President Nelson Mandela left his ruling African National Congress on Tuesday with a warning that opposition parties would unite in the next general election in an attempt to defeat the country’s first black majority government and maintain white privilege here.
“Their desperate call expressed in a cacophony of voices is: Defeat the ANC,” he told more than 4,000 delegates at the ANC’s 50th national conference in the northern city of Mafeking in his last speech as president of the party.
In the past, Mandela often has reached out to South Africa’s whites, trying to soothe their fears about their position in the new order. Even as he inspired black South Africans’ struggle for freedom, Mandela was able to reassure most of the nation’s white minority that bloody revenge is not the inevitable result of their giving up power, no matter what his more militant comrades said and did.
Now, three years after his African National Congress took power, as he takes his first steps toward retirement from public life, Mandela is signaling that his equanimity has its limits. On Tuesday, he unleashed a bitter attack against whites and “the architects and beneficiaries of apartheid.”
“These opposition forces, for whom a genuinely nonracial society poses a threat, will not hesitate to use anything within their means to achieve their objective,” he said.
Mandela’s speech - more than four hours long - marked his retirement from the presidency of the party and a transfer of power within the ANC to a younger generation. Mandela, who is 79, will remain as president of the country until the next election in 1999.
For 10 seconds, amid much applause, Mandela embraced his much demonized former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, as he reached her place among admirers after the speech.
“This is not the man of reconciliation we have come to know,” said a West European diplomat of Mandela’s address. “It is the kind of speech Winnie Madikizela-Mandela could have delivered,”
Dressed in a yellow ANC T-shirt, Mandela delivered remarks that were part vituperative attack on his political foes, part visionary outline of the new South Africa and its role in what he called a continental “African renaissance,” and part dissertation on the need for revolutionary idealism in the moral renewal of society here.
His repeated broadsides against the opposition and the media were widened with warnings of efforts to alienate powerful traditional leaders from the ANC in rural areas and of unidentified “self-serving” counterrevolutionaries within the party’s own ranks.
But it was the white political opposition that bore the brunt of his wrath.
Transformation from apartheid to equality was far from complete, he said, yet when any meaningful changes were attempted, such as the use of affirmative action, whites “consistently demonstrated” their desire to maintain the status quo.
“The spokespersons of the advantaged have not hesitated to cry foul, citing all manner of evil, such as racism, violation of the constitution, nepotism, dictatorship, inducing a brain drain and frightening the foreign investor,” Mandela said.
Accusing the National Party, which introduced apartheid almost 50 years ago, of “implacable hostility” to the ANC, he said: “Our experience over the last three years confirms that the National Party has not abandoned its objective of the total destruction of our organization and movement. The leopard has not changed its spots.”
The National Party, he said, continued to use “fear” as a political tool, asserting: “As before, it has continued to frighten the national (white) minority against the ANC by threatening them with ‘black vengeance’ and ‘red (Communist) danger.’
“Daily, its leadership propagates the entirely false notion that our policies are aimed at promoting the interests of Africans against those of the whites and coloreds (people of mixed race).”
Lambasting National Party leaders for refusing to give the Truth and Reconciliation Commission details of the “machinery of repression” they used to implement the apartheid system, he said: “This machinery was never dismantled and therefore remains available to those in our country who were part of the apartheid security forces and who are still interested in engaging in anti-democratic activities.”
Marthinus van Schalkwyk, the National Party leader, denounced the speech as “unstatesmanlike and paranoid,” and said he hoped it was not indicative of future ANC policies.
But some political analysts said Mandela’s speech probably reflected the views of the man likely to succeed him, Thabo Mbeki, and was an attempt by Mandela to throw his weight behind Mbeki.
“It was a watershed speech in many ways,” said Allister Sparks, who has written several books on South African politics. “I think what you saw is Mr. Mandela legitimizing a tougher line for Mbeki.”
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