By Stephen Gowans
It seemed almost inevitable that on the new day Western newspapers were filled with encomia to the recently deceased South African national liberation hero Nelson Mandela that another southern African hero of national liberation, Robert Mugabe, should be vilified. “Nearly 90, Mugabe still driving Zimbabwe’s economy into the ground,” complained Geoffrey York of Canada’s Globe and Mail.
Mandela and Mugabe are key figures in the liberation of black southern Africa from white rule. So why does the West overflow with hosannas for Mandela and continue to revile Mugabe? Why is Mandela the good national liberation leader and Mugabe the bad?
A lot of it has to do with the extent to which the liberation projects in South Africa and Zimbabwe have threatened white and Western economic interests—hardly at all in Mandela’s South Africa and considerably in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.
The media-propagated narrative is that Mandela is good because he was ‘democratic’ and Mugabe is bad because he is ‘autocratic.’ But scratch the surface and economic interests peek out.
Land ownership in South Africa continues to be dominated by the white minority, just as it was under apartheid. What land redistribution has occurred has been glacial at best. In Zimbabwe, land has been redistributed from white colonial settlers and their descendants to the black majority. South Africa’s economy is white- and Western-dominated. Zimbabwe is taking steps to indigenize its economy, placing majority control of the country’s natural wealth and productive assets in the hands of blacks.
The centrality of economic interests in the Western demonization of Mugabe are revealed in York’s complaint about Mugabe’s plan to indigenize Canadian-owned New Dawn Mining company, a process which would force a few wealthy Canadians to surrender a majority stake in the mining of Zimbabwe’s mineral wealth. In York’s view, an African government giving its people an ownership stake in their own economy is unthinkable, but many wealthy countries, including Canada, have done the same.
Mandela, in contrast, rejected calls to nationalize South Africa’s mines, accepting Western and white domination of the country’s economy as a bedrock principle of sound economic management.
And so it is that Mugabe, the redistribtor of land and mineral wealth away from the descendants of white colonial settlers and foreign owners to black Africans is seen as devil incarnate in a Canadian newspaper that concerns itself with reporting the news from the perspective Canadian corporate interests. Canadian business wants the world to be open to profit-taking, and doesn’t care for governments that stand in their way. York reflects that bias. And Mandela didn’t get in the way of it.
Recycling the usual myths that make up the anti-Mugabe demonology, the Globe and Mail propagandist writes that Zimbabwe’s economic difficulties are due to Mugabe’s mismanagement, not to Western sanctions, erroneously describing sanctions as limited to travel restrictions on Mugabe and his closest associates. This overlooks Washington’s Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, which has blocked financial assistance to Zimbabwe from international lending institutions, a major impediment to the country’s economic development. It’s as if York blamed the Soviet Union’s crippled post-WWII economy on communist mismanagement, eliding Operation Barbarossa and the Nazi invasion from history. In this, York follows the standard operating procedure of the Western propaganda system, attributing a country’s economic troubles to mismanagement and not the sanctions that cause them.
As to the democrat vs. autocrat dichotomy, it is a propaganda contrivance. It’s what Western governments and media use to legitimize leaders who protect Western corporate interests and demonize leaders who threaten them.
6 thoughts on “Good Liberation Hero-Bad Liberation Hero”
Its really hard not to compare the 2 as they kinda have a similar story, both fought the white colonialism and were both imprisoned. Mugabe was in prison for 10 years. Like Mandela after independence he was praised and was the darling of the West, to the extend that he was even given the Knighthood by the queen herself…this is one of the greatest accolades one can have in the UK..He was Sir R.G M..It was later stripped after he chose to empower his people and bring equality. R.G.G is regarded as bad because of this…period. The situation of Zim has not been favorable..its quite unfortunate that after the land seizures there was successive years of drought. Going back to Mandela for the time he was in power he chose to keep the white dominance in his country. some may argue he passed the button but still he had influence which he chose not to use but smile and dance to his masters tune. He is praised by the wesr for that, Mugabe on the otjher hand is praised by other African countries and the East. Who is a better man?
Exactly. I go with Mao’s advice, to “support what our enemies oppose and oppose what our enemies support.” When the capitalist media is singing this guy’s praises you should know something ain’t right.
A good article as always Stephen, and an interesting alternative view, compared to the endless beatification of Mandela on TV. I have never been to South Africa, but from what I can see as an outsider, there are very great differences to the prospect of the average African in that country, compared to many others in the region. As I do not know a great deal about the politics in SA, I will comment no further, but thanks for posting this piece.
Regards from England, Pete.
I am saying for a long time that Mandela was released from prison in exchange for his agreement to uphold the economic status quo for imperialism. Basically, he became a traitor. When imperialists all over the world are praising you as a hero for decades, and you are dining and wining with the likes of the Dutch Royal family (among others), everything speaks for itself. Tell me who are your friends etc.
It must have been a great disappointment for many freedom-seekers to see a popular hero praised by so many high-profile liars, villains and unconvicted war criminals.
‘In January 1990, Nelson Mandela, age seventy-one, sat down in his prison compound to write a note to his supporters outside. It was meant to settle a debate over whether twenty-seven years behind bars, most of it spent on Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town, had weakened the leader’s commitment to the economic transformation of South Africa’s apartheid state. The note was only two sentences long, and it decisively put the matter to rest: “The nationalisation of the mines, banks and monopoly industries is the policy of the ANC, and the change or modification of our views in this regard is inconceivable. Black economic empowerment is a goal we fully support and encourage, but in our situation state control of certain sectors of the economy is unavoidable.”3
History, it turned out, was not over just yet, as Fukuyama had claimed. In South Africa, the largest economy on the African continent, it seemed that some people still believed that freedom included the right to reclaim and redistribute their oppressors’ ill-gotten gains.
That belief had formed the basis of the policy of the African National Congress for thirty-five years, ever since it was spelled out in its statement of core principles, the Freedom Charter. The story of the charter’s drafting is the stuff of folklore in South Africa, and for good reason. The process began in 1955, when the party dispatched fifty thousand volunteers into the townships and countryside. The task of the volunteers was to collect “freedom demands” from the people—their vision of a post-apartheid world in which all South Africans had equal rights. The demands were handwritten on scraps of paper: “Land to be given to all landless people,” “Living wages and shorter hours of work,” “Free and compulsory education, irrespective of colour, race or nationality,” “The right to reside and move about freely” and many more.4 When the demands came back, leaders of the African National Congress synthesized them into a final document, which was officially adopted on June 26, 1955, at the Congress of the People, held in Kliptown, a “buffer zone” township built to protect the white residents of Johannesburg from the teeming masses of Soweto. Roughly three thousand delegates— black, Indian, “coloured” and a few white—sat together in an empty field to vote on the contents of the document. According to Nelson Mandela’s account of the historic Kliptown gathering, “the charter was read aloud, section by section, to the people in English, Sesotho and Xhosa. After each section, the crowd shouted its approval with cries of ‘Afrika!’ and ‘Mayibuye!’”5 The first defiant demand of the Freedom Charter reads, “The People Shall Govern!”
In the mid-fifties, that dream was decades away from fulfillment. On the Congress’s second day, the gathering was violently broken up by police, who claimed the delegates were plotting treason.’