral courage, this country’s historic transition to a free and democratic nation has been a personal inspiration to me”. Back home, however, the president has been accused of peddling symbolism without substance.
Black Agenda Report is particularly scathing. Columnist Margaret Kimberley notes that Mandela was freed because of armed struggle and not out of benevolence and that the Cubans played a key role in ending apartheid when they defeated the South African army at Cuito Cuanavale in Angola in 1988. Mandela was also released in February 1990 because “the African National Congress miscalculated and made concessions which have since resulted in terrible poverty and powerlessness for black people in South Africa. By their own admission, some of his comrades concede that they were unprepared for the determination of the white minority to hold the purse strings even as they gave up political power”.
Mandela is worthy of respect, she says, for his resistance to apartheid. But his mistakes should also be recognised. Obama has simply found the opportunity to exercise his ambition and high cynicism. “The maudlin sentiment was all built on lies…It is high time that myths were called what they are…The personal triumphs of these two individuals have not translated into success for black people in either of their countries…”
There are exceptions of course; a comfortable leadership class – the beneficiaries of the civil rights movement and the anti-apartheid struggle – who now feather their nests while evading all responsibility.
Glen Ford, the editor of Black Agenda Report says the president should be ashamed for posing for pictures in Mr Mandela’s cell while on any day over 80,000 prisoners are held in excruciating solitary confinement in America. Some 80 political prisoners have spent more than 20 years in such custody. They include former Black Panther member Herman Wallace who has been isolated for 41 years in a cell in Louisiana’s notorious Angola Prison. Obama could free them but hasn’t.
“Racist South Africa’s treatment of Mandela and his co-revolutionists was downright benign and enlightened, compared to the fate of U.S. prisoners who are deemed a threat to the prevailing order. At U.S. high security facilities, the slightest evidence that an inmate is of a political bent of mind is cause for him to be condemned to a solitary existence for decades – a social death alien to the human species… Indeed, Mandela and his incarcerated comrades called the prisons their ‘university’, where they taught each other to become the future authorities over their jailers.”
John Pilger wonders what Mandela would make of the recent “pilgrimage” to his cell on Robben Island by Barack Obama. He recalls asking Mandela why the African National Congress had not kept its pledge given in 1994 to take over the apartheid economy, including the banks, and abandoned its policy to end the impoverishment of the majority. Mandela replied “You can put any label on it if you like…but, for this country, privatisation is the fundamental policy.”
Pilger says few South Africans were aware that even before Mandela’s release the ANC had done a deal in England with the Afrikaaner elite and the corporations that had underpinned apartheid. A new black bourgeoisie emerged quickly and ANC chieftains moved into mansions on “golf and country” estates. “Mandela, too, fostered crony relationships with wealthy whites from the corporate world, including those who had profited from apartheid. He saw this as part of “reconciliation”. Perhaps he and his beloved ANC had been in struggle and exile for so long they were willing to accept and collude with the forces that had been the people’s enemy.”
This is unlikely to stem the exploitation of the Mandela brand. That’s essential grist for the democracy mill dedicated to mass delusion. The old imperialists descending savagely on Africa again will all claim to have been deeply moved by Mandela’s grace, his example of forgiveness, his quest for peace and reconciliation – above all else his faith in the ballot-box.
In these capitalist economies – in which wealth and power are increasingly concentrated – politicians essentially represent the interests of an international financial oligarchy. The appeal of democracy is that it facilitates exploitation by consent. From South Africa to India the poor endorse rising inequality irrespective of the party they elect. They have no choice. In the West democracy is entirely about camouflaging the descent into fascism at home and providing a veneer of moral superiority for racist aggression abroad.
While Obama genuflected at Robben Island the US engineered a military coup in Egypt. “An honest, capable and representative government is what ordinary Egyptians seek and what they deserve,” he said coyly. But America funds the Egyptian army which takes its orders from Washington. The generals will ensure that when the dust settles, the government installed is the regime America wants, Israeli-friendly and compliant. Elections will simply “legitimise” the farce.
America has been under emergency rule since the 9/11 attacks on New York in 2001. The bogus war on terror which followed has provided a convenient excuse for gutting civil liberties and the US is now -undeniably – a police state. Wiretapping, secret searches, indefinite detention for those labelled terrorists (no proof required), prison camps for holding protesters, torture and targeted killing are all available resources for managing dissent. Military Commissions provide kangaroo courts. There are other practices designed to corrode any sense of decency.
Snitching on fellow citizens to protect the Republic has been promoted as a patriotic duty through the “See Something, Say Something” campaign. A woman dutifully reported a comment teenager Justin Carter from Texas made during an exchange on Facebook. Carter, an avid gamer, was told by a fellow League of Legends player that he was “messed up in the head”. Carter responded: “I think I’m a shoot up a kindergarten. And watch the blood of the innocent rain down. And eat the beating heart of one of them.” He added “lol” and “jk” to emphasise he was being sarcastic.
He was arrested in February and charged with making a “terroristic threat”. Bail was set at $500,000 which his family could not afford and he spent his 19th birthday in prison. He has been beaten up in jail and is on suicide watch. His trial begins this month and he faces 8 years in prison. But he’s been fortunate that following the publicity and a signature campaign a lawyer has offered to represent him for free.
Josh Pillault spent his 20th birthday in prison after being arrested in October last year. While playing “Runescape,” an online multiplayer fantasy game he was baited by another player who eventually told him to kill himself. Josh said he would not only kill himself but also take out the local high school. He made things worse by referring to the Columbine school shooting. “Knock, knock” said the provocateur and the Feds duly arrived. The family decided not to fight the case as the odds of a conviction were too high. Josh pleaded guilty instead hoping for a more lenient sentence. He could get 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
America’s minions in Europe – and elsewhere – have of course little economic or political independence either. Austerity is demanded by global finance to replenish an insolvent banking system and delivered promptly by grovelling governments. Two years ago the prime ministers of both Italy and Greece were simply replaced by unelected “technocrats” to ensure the interest of global finance.
The writer Diana Johnstone says the reaction to Edward Snowden’s revelations that America is spying on the planet is more significant than the reality of global surveillance. The refusal of France, Italy and Portugal to allow the private aircraft of the President of Bolivia to cross their airspace on the mere suspicion that Edward Snowden might be aboard flouts international law and reflects the destruction of effective democracy at the national level. “The principal remaining task of the political class is to entertain the general population with the illusion that they are still living in a democracy, and that the officials they elect are acting in their interests.”
The media is unlikely to fulfill its role as a defender of democracy. A recent report exposed a culture of fear and harassment at the BBC. The BBC helpfully explained this is an industry wide phenomenon.
South Africans will be generous in acknowledging Nelson Mandela’s achievements. They should also be alarmed by how they have been dispossessed of any real democracy. The flattery forthcoming in spades will be entirely designed to distract and poison. Perhaps on his next jaunt President Obama could head for Cuba to catch-up with Fidel Castro and flit through Guantanamo – which unlike Robben Island – is still a working penitentiary.