Mandela’s anti-homeland nationalism reflects Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism -Part 1
Posted on December 25th, 2013

H. L. D. Mahindapala

All shades of political opinion have rushed to claim the legacy of Nelson Mandela after his death than when he was alive. All of them hope that some of the saintly shine that glorifies Mandela will rub on them. In a sense, these claims by diverse actors in the political spectrum indicate that Mandela has suddenly become relevant to Sri Lankan politics. He, in fact, became relevant directly just shortly before his death when President Mahinda Rajapakse discussed with President Jacob Zuma of S. Africa at the last CHOGM in Colombo the applicability of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the post-Nandikadal search for reconciliation.

In S. Africa this Commission set up by Mandela went a long way not only to ease the tensions that had built up between the white minority and the black majority but also to put aside the bitter past in order to renew faith in a constructive future. It wasn’t a mechanism to dig into the wounds of the past to keep them bleeding like the beggar’s wound to exploit guilt or for vindictive political bargaining. It was not a means to point an accusing finger at one party or the other. Rather it was a means of bringing down the boiling temperature to a tolerable level where shattered lives could return to normalcy and move on to bigger and greater fields ahead.

The success of Mandela’s enlightened nationalism guiding a volatile ethnic volcano, with the polarized white and black extremists ruling the day, made him an outstanding political genius of the 20th century. Mandela’s biography, Long Walk to Freedom, reveals that he relied only on one uncompromising strategic ideology: pure African nationalism. Mandela categorically rejected the political interpretation of the Marxists who came with their text books crying that it was a class struggle. He grasped the realistic historical facts in which a white racist minority was oppressing a black majority with inhuman disregard for basic rights. He had his feet firmly rooted in the soil of Africa. He and his leading colleagues in the ANC were wary of imported theories peddled by Marxists and Western ideologues who were trying to hijack African nationalism from committed patriots like him.

His political philosophy determined his political strategies. His attitude towards other political parties is made quite  clear when  he wrote: “I was among the Youth Leaguers who were suspicious of the white left. Even though I had befriended many white communists, I was wary of white influence in the ANC, and I opposed joint campaigns with the party. I was concerned that the communists were intent on taking over our movement under the  guise of joint action. I believed that it was undiluted African nationalism, not Marxism or multi-racialism, that would liberate us. I even went as far as breaking up CP meetings by storming the stage, tearing up signs and capturing the microphone. At the national conference of the ANC in December, the Youth League introducing a motion demanding the expulsion of all members of the Communist Party, but we were soundly defeated. Despite the influence of the passive resistance campaign of 1946 had on me, I felt about the Indians the same way about the communists: that they would tend to dominate the ANC, in part because of their superior education, experience and training.” (p.124 – Long Walk to Freedom, ABACUS, 1994).

In 1962 he was picked up by the S. African police when he was driving a car disguised as a chauffeur. According to the current correspondence in The New York Times the S. African intelligence was tipped off by CIA which had categorized him as a communist. It was the height of  the Cold War and the Americans viewed all nationalists as reds under their beds. Mandela was sentenced to 27 years imprisonment. What was thought to be victory for apartheid proved in the end to be the undoing of the  most  pernicious and oppressive regime structured by the White Man.

In short, he became the ultimate symbol of his people who trusted him as a passionate and uncompromising African nationalist. It won him the biggest political prize of his time. His overarching nationalism is revealed in his dealings with his nephew Daliwonga, a leading figure promoting separatist Bantustans, which was a ploy by the apartheid regime to split the unity of the rising nationalist movement. Referring to his discussion with Daliwonga he says unequivocally: “I did not want to complicate the discussion by introducing grand political theories. I would rely on common sense and the facts of our history.” (p. 215 – Ibid). This fact does not leave room for Nietschean “interpretations”. Mandela and his fellow-nationalists viewed the grand imported theories as a ruse to subvert the nationalists fighting to liberate themselves not only from political oppression but also from the ideological an cultural cringe.

In his biography he makes it known that he was not for federalism or tribal claims for separate Bantustans, or for communism, or for imported Western ideologies. He fought within the Youth League to keep the tribal separatists fighting for their homelands, the Indians, the Communists, and the White Left, however well-meaning they were, as far away from ANC as possible. His goal was a united S. Africa under a unitary constitution led by the nationalists of the ANC. He saw through the maneuvers of Prime Ministers P. W. Botha and F. W. de Klerk for power sharing, or to reserve powers in the constitution for the white minority. He saw it as a devious mean to retain the grip of the minority on the levers of power.

The resistance of the  white minority rule was to stem the rising tide of black majority yearning to overthrow the colonial oppression first by the British and then by the Afrikaners, the descendants of the Dutch. The  white minority of Afrikaners was hanging on to the seats of power derived from a white colonial legacy. Analyzing the historical realities he informed P. W. Botha of where he stood: “I said the rejection of majority rule was a poorly disguised attempt to preserve power. I suggested he must face reality. ‘Majority rule and internal peace are like two sides of a single coin, and white South Africa simply has to accept that there will never be peace and stability in this country until this principle is fully applied.” (p. 654 – Ibid).

He added: “At the end of the letter (to Botha) I offered a very rough framework for negotiations: Two political issues will have to be addressed; firstly, the demand for majority rule in a unitary state; secondly, the concern for white South Africa over the demand, as well, as the insistence of whites on structural guarantees that majority rule will not mean domination of the white minority by the blacks. The most crucial task which will face the government and the ANC will be to reconcile these two positions.” (Ibid).

Mandela’s nationalism was home-grown which like all other nationalist movements was opposed to outside intruders. The S. African government allowed foreign dignitaries to visit him to test his political nerve as well as his political ideology. On one occasion he told Prof. Samuel Dash of Georgetown University and Lord Bethell what his minimum conditions were. He wrote: “I laid out what I saw as the minimum for a future non-racial South Africa: a unitary state without homelands, non-racial elections for the Central Parliament and one-person one-vote. (pp. 619-620 – Ibid).

He also defined his nationalism more  precisely when he was dealing with the Eminent Persons Group. He says: “Various members  of the group had concerns about my political ideology and what a South Africa under ANC leadership might look like. I told them I was  a South African nationalist, not a communist, and that nationalists  came  in every hue and colour, and that I was committed to a non-racial society.” (p. 629 — Ibid).

A comparative study of Mandela’s nationalism will confirm that his brand of nationalism did not differ from the other popular  nationalists who represented the will of the people. Besides, clearing the historical injustices left behind by the departing colonial masters was not an easy task for the leaders of  the new order. Managing the transition was a balancing act as tricky as that of walking a tight rope across the Niagra: one misstep and you plunge into the unmanageable turbulent waters.

At the heart of the transition period  was the critical issue of managing the privileged minority forces who were ruling the roost under the white man’s rule. The task before the new nationalist leaders was not only to overthrow the minority rulers dictating terms to majorities but also to dismantle constitutionally – and sometimes by force – the powers of oppressive colonial institutions and their allied agents, mostly minorities. Besides, adjusting historical injustices inflicted on the majority, who were denied their rightful place in the nations under colonialism, emerged as the most divisive issue. Mandela too had to face this issue. The dismantling of unjust and unfair privileges, perks, positions and power structures that gave the minority the upper hand over the majority was an inevitable and a necessary process to restore the lost rights of the majority and redress the historical injustices.

The passing of power from one entrenched  group to another is always a revolutionary moment – a moment  pregnant with the  potential of erupting into resistance and violence. A privileged community seldom relinquishes power without resistance. Mandela was facing the unenviable task of dismantling the power bases of the most vicious racist elite who were a part and parcel of African soil. Unlike the colonial masters they had nowhere to go. S. Africa was their home. Simultaneously, Mandela had to fight every inch of  the way to prevent the white minority agitating for self-government, or having  reserve powers entrenched in the constitution either for power  sharing or gaining guarantees for them  to control the government through the back door. The subsequent reconciliation that averted a violent backlash came when the white minority in S. Africa accepted the democratic principle that a minority has no power to rule a majority.

The transition from colonialism to independence had its own pitfalls and risks. Various nationalist leaders handled it  their own way informed by the overwhelming historical forces released by the departing colonial masters. The most difficult task was to maintain, at any cost, the democratic process while redressing the historical imbalances with majorities and minorities crying foul at every turn of events.  Mandela had the backing of the majority and the moral force that came with it though the West interpreted his anti-white apartheid as a communist plot to overthrow the white  regime.

 Mandela had a clear vision of the white forces ranged against  him. He wrote: “The premise of apartheid was that the whites were superior to Africans, Coloured and Indians and the function of it was to entrench white supremacy forever. As the Nationalist put it, ‘Die wit man moet altyd bass wees.’ (The white man must always remain boss’)….The Dutch Reformed Church, which furnished apartheid with its religious underpinnings by suggesting that Afrikaners were God’s chosen people and that blacks were a subservient species. In the Afrikaner’s world view, apartheid and the church went hand in hand.”

In 1948 S. Africa took a vicious turn to racist extremism. The National Party, led by Daniel Malan, a former minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, “were a bitter party animated by bitterness – bitterness towards the English, who had treated them as inferiors for decades, and bitterness towards the African, who the Nationalists believed was threatening the  prosperity and purity of Afrikaner culture…. Malan’s platform was known as apartheid (apartness) .” (p.127 – Ibid.)

The fascist culture of the Nationalists was confirmed when they went out of the way to back the Nazis of Germany in World War II. They adopted  Hitler’s racism in toto. Mandela states: “The Nationalists’ slogan encapsulated their mission: ‘Eie volk, eie taal, eie land’ – Our own people, our own language, our own land.” (p.128 – Ibid.)  This populist slogan runs through as a common thread linking violent fascist movements in the West and the East.

In the same year, the Youth League reacted with a clear manifesto against the apartheid regime. It was a document that aimed at (a)  the overthrow of white domination, (b) rejected “the communist notion  that the Africans were oppressed primarily as an economic notion rather than as a race”, and (c) “creating a powerful national liberation movement under the banner of African nationalism and ‘led by African themselves’”. (p.129 – Ibid).

However, “the document also spotlighted the push-and-pull between two rival theories of African nationalism, between the more extreme, Marcus Garvey-inspired, ‘Africa for the Africans’ nationalism and the Africanism  of the Youth League, which recognized that South Africa was a multiracial country…..The Youth League was marginally more friendly to  the Indians and the Coloureds, stating that Indians, like Africans were oppressed, but that Indians had India, a mother country that they could look to. The Coloureds, too, were oppressed, but unlike the Indians had no mother country except Africa. I was prepared to accept Indians and Coloureds provided they accepted our policies, but their interests were not identical with ours, and I doubted whether or not they could  truly embrace our  cause.” (p. 129 – Ibid.)

By now the readers who are familiar with the evolution of our post-independent era would have recognized the similarities between Mandela’s African nationalism and that of the nation-builders like D. S. Senanayake and S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike. S. African nationalism and Sri Lankan nationalism clearly had run on parallel lines. The irony is that Mandela’s nationalism is hailed as a model while Sri Lankan nationalism, led primarily by the Sinhala-Buddhist majority, is denigrated as “chauvinism”.  More of this in the next installment.

5 Responses to “Mandela’s anti-homeland nationalism reflects Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism -Part 1”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    “The irony is that Mandela’s nationalism is hailed as a model while Sri Lankan nationalism, led primarily by the Sinhala-Buddhist majority, is denigrated as “chauvinism”.”

    That is because SL’s minority is Tamil who live next to their Tamil Homeland – Tamil Nadu.

  2. mario_perera Says:

    Reading about the so called Mandela legacy I am reminded of the cry of the Trojan Prince when he saw the Wooden Horse the Greeks had left behind seemingly as an offering to the Gods to ensure their safe return home. The Prince said: Beware of the Greeks even when they bring gifts.

    Already that the White powers are united as one man behind Mandela proposing him as the cure for all political ills beyond their own shores smacks of a ‘Greek Gift’.

    The new South African Society envisaged by Mandela and dubbed the ‘rainbow society’ bu Tutu materialized only on paper. The whites still rule the roost. we recall how black miners clamouring for rights were recently mercilessly murdered by S.A.Security forces before the eyes of the world. The white world kept silent.

    Tutu it will be remembered wrote the foreword for the infamous S.J.Emmanuel’s worthless book ‘Let my people go’. He is also a part of the Senior Politicians Club, with Robinson, Carter and others, that keeps on dictating to Sri Lanka on how to run its affairs.

    Mandela’s legacy is more the setting up of a puppet black government with the strings pulled by the white powers.

    Indeed the Mandela Legacy is the ‘Greek Gift’ offered to us the whites.

    Mario Perera

  3. Christie Says:

    It is a good idea to have another commission and it should investigate what India did and is doing.

    Mandela is another victim of Indian colonialism and imperialism. Unemployment among blacks is as high as 40%. Standard of health, education and poverty among them is something that no one wants to talk about. Indians are doing well in their gated communities. No HIV, no unemployment, no poverty among them and are well educated. Indian businesses are bringing in migrants from India to work in their establishments and they do not employ blacks. It is only a matter of time blacks will rise against the Indians.

  4. Lorenzo Says:

    TNA going to do their OWN census to cook the number of war dead!!!

    When BOTH are presented at UNHRC, there will be confusion and ultimately the 40,000 figure which is the popular figure now will prevail!!

    And look who is financing this TREASON of TNA. Government!!! It is the NORTHERN PROVINCIAL COUNCIL using tax payer money that is doing this ANTI-SL BS census.

    MODAYA govt. digging its own grave.

    “COLOMBO: The provincial government in Sri Lanka’s main Tamil region said on Thursday it would compile its own death toll from the country’s ethnic war, saying an ongoing census would play down the number of casualties.

    Tamil officials said the census ordered by President Mahinda Rajapakse last month would give a distorted picture because of its “flawed” terms of reference, arguing that a more credible alternative was needed.

    “The council will work out the logistics of taking a count,” Dharmalingam Sithadthan, a senior member of the Northern Provincial Council, told AFP from the regional capital Jaffna.

    “This is something we have to do because we don’t accept the government census.”

    The United Nations has estimated that at least 100,000 people were killed in Sri Lanka’s 37-year separatist war with about 40,000 civilians killed in the final months of fighting in 2009.

    The Rajapakse government kicked off its own census late November after disputes over the scale of the killings in the final phases of the war dominated a Commonwealth summit in Colombo earlier in the month.

    Sri Lanka has repeatedly rejected allegations that its troops killed civilians while battling the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who were also accused of using civilians as a human shield.

    While launching the government census in November, the head of the public administration ministry, P.B Abeykoon, said they had “nothing to hide”.

    But Suresh Premachandran, a member of the Tamil National Alliance party who represents Jaffna in the national parliament, said the census had been designed to minimise the death toll. Compilers of the census would only be able to ask survivors whether they had lost spouses, sons or daughters and would not be allowed to ask survivors about the fate of their parents, said Premachandran.”

  5. Nanda Says:

    Only commision we need now is to investigate huge corruption and betrayal by Maha Ranee.

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