Mbeki release: Winnie calls for ‘caution and circumspection’

The influential activist, wife of the ANC's best-known leader, believes the release reflects government weakness – but has called upon "the oppressed and exploited" people of South Africa to react with "restraint, caution and circumspection". Mandela believes the government's gagging of Mbeki is an "admission that he has not lost his influence among the downtrodden".

The decision to release the veteran resistance figure, she claimed, reflected government recognition that "they had failed to defuse~ escalating resistance against apartheid". It was also an acknowledgement that the "real opposition" in South Africa was the ANC, not the Conservative or Progressive Federal parties, she said.

The restrictions placed on Mbeki – he is "listed" and may not be quoted – were a safeguard against his words triggering off an irreversible wave of resistance. But Mandela warned that it is customary for oppressed people to expect the release from prison of their authentic leaders to be followed by freedom Mbeki thus had a "tremendous responsibility", as people could become demoralised if radical changes did not quickly follo00w his release.

III-thought-out actions could be used by the government to keep other political prisoners in jail, said Mandela. Violent action such as the police baton-charge on crowds waiting to greet Mbeki at Jan Smuts airport should be seen as a "mischievous tactic" which was intended to be provocative. She said the release of Mbeki was a "gamble", a short-term plan to take the steam out of the sanctions and disinvestment debate, and give "ammunition" to potential allies like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

Mandela said the government should have heeded the warning given by the Rivonia trialists, including Mbeki, more than 20 years ago – they had predicted that apartheid would lead to escalating violence. She found it "strange that the government now gives us back – after more than two decades in jail – the very man who with the others predicted the present violence." It was also odd, she said, that the South African government once advised Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith to release imprisoned political leaders, and yet did not draw lessons from their own advice.

Mandela said Smith would have saved more than 45 000 lives had he done in the Tiger Talks in the Sixties what he was forced to do at Lancaster House more than a decade later. In response to persistent reports the Afrikaans press, which praised the government for "demystifying" Mbeki, Mandela said the demands of "the people" on the ANC leader would be heavy: they would expect him to bring freedom, not be seen as a "toothless bulldog".

Beeld had commented that "The myth has suddenly become a human being who must – like all other citizens – abide by the law. "Mbeki must realise that he has played his role and that he now has the choice either to withdraw from politics or to exert a moderate influence on South Africa. Because he surely is the one person who must know that there is no hope of a successful revolution – having had 23 years to ponder."

Beeld believed Nelson Mandela's release could follow, as a "formula has finally been found to solve the problem of the ANC leadership still languishing in jail." But for this to happen, said the newspaper, "Mbeki and the black community will have to show that they do not intend exploiting this opportunity for the purposes of political confrontation and chaos."

Beeld hoped Mbeki and the other released prisoners would not ruin a "praiseworthy" effort and thereby harm the chances of others to be freed". Mbeki, they warned "knows what the result will be" if he makes any attempt to put his "ANC or communistic convictions" into practice. At a press conference organised by the government immediately after his release last week, Mbeki was adamant he was still a member of the banned ANC and South African Communist Party. 

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.


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