Appeared in Business in Vancouver – December 17, 2013
Nowhere in the tsunami of adulation have I seen acknowledged this about Nelson Mandela’s great accomplishment: he did it allied with capitalism. Also with the church, notably Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu. Not to overlook South Africa’s last white president, F.W. de Klerk.
“It,” of course, was steering the country from racially segregated white supremacy to democratic rule, which – to repeat “of course” – in practice naturally means government by the overwhelmingly black African majority. And without bloody insurrection. That required inspired negotiations with business, church and the white leadership. The establishment.
From here, now, it looks seamless. It wasn’t. Freed, some blacks rocketed to success; others cratered. And blacks came in all political and tribal colours.
Mandela’s Truth and Reconciliation process was a masterpiece of virtuous statecraft triumphing over a “victor’s justice” nightmare of racial and class bloodshed. (Some furiously demanded the nightmare.)
The lofty adjectives are well deserved. But Mandela was armed with more than idealism and all that. He was sensible, even cunning in the craft of realpolitik.
He was no longer the angry revolutionary convicted of terrorism in 1962 and imprisoned for 27 years (and, yes, he lied that he hadn’t been a South African Communist Party (SACP) member, as historian Stephen Ellis determined in 2012 and the SACP confirmed days after Mandela’s death – in fact he’d been a member of the party’s powerful central committee). In a fine jest of the gods, who enjoy irony, Mandela’s imprisonment was his, and South Africa’s, salvation.
In a disastrous leftist age he was insulated from the intellectual morons who indoctrinated other intellectual morons – what Julien Benda called la trahison des clercs, the treason of the intellectuals in the West. They went down the Marxist rabbit hole, and it was a near thing that they didn’t drag the world with them. They still brood in the universities and elsewhere under the pseudonym of “political correctness,” attacking capitalism, lightly tsk-tsking mass murderers Mao and Stalin, dreaming of a return match.
Mandela was not an intellectual. He was too intelligent for that. Typically, Robert Mugabe went to the London School of Economics and returned as brutal racist dictator and economic clown of Zimbabwe. Ho Chi Minh absorbed Marxism among café intellectuals in Paris and imposed it on still-recovering Vietnam. Pol Pot also served his Communist apprenticeship in Paris and left between one and two million skulls as legacy of his Cambodian dictatorship.
Fools like U.S.S.R.-admiring Jean-Paul Sartre dilated on “the human condition”; Mandela lived it in those 27 imprisoned years. That school taught him to look deeply into the human heart. An older, wiser Mandela knew that the revolution the morons preached would expel prosperity-spinning businesses like De Beers and Anglo American, thus beggaring South Africans, hurting most of all the poor, the sick, the old, the children.
And suspend our Canadian diffidence: Brian Mulroney, widely reviled as a bad prime minister – singing “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” with Ronald Reagan indelibly, ridiculously, convinced Little Canadians that he was a patsy for the U.S. – courageously led the white-dominated Western nations in undermining apartheid. His doubters included the undersigned, expecting doom.
Capitalism is a crude tool and far from fair in its rewards, a hastily patched-up continuous process that staggers forward – not backward, like the morons’ fantasy societies. But: money dissolves colour. Trade trumps jingoism. Profits feed and clothe. Individualism beats conformity. Nelson Mandela was not just a visionary but dirt-smart, a heroic quality in a tinderbox.
© Trevor Lautens, 2013