Friday, 28 June 2013

Why is Mandela admired more than F.W. De Klerk?


What should my attitude be now towards Nelson Mandela, as he lies dying? 

He is a man of enormous dignity and magnanimity and was a passable President of South Africa, better anyway than his successors, but why are so many people around the world, including white South Africans, so attached to him and not his fellow Nobel Prize winner, F.W. De Klerk? I would compare De Klerk to Gorbachev, although De Klerk is the better man. Gorbachev is or was a Communist, as was Mandela, and De Klerk a Christian. De Klerk saw that apartheid had to go and became President privately determined to abolish it. In this he differs from Gorbachev who saw that communism was not working but believed it would work with reforms. If only Vorster or Botha had been a statesman, the whites could have shared rather than given away power and the terrible violence which has not abated to this day might have been avoided.

De Klerk, not Mandela, is the man who is responsible for majority rule in South Africa. The whites could have held onto power a very long time. They could of course have retained power indefinitely had they been prepared to use the ruthless methods of Communists or Nazis - and had they used the methods of black governments in Africa they would have executed opponents like Mandela - but the National Party was led by Christians.

I like freedom and therefore disliked apartheid but the Communist and other black regimes in Southern Africa were much worse than the National Party regime. I felt a slight sadness when De Klerk handed over the Presidency to Mandela and wished the inevitable could have been delayed, but most people inside and outside South Africa seem to have been pleased.

I first heard of Mandela when some students at London University wanted him to be Chancellor instead of Princess Anne and I, as a child, thought, like most people, how irritating students are. But that was long ago, in another world. Mandela gradually became in the early 1990s and remains an international hero, unlike Lech Walesa. Very unlike the brave Hungarian pastor, Laszlo Tokes, whose heroism started the Romanian Revolution. Tokes is considered too much a Hungarian nationalist, but what is Mandela but a nationalist who dedicated himself to his people? Meaning, in effect, to the elite of educated blacks who wanted to take power from the white elite. 

All the white South Africans one met in London in the late 1980s told me that we in England could not understand the situation in South Africa. The same sort of people in the 1990s sung Mandela's praises. Without doubt he was a unifying figure who reconciled whites and blacks.

Apartheid was unjust, minority rule was by no means a bad thing in itself but majority rule was inevitable and Mandela made the transition peaceful and made democracy work. But people in Eastern Europe know that rule by Soviet-style Communists like Mandela's colleague Joe Slovo would have been very much worse than apartheid, for all its brutality and unfairness. So it proved in countries which, despite white South Africa's efforts, went Communist, like her neighbours, Mozambique and Angola. Yet, to take one random example of double standards, Pope John Paul II visited those countries and avoided visiting apartheid South Africa.

In fact double standards abounded wherever you looked when South Africa was discussed in the 1980s. Killings by the South African authorities, such as the death of Steve Biko in custody, were causes celebres. The many thousands of 'necklacings' by or in the name of the ANC of blacks accused of collaborating with the authorities were much less reported. Necklacing was putting a rubber tyre, filled with petrol, around a victim's chest and arms, and setting it on fire. The victim might take twenty minutes to die. Mrs. Winnie Mandela, the great man's wife, notoriously and very wickedly endorsed the practice. 

Liberals tend to disapprove of nationalists, not for Metternichian reasons, but because they do not approve of nations. They do however approve of nationalists with brown skin. Mandela is a nationalist who wanted to fight for his people, but instead he was arrested and gaoled. This makes him a hero, but not to a Metternichian legitimist, which is what I try to be. It is not easy but legitimism is  essentially akin to pacifism: legitimists think revolutions are - almost - never justified. 

I dislike Garibaldi and the scoundrel Washington. But unlike the American revolution and Italian unification, which I consider were not inevitable, by the 1970s black rule in South Africa was. In any case Mandela spent his time in prison not leading a rebellion.

I certainly wish Washington had been hanged and the rest of that crew of slave-owners. "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?" asked Dr. Johnson. If Christians are required to obey the powers placed over them by God the ANC cannot be admired and, very much worse, they were Communists. On the other hand, what to think of a rebellion against Brezhnev or Hitler? Here I become puzzled.

Until the nineteenth century governments were considered legitimate regardless of whether or not their subjects wanted to be ruled by them, but this changed, first for Europe and after 1945 for the rest of the world too. This is why the twentieth century has been marked by genocides and mass expulsions of peoples. Legitimism, whether right or wrong as a doctrine, does not provide legitimacy any more. It was replaced, as far as brown-skinned people were concerned, by the idea that they had to be prepared over time for self-rule, but this idea never appealed to the South African whites and also got overtaken by events. This idea is now considered racist and instead we have attempts to make Iraq, Libya and soon Syria democratic immediately, by force of arms.

People are being taught that racial discrimination is worse than Communism but Communism was much worse than apartheid, both in theory and practice. Apartheid was reviled for good reasons but also because it fed into an idea that blacks were widely victimised by whites around the world. The Liberian- Americans ruled the vast majority but though the Liberian American were a tiny elite descended from American colonists no-one cared or even noticed because they were all black. Likewise with Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda, etc etc etc. 

So I admire Mandela up to a point. I like him slightly more than Martin Luther King and Gandhi, who together with Mandela make up the triptych of  modern secular saints. Though Mandela wanted to overthrow the regime by force and the other two opposed violence, Mandela in the end made South Africa a much less violent place than it might have been while Gandhi's campaign of independence led to up to a million dead when India was partitioned. King's followers were responsible for a lot of violence too and I blame them for the anti-discrimination laws which, in most countries nowadays, limit freedom of contract. I have no very strong opinion about Mandela, I suppose, but I do feel that he is praised too much and the real story today and over  many years is the many racist murders of whites, especially white farmers, that are slowly driving the whites out of South Africa. I am increasingly doubtful about how black rule in South Africa will look in thirty years' time and hope it does not end in chaos and tyranny. It may do, but if it does it would not be fair to blame Mandela.

The National Party apologists claimed that the Afrikaaners arrived in South Africa before the Zulus. I do not know who arrived first but I strongly suspect that the Zulus and other tribes did not treat the peoples they conquered nearly as charitably as did the Dutch. African history, like European history, is a series of tribal wars, though most African wars were not recorded by historians. 

Most of the Afrikaaner tribe may be driven out in time, not because they were aggressors who once conquered and ruled the other tribes but because of the colour of their skin. As Romanians say. 'Asa este viata', a melancholy phrase meaning 'That's life.' I hope I am wrong and that whites have a future there, for the sake of all South Africans, but I wish the Western Cape had become a separate country. Half the population there are coloured and only about a third are black.  This would have been a statesmanlike move on the part of Botha or of De Klerk, though by De Klerk's time it might have been too late.


  1. I don't know the intricacies of this history.
    Have you looked into much of the post apartheid
    culture of retribution. One thing that I'm particularly aware of is white farmers and their
    family members being sometimes continually harassed, sometimes brutally beaten, forced from
    their homes and farms, their property looted and
    burned. Many of these white families are English
    or Dutch.
    Obama is presently in Africa, Senegal first, while in Johannesburg there are crowds at Mandela's
    hospital protesting him, Obama.

  2. It makes sense to the reader. It is people who often don't seem to make much sense.

  3. The article at The Daily Mail says there is fear that at the passing of the great man more of this violence will unleash.
    If there will be more that is horrifying because it is already horrifying and has not been going on for months while the "great man" has been lying ill but has been going on for years.

  4. I think the key phrase you use is this:

    "majority rule was inevitable and Mandela made the transition peaceful and made democracy work."

    That is a massive achievement which surely puts everything else into the shade


    1. Yes and there is nothing much to be put in the shade - since he spent so long in gaol he did little for which he could be blamed really. Had he condemned violence he would have been released but would presumably have ceased to be seen by the blacks as their leader and a worse leader would have arisen - or more likely a confused battle over who should lead the ANC. I just wanted to point out that majority rule was not entirely a good thing and that De Klerk, not Mandela, is the man who is responsible for majority rule in South Africa. The whites could have held onto power a very long time and of course indefinitely had they been prepared to use the ruthless methods of Communists or Nazis - but the National Party was led by Christians.

  5. I'm objective on the matter but perhaps the liberals thought that because the Nat's had all the power and the PR they needed to support their side with PR...


  6. De Klerk acknowledged reality, Paul, and did so intelligently. Mandela was magnanimous and gracious in victory. Good for both. Ruth

    1. Agreed. FW and Gorbachov acknowledged reality but their regimes could have continued 20 years under a Chernenko or Vorster.

  7. Some good points, but I'm not following why you would admire De Klerk and Mandela to this extent while suggesting that South Africa today is not really such a pleasant place to be. You have never struck me as a democrat, but here you find minority rule repugnant (which I do as well).

    Could the Afrikaaners be considered a people, arguably historically oppressed by the British Empire, though you may disagree, also entitled to their own nation? No? Why not?

    This is actually a very interesting subject, and I wish you would write more about it.

  8. Why is Mandela admired more than F.W. De Klerk?

    Various reasons I imagine.

    Put to one side the obvious considerations about apartheid, which would necessarily influence what view someone would take about South Africa prior to the regime change. Those who abhorred the prior regime - whether on moral grounds or others - would naturally elevate Mandela and admire him more than de Klerk. I expect the reverse is not true: those who felt the old regime should continue would not admire de Klerk as they would feel he undermined a polity they would have wished to continue.

    In my view de Klerk deserves respect for recognizing that change was inevitable and it would be better handled peacefully and realistically than through any of the limited alternatives that would most likely have involved widespread violence. de Klerk therefore deserves recognition, respect and some admiration for negotiating a peaceful transition.

    But the greater and much more difficult task was Mandela's, for he had not only to achieve an acceptable negotiated outcome but also to manage the transition, to ensure that it would be peaceful, and to manage the often unrealistic expectations of Black South Africans. One has only to compare South Africa and Zimbabwe to see how differently the process could have been handled. Consider the nature of the transitions; consider their respective economic development subsequently.

    Comparison between Mandela and Mugabe also shows in stark contrast the relative greatness of Mandela in executing his task and in setting an example by knowing when to step down. In this respect one might compare Mandela with George Washington, who understood very well how his every action might set a precedent for his new country and how important it would be to relinquish office in order to show that the man holding the office of president should be the temporary servant of his people, not quasi king or ruler for life. Peaceful transition to power, preservation of peace while in power, and peacefully handing over power at the right time - all were hallmarks of Mandela's success and his great gift to the people of South Africa.

    Unlike his predecessors, de Klerk had the capacity to understand that the old regime's time was limited and coming to an end. McMillan's "winds of change" may have taken a long time to arrive in force, but they were becoming irresistible. The flow of history was unavoidably against the Afrikaners. One should not underestimate de Klerk's courage in recognizing this and taking action to steer the country towards an outcome that was distasteful to many in the white minority, certainly those in his broader constituency. Yet seeing and bowing to oncoming historical inevitability is not at all the same as having to ride that whirlwind of change and manage the change and the newly liberated population.

    I do not know to say anything further about de Klerks' personal qualities. But I suggest there can be few people who do not recognize the extraordinary personal qualities Mandela possesses. Wisdom, magnanimity, vision, leadership, courage (both personal and political), and integrity are among the qualities that are immediately obvious. Would that other political leaders had the same !

    And, just to finish on a Cambridge note, it has been a great honour for Magdalene that Mandela accepted fellowship of the college. I can't imagine that he was often seen in the Pickerel or the JCR; his consumption probably did not maintain the Magdalene traditions of which we were so proud; but which college would not be proud to have such a man among its fellows ?
    Graham Walker

    1. This reminds me that at one Oxford college the JCR is still called the Ho Chi Minh Room.

      How I wish I had gone to Magdalene which was still all male in my day and full of amiable duffers of good birth instead of to Queens' with its 1970s dining hall. I do not like Washington and consider him a traitor and would certainly not wish him to have been a fellow of my college. From an old-fashioned Christian point of view it could be argued that neither Washington nor Mandela submitted to the government under which God had placed them but I recognise that the winds of change have blown these old fashioned ideas away.

  9. Maybe it's because De Klerk never spend a day in prison, asking that the apartheid be abolished, but felt a bit complacent in it and did nothing for some time, util 89? Just my two cents.

  10. Just wait and see when after the death of Mandela South Africa's internal tensions shall disrupt and turn the country into Zimbabwe 2.

  11. exact , thts wht i been thinking for many years

  12. nobody can forget the pictures of WHITES been burned in Rhodesia ???????

  13. Had the African continent had a George Washington it would have done a lot better than it does until the day of today!

  14. 25 June 2008
    Saint Nelson? Or not?
    Peter Hitchens
    I have always resisted the cult of Nelson Mandela. There's no doubt that he endured a great deal in prison, and that his personal forgiveness and generosity were outstanding and helped avoid bad trouble in South Africa when apartheid eventually collapsed. This is creditable and deserves praise - but surely not the almost religious adulation accorded to this man. Why was no similar status given to heroes of the fight against socialist tyranny, such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sakaharov, Vaclav Havel, Anatoly Koryagin, Robert Havemann, or Lech Walesa? These people fought despotism and injustice, equally bravely, some of them suffered just as much as Mandela, or more, but their names are not much honoured now, and in some cases they are not even known.
    The story of South Africa isn't over yet. Some fear that the violence which Mandela is credited with preventing may have been postponed rather than avoided altogether. . And Mr Mandela has to take some responsibility for the rather poor government he presided over, and also for the fact that he was succeeded by the deeply uninspiring Thabo Mbeki. If Mr Mandela had put his foot down, the far superior Cyril Ramaphosa might have taken over, which could have changed the future not only of South Africa but of Zimbabwe too. .
    Mr Mandela has also been far too indulgent towards horrible tyrants such as Fidel Castro. He says he's grateful for their support, but that really shouldn't blind him to the fact that Castro put people in dungeons for disagreeing with him. Then again, there's the question of Robert Mugabe. Why won't Mr Mandela, or Mr Mbeki, help the legitimate opposition to Mr Mugabe? Imagine the difference it would have made if Mr Mandela had led thousands of South African observers across the border to watch over the now-ruined elections. Those who go into a swoon over the Rainbow Nation really do need to consider these things.

  15. We are only distant observers. Being there and being them is an
    entirely different thing. Obama comes around with his U.S. Treasury check book and promises of over the rainbow on the condition of accepting this side of the rainbow Rainbow People
    and is told to bugger off.

  16. De Klerk has qualities as Paul observed and the world recognized them in his Nobel Prize.... but Mandela was one of the tribe of the oppressed and he spent 27 years in prison for his beliefs became president and a global symbol of equality; precisely for those reasons he is an icon of this age. Of course the adulation is overdone and people even enjoy it, as heroes replace God in this secular age.