Nelson Mandela dies; former President of South Africa was 95

Nelson Mandela dies; former president of South Africa was 95

 

By  and Lynne Duke, Published: December 5 

Nelson Mandela, the former political prisoner who became the first president of a post-apartheid South Africa and whose heroic life and towering moral stature made him one of history’s most influential statesmen, died Thursday, the government announced. He was 95.

The death was announced in a televised address by South African President Jacob Zuma, who noted, “We’ve lost our greatest son.” No cause was provided.

Timeline: The life of Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela, also known as Madiba, led the struggle to replace South Africa’s apartheid regime with a multi-racial democracy. See key moments in his life.

Mandela’s 1964 Rivonia Trial speech

Listen to an excerpt of Mandela’s famous speech.

Video

The Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan talks about the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela.

The Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan talks about the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela.

To a country torn apart by racial divisions, Mr. Mandela became its most potent symbol of national unity, using the power of forgiveness and reconciliation to heal deep-rooted wounds and usher in an era of peace after decades of conflict between blacks and whites. To a continent rife with leaders who cling to power for life, Mr. Mandela became a role model for democracy, stepping down from the presidency after one term and holding out the promise of a new Africa.

And to a world roiled by war, poverty and oppression, Mr. Mandela became its conscience, fighting to overcome some of its most vexing problems. He was a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who spent 27 years in prison as part of his lifelong struggle against racial oppression.

Throughout this moral and political fight, Mr. Mandela evoked a steely resolve, discipline and quiet dignity, coupled with a trademark big, charismatic smile. He ultimately carried them into office as South Africa’s first black president.

His victory capped decades of epic struggle by the African National Congress and other liberation groups against South Africa’s brutal white rulers, first under British colonialism and then under a white-run system called “apartheid,” or racial separation.

On the day of his inauguration — May 10, 1994 — Mr. Mandela stood at the podium near South Africa’s last apartheid-era president, F.W. de Klerk. A year earlier, they had shared the Nobel Prize for what the Nobel committee called “their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new, democratic South Africa.”

“We have, at last, achieved our political emancipation,” Mr. Mandela, then 75, declared. “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another. . . the sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement.”

Only a few years before, the 20th century’s most celebrated political prisoner had been dubbed a terrorist by the conservative governments in the United States and Britain under Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, respectively.

In the decades after Mr. Mandela’s release from prison in 1990, many South Africans of all races referred to him reverentially as Madiba, his Xhosa clan name. Countless others called him Tata, which means father in the Xhosa language.

For all his achievements, Mr. Mandela will also be remembered as slow to react to the HIV/AIDS epidemic that began sweeping South Africa on his watch. It was not until 1998, four years into his presidency, that he directly addressed the South African public about the disease. Later, he would acknowledge that he had not initially recognized the severity of the epidemic.

After he left office in 1999, Mr. Mandela devoted substantial energy and resources, both personally and through his Nelson Mandela Foundation, to raising awareness of the epidemic. In 2002, he publicly criticized his successor, Thabo Mbeki, for delays in implementing a plan to fight HIV/AIDS.

In 2005, the epidemic hit home. A somber Mr. Mandela announced the death of his son, Makatho Mandela, 54, who had AIDS.

Timeline: The life of Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela, also known as Madiba, led the struggle to replace South Africa’s apartheid regime with a multi-racial democracy. See key moments in his life.

Mandela’s 1964 Rivonia Trial speech

Video

The Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan talks about the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela.

Mr. Mandela’s years as president also were characterized by the public and political drama of his estrangement from his wife, Winnie. Separated in 1992, the pair divorced in 1996 after legal proceedings in which the usually private Mr. Mandela described himself in open court as “the loneliest man.”

At the same time, he had to address the insecurities and animosities of the white minority that had lost political power but still controlled South Africa’s economy, military and bureaucracy.

The Afrikaners, descendants of 17th-century Dutch and French settlers, were especially traumatized by the transition to black rule, and their control of the military posed a potential threat to the young democracy in the early years of Mr. Mandela’s presidency.

Although institutional policies were put in place to deal with white fears — such as a sunset clause allowing white civil servants and soldiers to stay in their jobs as long as they wanted — Mr. Mandela also used his powers of persuasion to disarm opponents, defuse threats and charm detractors.

Dismantling apartheid

Under Mr. Mandela’s leadership, South Africa slowly began expunging racism from its legal canon, governmental institutions and school textbooks. A Constitutional Court was inaugurated in 1995 as the highest court in the land. Among its early rulings was the abolition of the death penalty.

In 1996, Parliament approved a new national constitution, including a bill of rights guaranteeing protections that most South Africans had never imagined. For instance, South Africa was the first nation in the world to enshrine the protection of the rights of gay people in its constitution.

That same year, Mr. Mandela launched the country’s Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, led by Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Rather than Nuremberg-style trials, Mr. Mandela’s government fostered truth-telling and amnesty. On one hand, that meant killers who confessed would not be prosecuted. But it helped ensure that the seeds of more racial hatred would not be planted.

Mr. Mandela sought to bridge the lingering divides between blacks and whites in other ways, too. When South Africa hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup, he encouraged blacks to support the Springboks, the widely hated national rugby team that was seen by many blacks as a totem of white rule.

When the Springboks won a riveting final over New Zealand, Mr. Mandela wore a Springbok shirt and presented the trophy to team captain Francois Pienaar. The gesture was widely viewed as a major step toward racial reconciliation.

For all his strengths and bottomless energy, Mr. Mandela faced a seemingly impossible task as president: In a nation where millions of people lived in shacks, where nonwhites had been purposefully impoverished and undereducated, he had to meet the expectations and hopes of the teeming masses who had propelled him to high office.

Continued 

Worse Than Apartheid: Black in Obama’s America

Worse Than Apartheid: Black in Obama’s America

by Jon Jeter

Por Ahora

 

Tue, 10/29/2013

 

The U.S. Black-white wealth gap is larger than in South Africa at the height of apartheid. The statistic is all the more remarkable when considering that South Africa virtually mandated gross inequality by law, while in the U.S. the great chasm exists “within a political economy that is at least nominally democratic” and packed with Black elected officials, including “the sitting head of state.”

The wealth gap narrowed to a ratio of 7 to 1 in 1995 before ballooning to 22 to 1 following a housing market collapse five years ago.”

For every dollar in assets owned by whites in the United States, blacks own less than a nickel, a racial divide that is wider than South Africa’s at any point during the apartheid era.

The median net worth for black households is $4,955, or about 4.5 percent of whites’ median household wealth, which was $110, 729 in 2010, according to Census data. Racial inequality in apartheid South Africa reached its zenith in 1970 when black households’ median net worth represented 6.8 percent of whites’, according to an analysis of government data by Sampie Terreblanche, professor emeritus of economics at Stellenbosch University.

Widely recognized as an expert on inequality, Terreblanche described the racial wealth gap in the U.S. as “shocking,” in an email, and noted that it would exceed apartheid’s by an even larger margin had the white-minority not categorized mixed-race South Africans as “coloured” during the white-minority’s 46-year rule.

Household wealth is the accumulated sum of assets – houses, cars, bank, investment, and retirement accounts – minus the aggregate value of debt, including mortgages, auto loans, and credit card balances. It’s more comprehensive than income, which measures the year-to-year earnings from wages, dividends, and profits. Since the US Census began publishing the figures nearly a quarter century ago, the chasm in wealth between whites and blacks has always yawned far wider than disparities in income, but narrowed to a ratio of 7 to 1 in 1995 before ballooning to 22 to 1 following a housing market collapse five years ago. African-descended people account for about 14 percent of the population in the US but only 1.4 percent of the wealthiest 1 percent.

Inflated largely by speculators’ frenzied investments in usurious mortgage loans, the real-estate bubble’s inevitable implosion triggered the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and, the most profound dispossession of African Americans’ material wealth since the slave trade.

Here in the US, redlining, gentrification and foreclosure have been just as potent as South African bulldozers.”

To be sure, virtually no American who works for a living has emerged from the financial crisis unscathed. But for blacks, today’s political and economic climate is tantamount to a perfect storm: persistent unemployment, low wages, and a growing dependency on household debt have conspired with a restructured postwar economy to weaken every rung on the ladder – labor unions, the manufacturing sector, education, public sector employment, homeownership and marriage – that blacks have historically relied on to climb out of the muck of poverty.

What’s most astonishing about America’s yawning racial chasm is that the U.S. has eclipsed apartheid-like levels of inequality within a political economy that is at least nominally democratic, and a generation of black post-civil rights elected officials that includes the sitting head of state. Conversely, apartheid brought the hammer; until voters of all races went to the polls for the first time in 1994, the law of the land prohibited blacks from voting, holding public office, owning property, joining progressive political movements, and miscegenation.

But on a molecular level, apartheid shares with monopoly capital the same genetic markers, cultural narratives, and immutable identity. To annex land coveted by whites, the apartheid state simply razed entire black neighborhoods to the ground, and rebuilt them as sprawling gated communities. Here in the US, redlining, gentrification and foreclosure have been just as potent as South African bulldozers. Fifty-three percent of all black homebuyers in 2006 were saddled with subprime mortgages, compared to 49 percent of Latinos and 26 percent of whites.

Treating black South Africans as essentially guest workers, apartheid “pass laws” required blacks to produce employment documents for any white person – gendarme and 11-year-old white girls alike – who demanded it. You need not be a Marxist to see the clear parallels between that Draconian measure and the stop-and-frisk policies employed by the New York City Police Department, or the wide berth afforded white vigilantes such as George Zimmerman. Similarly, payday loan stores began to materialize in the inner cities of Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta and New York at roughly the same time they began to open for business in Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. The result is that South Africa’s blacks, wanting the good life that was denied to them by apartheid, are today sinking in consumer debt just as are blacks are in this country.

For blacks, today’s political and economic climate is tantamount to a perfect storm.”

Much like the ubiquitous payday loan shops, racial inequality in the US is so profound that it has become unremarkable, almost banal.

There is seldom a single white passenger on the weekday 295 bus that leaves the Menlo Park train station at 7:32 am, dropping off mostly Latinas who clean million dollar homes in the Silicon Valley neighborhood. At the New Orleans airport, the jazz trio that greets passengers appears phenotypically all white men, while all the employees at the Copeland’s Gourmet Kitchen are African American, save one, the shift manager. Similarly, if you ride the uptown 5 train and get off at 51st and Lexington Avenue in midtown Manhattan during the afternoon rush hour, you will see a study in contrasts: the mostly black and brown homeless people in tattered clothing huddled, still and silent, in the soup line at St. Bart’s Episcopal Church, while across the street, the chatty white employees pour from the Bank of America office tower, dressed to the nines.

“Our nation is moving toward two societies,” the Kerner Commission concluded in its 1968 report on the causes of the nationwide civil disturbances that had begun three years earlier in Los Angeles, “one black, one white— separate and unequal.”

Forty-five years later, it’s a wrap.

Jon Jeter was the Washington Post bureau chief for southern Africa from 1999 to 2003, and is the author of Flat Broke in the Free Market: How Globalization Fleeced Working People.  He can be reached atjeterjon@gmail.com.