There's a little Nelson Mandela in all our political parties in South Africa

ANC supporters voice their love for Nelson Mandela at a DA rally before the national elections in 2014. (Photo: Marco Longari/AFP)

ANC supporters voice their love for Nelson Mandela at a DA rally before the national elections in 2014. (Photo: Marco Longari/AFP)

Nelson Mandela is arguably the greatest statesman who ever lived. After 27 years in prison under the apartheid regime, his lesson of forgiveness and reconciliation was a beacon of hope for all South Africans and the rest of the world.

Twenty-two years on, the future in South Africa is not as rosy as the picture Nelson Mandela would have liked to have painted. Recently, the DA released an election campaign ad using the words of Nelson Mandela: “Let there be justice for all, let there be peace, let there be work, let there be bread for all.”

The Mandela family has subsequently laid complaints with both the Independent Electoral Commission and the Advertising Standards Authority, saying that while the leader belonged to all South Africans, he had nothing to do with the DA.

There’s no denying that Mandela was an ANC man to the last, but when a figure is so beloved by a nation and has politics that are so progressive and visionary, it is natural that his legacy will be co-opted by all — especially at a time when the ruling party is being challenged. This being the case, here are some of the views or policies of the leading political parties in South Africa, and how they overlap with Mandela’s vision.

The Democratic Alliance

The DA has already laid claim to Mandela’s whole “justice, peace, work and bread for all” message. Their vision is stated as: “Our dream for South Africa is of One Nation with One Future built on Freedom, Fairness and Opportunity for All. This is the dream of a nation in which every person is free, secure and equal, where everyone has the opportunity to improve the quality of their life and pursue their dreams. A society in which every language and culture has equal respect and recognition.”

Great words. They sound a lot like these: “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities,” spoken by Mandela himself.

Congress of the People

Cope is sort of like the ANC Lite. As a breakaway party, it essentially committed itself to the aspects of ANC policy that its leaders felt were being neglected by the ruling party. For this reason, its policies are strongly aligned with the best of the ANC, so naturally it echoes the vision of Mandela himself.

In addition, Cope is highly critical of the ANC, with statements in their manifesto such as: “Our Constitution makes every one of us equal before the law. However, when communities surrender their power and influence to a political party, as has been happening for many years, politicians live large and become a law unto themselves.”

This calls to mind Mandela’s famous quote, “If the ANC does to you what the apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the apartheid government.”

Inkatha Freedom Party

The IFP states its position as pushing back against the threat of a hegemonic ruling party that views opposition politics as treason and is “fixated with cementing its hold on power”.

The party clams to represent the political centre ground, rejecting both centralised socialism as well as harsh liberalism. An important part of its focus is around the concept of ubuntu. “We recognise ubuntu/botho as the foundation of all human interaction. No person is an island. Because we are who we are only through our interaction with others, we respect everyone and treat everyone with compassion and empathy, and in a manner that recognises their intrinsic human dignity.”

The focus on ubuntu echoes Mandela’s definition of the term. “A traveller through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?”

Economic Freedom Fighters

While the EFF is far more likely to be critical of Mandela than to claim his vision of reconciliation, and many of their policies are at direct odds with his vision, they still claim to be doing his work. Their Twitter account published a series of tweets, one of which claimed, “Saying Mandela sold out for us is futile. Mandela knew that the struggle was incomplete. He left it for us. We will do it.”

And indeed, Mandela’s views on poverty eradication echo the more strident method the EFF envisages to deliver economic freedom. “As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality exist in our world, none of us can truly rest.”

Well, Madiba is resting now and it is in the hands of the leaders and the parties that remain to carry South Africa forward. It is hoped that as long as we cherish the memory of this great leader, there will be more to unite than divide South Africa. 

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