‘Go safely Umkhonto. Umkhonto we Sizwe. We the members of the Umkhonto have pledged ourselves to kill them — kill the whites.” These are lyrics from the anthem of Umkhonto we Sizwe, or “Spear of the Nation.” The organization is better known as the MK, the military wing of the Marxist African National Congress (ANC). The MK was established by its commander, Nelson Mandela, to prosecute a terrorist war against South Africa’s racist apartheid regime.
Mandela had been out of prison for about two years in September 1992 when, fist clenched in the “black power” salute, he was filmed singing the anthem with a number of his comrades. Interestingly, but not ironically, as Mandela and others repeated the refrain about killing Boer farmers, it was a white man who stood next to him, similarly clench-fisted and singing. The man’s name is Ronnie Kasrils. A Soviet-trained terrorist who helped Mandela found the MK, Kasrils was a member of the Central Committee of the South African Communist Party.
So was Mandela. No surprise there: Communism was, and remains, the animating ideology of the ANC. That makes it the enduring tragedy of South Africa.
I admit to finding this week’s Mandela hagiography tough to take. It was, to be sure, predictable. As we’ve observed time and again, once the culture and the institutions of opinion have been surrendered to the Left for two or three generations, you cannot be too surprised to wake up one day and find that the United States is no longer the country you’ve so confidently described as “right of center.” Still, while high-wattage fawning was to be expected in the mainstream media, the conservative press, too, tripped over itself to praise Mandela. That was disheartening.
Race, of course, is at the bottom of all this. We are all properly repulsed by the apartheid system of legally coerced racial segregation. Institutionalized racism is a thing of the past in the United States, but the blight lingers, overshadowing the heroic moral crusade to overcome it and become a nation that fully lives its founding ideals. An event like Nelson Mandela’s death, like the airbrushing of Mandela in life, becomes less about him than it is an occasion to reaffirm our historic, impersonal guilt — it being as facile to proclaim the ability to redeem other people’s sins as to exhibit charity with other people’s money.
Nevertheless, it is worth remembering — particularly here at National Review — that the modern conservative movement has never been about liberty as an abstraction. Its trailblazers, led by William F. Buckley Jr., championed liberty in the context of a death struggle against Communism — a “death struggle” precisely because Communists were committed to the destruction of liberty, typically posing as champions of “democracy” as they labored to divide and conquer societies.
In South Africa, the fissure to exploit was race — with the added advantage that apartheid was immoral because it rejected the equal human dignity of every citizen. The ANC, however, were no freedom fighters. The armed struggle Mandela led was not to give every South African an equal opportunity to enjoy the fruits of liberty. It was a will-to-power struggle to give the Communists dominion over the country.
As Ron Radosh recounts in the most clear-eyed Mandela remembrance to be found this week, Mandela fully accepted the positions of the South African Communist Party and used its strength to turn the ANC to terrorism. Western journalists want to bleach this history into a noble “people’s war” against an evil, murderous, racist regime. It was hardly that.
The MK led a terrorist insurgency that included bombings of public places. It killed many, many more civilians than it did members of the regime’s security forces — copiously including women and children. Indeed, it killed many more people than the approximately 7,000 black South Africans who, according to the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, were killed by the regime during the 46 years of apartheid. In fact, twice that number, over 14,000 people, were killed between 1990 and 1994 — the period during which the ANC was legalized and black-on-black violence became rampant, just as it is in South Africa today. The ANC systematically killed rivals for power and suspected regime informants — most notoriously, by the savage method of “necklacing,” in which a tire filled with gasoline was hung around the terrified victim’s neck and then set on fire.
As Ron Radosh further recounts, Mandela struck alliances with the world’s worst Communist thugs. A particular favorite was Fidel Castro, the leader of a Cuba that, Mandela brayed, “stands out head and shoulders above the rest . . . in its love for human rights and liberty.” He similarly courted Moammar Qaddafi, Yasser Arafat, and the totalitarian regimes of North Korea and Iran.
Mandela was thus, naturally, stinging in his rebukes of the United States. In 2002, President Bush — much like the press this week, preferring to see the Mandela of Western lore rather than of South African reality — presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. A year later, after the American invasion of Iraq, Mandela ripped the U.S. as “a power with a president who has no foresight and cannot think properly,” who was “now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust. . . . If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America.”
He is deservedly lauded for not following the path of Zimbabwe’s monstrous Marxist dictator, Robert Mugabe. Nevertheless, the thunderous ovation Mugabe received upon arriving at the Soweto stadium for Mandela’s memorial service spoke volumes about “democratic” South Africa, and where it is headed.
Defying fears justified by his past, Mandela did not allow South Africa to slide into civil war upon becoming president in 1994. Nor did he immediately fulfill the revolutionary hopes of his fellow Communists. Nevertheless, as the South African journalist Ilana Mercer recounts in Into the Cannibal’s Pot, a searing if depressing account of her country post-apartheid, approximately 300,000 South Africans have been murdered since the day, almost 20 years ago, that Mandela took office.
Admirably, Mandela served one term and relinquished power, setting an example of political transition rare in his corner of the globe. In his term, however, he made capitalism the scapegoat for apartheid and set in motion the government-orchestrated redistribution of wealth, to the great benefit of his ANC cronies. He perversely called the program “deracialization of the economy” — even though the gradual, racially driven divestment of white South Africans is the program’s obvious aim. He made Ronnie Kasrils minister of the defense forces. Kasrils would continue to serve the Communist party and the post-apartheid government for years after Mandela stepped down, including in a stint as head of the intelligence service.
Under one-party leftist domination since 1994, South Africa has become a Third World basket case. It vies with Iraq and Colombia to be the world’s most violent country. In a country of 43 million, the official estimate of 60 annual murders per every 100,000 people (compared to six in the U.S. and fewer than two in the EU), is a gross understatement: Interpol pegs it at nearly twice that amount, for a staggering 54,000 homicides per annum. Rape is so commonplace it is estimated that one occurs every seven minutes (with one report putting it at one every 26 seconds). Most of the crime is black-on-black, but it is open season on whites — especially white land owners — as one would expect in a place where ditties like the one Mandela was filmed singing in 1992 remain immensely popular. A million white South Africans have fled the country.
It may not be a civil war. But it is surely the slide into dystopia that is Communism’s inevitable end. Giving Nelson Mandela his due should not mean obscuring that fact.