Dare not linger: The presidential years by Nelson Mandela and Mandla Langa with a prologue by Graça Machel

Former president Nelson Mandela. PHOTO: AFP

This book is conceived as a sequel, follow up to A LONG WALK TO FREEDOM, not just because the title is taken from the last page of that book, but also the crying need to close the Nelson Mandela account as rendered by him. But Mandela was not able to complete the book. What he wrote and the notes he made towards completing the book provided my friend Mandla Langa with ammunition to complete the book. Graça Machel, widow of Nelson Mandela provides a prologue to the book.

Nelson Mandela set himself the personal duty to liberate not only the oppressed but also the oppressor. This would mean dragging the oppressed from the yoke of oppression but also convince the oppressor as well as the newly liberated oppressed that oppressing is bad for both the oppressed and the oppressor. The African National Congress set itself the duty of reconstructing by expanding the infrastructure that the racist regime had restricted to whites only and developing the country for the benefit of everybody in the country, black and white. Sad to say both Mandela and the African National Congress have failed to do these duties. They failed with reasons.

To take the easier to explain failure of the reconstruction and development programme, the RDP. South African readers of a certain age are familiar with the Freedom Charter, that optimistic document of 1955 that claims that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black or white. It also proclaims that the people shall govern and the gates of learning shall be open to all. Of course it also insists that the people shall control the commanding heights of the economy. “If we fail to implement this programme,” proclaims the president of the African National Congress and of the country Nelson Mandela, “that will be a betrayal of the trust which the people of South Africa have vested in us.”

The vehicle that would drive the RDP was the control of the commanding heights of the economy through nationalise of land, mines and banks. And nationalisation was the first thing that the African National Congress was advised against by the Chinese and the Japanese and everybody they ran into in DAVOS or at the World Bank and the IMF. And they took the advice not to nationalise. The Star newspaper warned, “that South African leaders were on trial. Africa was watching to see whether South Africa, with its vast reserves of human talent, its rich natural resources and sound infrastructure, could succeed where most of the continent had failed.”

Two years into the government of national unity we are told: “Reality called for certain re-configurations, mainly the dissolution of the reconstruction and development programme office (RDP), one of the main planks of the ANC’s manifesto.” There was a debate whether the RDP should be a stand-alone structure or have its functions spread across various government ministries and departments. The second option was taken driven by the Congress of South African Trade Unions. Says Mandela explaining this change of tactic: “As a result of the evolution of policy affecting all departments of the state and the implementation of some institutional changes to give us the necessary capacity to implement those policies, the possibility has increased greatly to implement the programme of Reconstruction and Development within the area of its mandate.”

At the end of his presidency Mandela itemised the challenges at the overall goals the government had set itself: . . . to overcome the legacy of poverty, division and inequity. To the extent that we still have to reconcile and heal our nation, to the extent that the consequences of apartheid still permeates our society and define the lives of millions of South Africans As lives of deprivation, these challenges are unchanged.”

As to reconciliation with whites and redress for blacks, it was generally seen as reconciliation with whites without redress for the blacks. In fact, Afrikaners interpreted African people’s readiness to forgive as weakness and inferiority.

“To illustrate the point, Mandela told a characteristically self-depreciating story about a conversation he’d had with a leading Afrikaans-speaking personality . . . [who] said I had no idea what I had done for their people, the Afrikaners. He felt that this was his country too. According to him, it was not only I who was liberated but that he was liberated too. He was prepared to serve South Africa and this was due to my strength. I was beginning to swell with pride when he turned around and said this was also a sign of a grave weakness on my part. He said that I was concerned with assuring whites and neglecting my own people who put me in power.”

This is enough to turn one of the lines of that Percy Shelley poem Ozymandias King of Kings (1818) on its head: “Look on my works ye lowly and despair!” instead of “Look on my works ye mighty and despair!”

Dare Not Linger: The Presidential Years has 13 chapters plus an epilogue covering the challenge of freedom, negotiating democracy, a free and fair election, getting into the union buildings, national unity, the presidency and the constitution, parliament, traditional leadership and democracy, transformation of the state, reconciliation, social and economic transformation, negotiating the media and on the African and world stages. These cover some 290 pages of a book of 360 pages. The rest is made up of supplementary information such as abbreviations for organisation, people, places and events, timeline 1990 – 1999, map of South Africa froze 4 regions and 7 or so bantustans to nine provinces, endnotes, acknowledgements, index, list of illustrations (50), and brief biographies of the authors.

What stayed with this reader is Mandela’s humility. I witnessed demonstrations of this overwhelming trait both before he became present as well as when he was president. But the best example still comes from DARE NOT LINGER. ‘The men’s pornography magazine named Mandela its Arsehole of the Month. Indignant voices called for a distribution ban on the issue. Mandela said, “We should not be banning things.”’

The book is an entertaining read. From time to time one encounters sparkles of English prose mediated by wisdom from South African languages especially isi-Zulu the mother tongue of Mandla Langa and isi-Xhosa, Mandela’s mother tongue. But one closes the book wanting more and wondering what more Mandela could have added!

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