Mandela on armed struggle

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

In homage to his physical resilience versus the logic of the inevitable, one wishes that Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, will hold on at least until his 95th birthday on July 18.

It is a certainty that he’ll live forever – as an exemplar of moral and political leadership, of courage, patience and resoluteness, of humaneness and humility – in the hearts of all who love freedom, justice, and peace.

These awesome qualities of Mandela we have read or heard about, including from one who identifies with him as the first black president of his country: Barack Obama.

With his wife and two daughters, US President Obama visited the prison cell on Robben Island where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years as a political prisoner. Speaking at Cape Town University, he extolled Mandela as the “ultimate testament to the process of peaceful change.”

Obama quoted Sen. Robert Kennedy who delivered this ringing accolade in 1966:

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

These tributes by Obama and Kennedy ring hollow, because the US still has to account for its role in the sufferings Mandela endured as an imprisoned revolutionary:

1) The US Central Intelligence Agency tipped the South African security forces on Mandela’s whereabouts, which led to his arrest in August 1962. In 1964 he was sentenced to life imprisonment on four charges of sabotage.

2) The SA and the US governments declared the African National Congress’ armed wing, the Umkhonto we Siswe (Spear of the Nation) known as MK, as a “terrorist organization” and banned it and ANC. Mandela was the leader both of ANC and MK that fought against apartheid (the white government’s policy of discrimination and repression of the black majority).

Note: Until July 2008, Mandela and ANC leaders were barred from entering the US, except to visit the United Nations headquarters in New York, without a special waiver from the US Secretary of State.

Mandela a “terrorist”? Impliedly he was thus tagged, for leading the armed struggle against the white rulers.

Let’s look into that aspect of Mandela’s belief that he openly affirmed in 1963 and in 1990 when he was freed.

He organized the MK in 1960, which adopted a tactic of sabotage: “hit back by all means within our power in defense of our people, our future, and our freedom.”

The tactic was carried out by bombing government facilities, with Mandela’s explicit stricture that “it should be done in a way that nobody would get killed.” (Nonetheless, in the 20 years it was applied, 68 people died and 483 were injured).

Clandestinely Mandela travelled to some countries where sympathy for the ANC ran strong, to solicit support, getting positive responses in Ethiopia and Algeria.

Premised on generating huge black popular support and massive international assistance given the apartheid government’s worsening political isolation, Mandela and comrades planned Operation Mayibuyo. The objective was to later elevate the sabotage tactic to full-scale guerilla warfare. But the plan failed to take off after Mandela and other ANC leaders were arrested.

First tried and sentenced to five-year imprisonment for leading workers’ strikes and leaving the country illegally, Mandela showed courage and political savvy at the trial for sabotage.

He admitted committing the offense, plus the specific charge of conspiring with the ANC and the South African Communist Party to use explosives to destroy vital state-run utilities.

In his opening statement in defense, Mandela took a strong political stand. ANC, he averred, had first used peaceful means to resist apartheid. But after the government declared a state of national emergency and banned ANC, he and his colleagues had no choice but to resort to sabotage. “Doing otherwise,” he stressed, “would have been tantamount to unconditional surrender.”

His closing statement was more stirring. Mandela said:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination; and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Upon his release on Feb. 11, 1990, Mandela was equally forthright. He declared:

“Our resort to armed struggle in 1960 with the formation of the military wing of the ANC was a purely defensive action against the violence of apartheid. The factors which necessitated the armed struggle still exist today. We have no option but to continue. We express the hope that a climate conducive to a negotiated settlement would be created soon, so that there may no longer be the need for the armed struggle.”

That brought about a turning point for South Africa. Since 1994 ANC leadership has governed the country.

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July 6, 2013

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