In a brilliant article in The Spectator this week, Rian Malan shows that Nelson Mandela believed fervently in communism when he went to prison. Rian has had access to the original prison manuscript of Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom which he says only came to light last week in the online archive of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory. The original script was smuggled off Robben Island by Mac Maharaj when he was released in 1976.
The final version of Nelson’s book, which had a New York journalist called Rick Stengel as a ghost-writer, does not contain some of Nelson’s more fiery statements about hating the US brand of imperialism, being wedded to dialectical materialism, his support for Cuba during the 1962 missile crisis and using force as a tactic “whether or not the majority agrees with us”.
When I saw Nelson Mandela in prison a month before he was released for an intense one-on-one conversation all morning and through lunch, he had completely changed his mind. He even asked me, as he was saying goodbye, to send his regards to Harry Oppenheimer and say how much he respected Harry’s stand against apartheid. More importantly, subsequent to his release from prison and ascendancy to president of the country, not once did he exhibit left-wing dogmatism on any issue he faced. He was a pragmatist through and through in trying to attain his cherished goal of reconciliation.
He was a fox in my language, looking out at the world around him and adapting to it. Gorbachev was also a fox and even the Chinese Communist Party has reconstructed itself. I was a guest of the Central Party School in April 2006 just outside of Beijing and I noticed how they had taken down all the slogans of Mao in the classrooms and replaced them with slogans of Deng.
Right now, I would place money on Jeremy Cronin being a fox. He wrote a letter to the newspaper recently saying the government was not expecting to create all the jobs necessary to bring our unemployment rate down to an acceptable level through public works programmes. This implies that he does believe there is a place for the private sector in South Africa.
As for unreconstructed Marxists, or hedgehogs as I would call them because they never deviate from their ideological vision, you now discover them in the union movement. They want to destroy capitalism and tweet their disgust of the free market system from their capitalist smartphones as they sip their capitalist whisky.
Thanks, Rian, for bringing these points about Mandela to our attention. I urge all readers somehow to get hold of Rian’s article because it is a sensational read.