why so little has changed

THE recent furore that arose from a story published in a daily newspaper caused great concern to many people, especially since it came just less than a month after Nelson Mandela was once more honoured.

Putting aside some of the obviously personal things Winnie Madikizela-Mandela might have said, we have to ask ourselves whether there is any merit in some of the things that were purportedly said about Mandela.

Without a doubt he stands head and shoulders above any known political leader today but therein lies a great problem. I think the words of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, best describe our own conflict when he said: "To keep Gandhi poor, India has to spend millions of rupees every day."

Mandela had the clout and even the power to do more for black people in particular. The whole world was mobilised around him and showed great interest in listening to him.

During his imprisonment Mandela was the world's most famous political prisoner and he had become to millions of people around the world the face of the liberation struggle in South Africa.

World bodies like the UN had in 1973 passed a convention against apartheid. Apartheid was declared a crime against humanity. In 1985, similarly, the World Council of Churches declared the sin of apartheid "a heresy", thus opening the way for apartheid to be fought at every level.

The justness of the struggle was fully established in the world and its forums and therefore there would have been no need to compromise with the apartheid regime in the manner that happened in our country.

It still boggles the mind to think why Mandela agreed to pay the "apartheid debt", a debt that was taken to ameliorate white living standards and strengthen the apartheid security apparatus.

It's baffling why he also agreed to the property clause that legislated white advantage and position, thus strengthening black poverty and disadvantage.

Mandela was the last of the Rivonia trialists to be released as the apartheid regime sealed its deal for a negotiated settlement with the ANC. The release of Mandela and other prisoners was not due to the benevolence and magnanimity of the regime but was the direct outcome of the struggles waged by the people.

It is a fact that it was the struggle of the workers and the masses that forced the hand that held the prison keys. It is a fact that the events of June 16 1976 were a watershed, an irreversible turning point.

The people demonstrated that they had the ability to do whatever it took to liberate the country.

It was this resolve, led in particular by Steve Biko and his Black Consciousness Movement that led the apartheid regime, which had sent Mandela and others to prison, to begin thinking otherwise.

The sacrifices of the youth of 1976 signalled the beginning of a bitter struggle. The more repressive the regime became the more determined people became in their efforts to topple it.

The emerging labour movement that had come into being after the Wiehan Commission played a major role in undermining the apartheid economy.

Hundreds of thousands of workers took to the streets and demanded an end to the apartheid system and the release of Mandela, who had shown great bravery, particularly at the Rivonia Trial.

The subsequent settlement and Codesa agreements meant that the apartheid system succeeded in reinventing itself, considering that the Mandela leadership chose to pursue reconciliation at the expense of justice.

Dr Martin Luther King Jnr described "peace as the prevalence of justice" not just the absence of conflict and confrontation. Steve Biko said much the same thing at the Palace of Justice in Pretoria in 1976.

The apartheid system no longer had to overtly rely on white-skin privilege but rather in the institutions it had established throughout its rule.

The Codesa agreements outlawed institutionalised racism and separation but continued allowing the privileges and advantages bestowed on white people to prevail.

This meant that they continued living in their leafy suburbs, controlling and dominating the economy, having access to the best schools and health facilities and above all owning the land, the issue that was central in the liberation struggle.

The Mandela government did not upset the white economic applecart but allowed a few black faces to sneak in as a way of justifying its continued existence.

In the wake of the Mandela era, unqualified franchise was brought into being, meaning everyone could exercise one's democratic right to vote, as well as freedom of speech and choice without fear of direct government intervention in the form of police harassment and detention, a feature that was very common during the apartheid regime's rule.

The Constitution that is described as the most liberal in the world has guaranteed equal rights for everyone except for the fact that it was adopted within the context of the most unequal society in the world.

Little was done to address the more than 400 years of settler colonial rule and its grossly unequal and unfair distribution of land and wealth. The Mandela government in its preoccupation with the concept of black and white equality refused to overtly attack white privilege and thereby reinforced black disadvantage.

So it is black people who live in shacks, it is black people who are landless and homeless, and have no access to better health and education. White people continue to be better off in this dispensation, in certain cases they are much better off than they ever were, especially because Codesa legitimised their theft of black people's wealth and land.

l The writer is president of the Socialist Party of Azania (SOPA)