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By Brian Sokutu

Senior Print Journalist

We need leaders of Madiba’s stature to take us out of current quagmire

Those who today blame Mandela for his decisions as president should put that at the door of the party collective – not him.

Whenever Nelson Mandela Day is celebrated, his legacy is debated: Messiah, saint, or the world’s best leader?

His release from prison on that historic 11 February, 1990, followed by negotiations with the ruling National Party (NP) and his presidency after the country’s first democratic polls in 1994, was the best thing South Africa and the world observed. But often missed in the glowing portrayal of Madiba is that he became the epitome of the ANC leadership collective.

The story of Mandela cannot be told outside the likes of Oliver Tambo, Harry Gwala, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Elias Motsoaledi and Ahmed Kathrada. The peacemaker and unifier the world came to know could not unilaterally take any major decision without consulting his comrades.

As history has shown, Madiba did not always have his way – whether during debates in the ANC constitutional structures, or in talks with the NP, which led to the Codesa consensus. After his release, he wanted to meet every political leader in South Africa – including IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi – a matter which did not sit well with Gwala.

Heightened tensions and strife in KwaZulu-Natal, due to bloody political battles between warring United Democratic Front and the IFP supporters, had led to scores of deaths. Ceasefire seemed too distant and Gwala mobilised a convoy of buses full of activists towards the ANC’s Shell House headquarters in downtown Johannesburg – managing to convince Mandela not to meet Buthelezi.

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When he became president, he was faced with a foreign policy conundrum: choosing Taiwan, which contributed immensely towards the ANC election campaign, or Beijing.

Those who were attended the ANC NEC meeting have told of how difficult it was to persuade Madiba to ditch Taiwan and recognise Beijing’s “one China principle”, holding Taiwan as being part of China.

Rather than making an immediate foreign policy shift, it took Mandela 30 months to officially announce the change from Taiwan to Beijing, with him having given in to pressure from the ANC collective and from China.

Those who today blame Mandela for his decisions as president should put that at the door of the party collective – not him. Now, decades into democracy, the ANC has shouldered much blame for being ineffective when it comes to land reform.

Apartheid laws drove millions of blacks from owning and farming on their land, into the periphery of urban areas known as townships – some to the Bantustans of the Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Ciskei, Venda, Gazankulu, KaNgwane, KwaNdebele, KwaZulu, Lebowa and QwaQwa.

With real black economic empowerment and affirmative action having become tools to empower the few politically well-connected, Mandela’s vision to redress decades of apartheid inequality has been neglected.

As a visionary, firm, decisive and no-nonsense leader, Mandela deserves praise and credit for his exemplary leadership and being a world-acclaimed statesman.

Emerging from apartheid polarisation and race-based segregation, the emergence of a Mandela after serving years in prison on Robben Island is what the country needed.

What we have to realise is that healing from the scars of apartheid, with damage caused by its machinery, is a process that will take decades to come – a means to an end. But we need leaders of Madiba’s stature to take us out of the current quagmire.