By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Other than the slew of irreverent moments of boos from the multitudinous audience congregated in Johannesburg's giant FNB Stadium that raucously punctuated it, President Jacob Zuma's memorial tribute to The Madiba was quite an eloquent and moving testimony of the phenomenal stature of the immortalized first President of post-Apartheid South Africa. He began by recalling an African National Congress' Youth Leadership Conference in 1951 when, at 32 years old, the fast-rising star of South Africa's turbulent political firmaments predicted the grim and uphill struggle that the ANC faced against the racist white-minority regime as follows: "True, the struggle will be a bitter one. Leaders will be imprisoned and even shot. The government will terrorize the people and their leaders in an effort to halt the forward march; ordinary forms of organization will be rendered impossible. But the spirit of the people cannot be crushed ... unti full victory is won."
During the 1940's and the early 1950s, precisely during the legendary Defiance Campaign against the fast-encroaching entrenchment of the odious political culture of Apartheid, newly introduced by the Boer-Afrikaner-dominated Nationalist Party, Mandela had been named Volunteer-in-Chief of the ANC. It was about this time that the future first President of a post-Apartheid South Africa would begin to seriously learn and participate in strategic and intensely focused organizational activities among the ranks of the ANC leadership. And by the 1960s, in the rude-awaking wake of the Sharpville Massacre, The Madiba would effectively assume the post of Commander-in-Chief of Umkhonto-We-Sizwe (Spear-of-the Nation), the guerilla-oriented military wing of the ANC.
In essence, over the course of a half-century, Mandela had been literally and sadistically meted a a baptism of fire and the proverbial brimstone by the Apartheid regime. He had also, in retrospect, been made a scapegoat for the collective destiny of the indigenous South African population by the predatory white-settler colonists. "I was made, by the law, a criminal, not because of what I had done, but because of what I stood for, because of what I thought, because of my conscience.
I shall come to the following issue at a much greater length at another time in due course. For now, though, suffice it to say that the selection of April 27, 1994 as the date slated for the first ever multiracial democratic election in South Africa had great symbolic significance in the general sweep of continental African politics. I am quite certain that the fact that the preceding date clearly coincided with the historic passing, in exile, of Mr. Kwame Nkrumah, perhaps the continent's most notorious dictator in the immediate postcolonial era, was not altogether lost on the South Africans, particularly the leaders of the African National Congress. And, in fact, in a quite relevant sense, that date may well have been chosen with the emphatic objective of signaling the definitive passing, or conclusive ending, of the blighted and protracted era of One-Man Domestic/ Indigenous Imperial Dictatorship.
As I have had occasion to highlight previously, the introduction and dogged promotion of the one-party state by the infamous Ghanaian autocrat very much complicated the liberation struggle of Nelson Mandela and his colleagues on the frontlines of the anti-Apartheid war. Indeed, at the celebrated 1964 Rivonia Trial, The Madiba had made it categorically clear that the all-out struggle against enforced racial segregation - Jim Crowism, in American civil rights parlance - was going to effectively transcend both the Manichean ideology and philosophy of "Up-North" African leaders like Ghana's President Kwame Nkrumah, and the rhetorical racialism that misguidedly perceived the African world to be eternally polarized around two mutually and permanently antagonistic races, one black and the other white.
Significantly, in his expansive and incontrovertiby profound statement of defense before the 1964 Rivonia Trial Court, or the Supreme Court of South Africa, Mandela meticulously and systematically mentions the names of all the leaders of the independent African nations who had offered various forms of material assistance to the African National Congress. And, of course, conspicuously absent is the name of Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah, the man whose latter-day apostles and disciples would have him incessantly touted as the foremost generalissimo in the anti-colonial African liberation struggle. On the preceding count, this is what Mandela had to say at length:
All whites undergo [sic] compulsory military training [in this
country], but no such training was given to Africans. It was in
our view essential to build up a nucleus of trained men who
would be able to provide the leadership which would be
required if guerilla warfare started. We had to prepare for
such a situation - before it became too late to make proper
preparations. It was also necessary to build a nucleus of men
trained in civil administration and other professions, so that
Africans would be equipped to participate in the government
of this country as soon as they were allowed to do so.
At this stage[,] it was decided that I should attend the
conference of the Pan-African Freedom Movement for central,
east and southern Africa, which was to be held early in 1962 in
Addis Ababa, and, because of our need for preparation, it was
decided that, after the conference, I would undertake a tour of
the African states with a view to obtaining facilities for the
training of soldiers, and that I would also solicit scholarships
for the higher education of matriculated Africans. Training in
both fields would be necessary, even if changes came about
by peaceful means. Administrators would be necessary who
would be willing and able to administer a non-racial state and
so would men be necessary to control the army and police
force of such a state.
It was on this note that I left South Africa to proceed to Addis
Ababa as a delegate of the ANC. My tour was a success.
Wherever I went[,] I [was] met [with] sympathy for our cause
and promises of help. All Africa was united against the stand
of South Africa, and even in London, I was received with great
sympathy by political leaders, such as Mr. Gaitskell and Mr.
Grimond. In Africa[,] I was promised support by such men as
Julius Nyerere, now President of Tanganyika, Mr. Kawawa,
then Prime Minister of Tanganyika; Emperor Haile Selassie of
Ethiopia; General Abboud, President of the Sudan; Habib
Bourguiba, President of Tunisia; Ben Bella,now President of
Algeria; Modibo Keita, President of Mali; Leopold Senghor,
President of Senegal; Sekou Toure, President of Guinea; Presi-
dent Tubman of Liberia; and Milton Obote, Prime Minister of
Uganda. It was Ben Bella who invited me to visit Oujda, the
Headquarters of the Algerian Army of National Liberation, the
visit which is described in my diary, one of the exhibits.
(See "An Ideal for Which I am Prepared to Die - Part 1" The
Guardian.com 22 April 2007. Web. 27 Dec. 2013).
Perhaps because of temporal constraints, President Zuma's quote of
Mandela's articulation of the race-transcendent democratic ideology of the
African National Council does not do ample justice to the original. Here is a
fuller version of what The Madiba actually presented before the Rivonia
Above all, we want equal rights, because without them
our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds
revolutionary to the whites in this country, because the
majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man
But this fear cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the only
solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for
all. It is not true that the enfranchisement of all will result in
racial domination. Political division, based on colour, is entirely
artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one
colour group by another. The ANC has spent half a century
fighting against racialism. When it triumphs[,] it will not
change that policy.
This then is what the ANC is fighting. Their struggle is a truly
national one. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by
their own suffering and their own experience. It is a struggle
for the right to live [as human beings].
And then the following globally recognized definitive statement of Africa's
greatest freedom fighter in the twentieth century, on his missionary raison
During my lifetime[,] I have dedicated myself to this 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 needs be, it
is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Department of English
Nassau Community College of SUNY
Garden City, New York
Dec. 27, 2013