Nelson Mandela And South Africa’s Apartheid System

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Last week, after more than twenty-five years of imprisonment, Nelson Mandela, leader of the ANC of South Africa, and the worlds most well-known and beloved prisoner, turned seventy-one years, Unusually, he was allowed to celebrate his birthday with members of his family, and community leaders from different parts of South Africa. A few days earlier, there had been a reunion between Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, and the other comrades with whom he was sentenced to life imprisonment, after the infamous Rivonia Trial of 1964.

But the most the astonishing piece of news, concerning Nelson Mandela, that came out of South Africa, recently, was the unprecedented meeting that took place between the South African state President, P.W. Botha and Nelson Mandela. The South African government tried to underplay the importance of the meeting, adding that it was not a prelude to negotiations to end the apartheid system. However, for observers of the South African scene, there were many points of interest, that came out of the meeting.

In the first place, presidents of countries do not hold meeting with those they have condemned as criminals. By organising a meeting with Mandela, the South African regime has come to accept the role that Mandela would play in the unfolding events of the country. Beyond that, by organising the meeting, the South African government has also come closest to accepting the reality that it would someday, have to sit around the negotiating table, with Mandela, as part of a delegation of the ANC.

On the other hand, the meeting added fuel to the speculations about the imminent release of Mandela and his colleagues, from their very long imprisonment. From Mandela’s perspective, while cherishing his own freedom, he does cherish the freedom of the South African people, even more. It would be unthinkable, from that standpoint, to regain personal freedom, while the apartheid system remains, the troops are still occupying the townships, the state of emergency is still in place, and the people’s organisation, the ANC, remains banned.

The latest manouevres of the racist regime, such as the much-publicised visit to Europe of the heir apparent, F.W. De Klerk, or his latest journey to Mozambique, are a well-managed public relations exercise. They came in the wake of efforts by the regime to get the international banks to re-schedule over $7 billion medium term loans that is due for repayment very soon.

By brandishing the olive branch, it is hoped, within the Pretoria ruling circles, that re-scheduling will be smooth sailing. However, apartheid is like the Janus-faced evil, because a few weeks earlier, the state of emergency had been renewed, in spite of a worldwide appeal for its lifting. That act was intended to be a sop, for the right-wing constituency, in the runup to the Presidential elections, that would be due in September.

What is coming out of racist South Africa, are mixed signals, which help the discerning observer to see in very bold relief, that the days of the apartheid system are numbered. Without willing it, the racist government, by organising meetings with Mandela, is helping to breath life into the old Biblical saying, that the stone the builder rejected, is becoming the corner stone.

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