Connect to share and comment

Opinion: Criticism of Nelson Mandela unjust

Winnie Mandela blames her ex-husband for letting down black South Africans, but is he guilty?

Let us start by ignoring Winnie’s monumental hypocrisy. Winnie — always expensively dressed, riding in limousines and surrounded by scores of bodyguards — has not felt the pangs of poverty in a very long time. Let us also ignore that her rise to riches — including a conviction for fraud and theft in 2002 — was not without controversy. Let us, instead, turn to her claim that the 1994 constitutional settlement was “a bad deal for the blacks.” 

There can be no doubt that had the insane and immoral apartheid legislation never seen the light of day, the average black South African would be richer today. Unfortunately, the labor legislation that was first instituted in the 1920s as a result of political pressure from communist-dominated white trade unions preserved many of the good jobs for the whites. That said, a minority of whites opposed apartheid and the corporate bosses, whose labor costs were kept artificially high, tried to undermine it — something that was recognized and resented by apartheid prime ministers from D.F. Malan to B.J. Vorster. Winnie’s attempt to divide the economy (and the country) into, well, black and white, ignores many whites who succeeded through business acumen and hard work — not political favoritism. 

A more serious problem is that Winnie, a member of the ANC’s National Executive Committee, appears to be challenging the 1994 constitutional settlement that allowed for a peaceful transfer of power from the minority to the majority in exchange for strong property rights enforced by a relatively independent judiciary. Like all negotiated settlements, the South African one was full of compromises that made a lot of people uneasy. But, in the absence of a highly unlikely military victory of the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, over the white regime, compromise was the only game in town. It is that security of property rights — however imperfectly arrived at — that allows the South African economy to enjoy investment and growth. 

Winnie’s views as portrayed in the Naipaul interview are indicative of the increasing radicalization of the South African political scene. Most commentators agree that South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma has taken the government in a more left-wing direction, with top members of the tripartite alliance — composed of the ANC, the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions — speaking out in favor of nationalization of farms and of the mining sector.

It would be a terrible tragedy — not least for the black people of South Africa — if Africa’s biggest economy went the way of Zimbabwe.

Marian Tupy is a policy analyst with the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity specializing in the study of the political economy of Europe and sub-Saharan Africa.