The new Randela bank notes bring the legacy of Nelson Mandela full circle. And not in a good way.
Not to understate the willingness of our government to shamelessly exploit “the father of the nation”, Madiba’s image can now be found not on just one note, but on all five South African Rand notes. We may indeed have forgotten that there are a few other struggle heroes worth acknowledging! What’s more, hold your new bank note up to the light and you will see a hidden watermark of Nelson Mandela, ensuring that you have a brand new authentic Randela note. No fake back-scratching here; Governor Gill Marcus has now elevated our very own Jesus/Ghandi/Luke Skywalker to an even higher level in modern society: the patron of capital’s “invisible hand”.
Given that, by now, nearly the entire country has already seen the new South African bank notes featuring one Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, it is strange that the Reserve Bank actually finds it necessary to advertise the shift. One advertisment I came across proclaimed: “New banknotes as unique as Nelson Mandela himself”. As if the complex persona of any human being can actually be reduced to something as shallow and commonplace as paper money. Not to be coy with shameless self-promotion, Marcus is reported to have said that Madiba “is delighted, very excited about it,” design and all!
And what if he did not approve? In public, Mandela has consistently criticised the way others have elevated his persona to that of a living saint. He was more of a reluctant messiah akin to Monty Python’s Brian. And to be sure, the desire for a messiah runs deep. One of the real weaknesses of the United Democratic Front and 1980s trade union movement was precisely this reliance on Mandela and other struggle icons as our saviours.
Yet why, then, would Mandela permit himself to become this country’s Julius Caesar, the first Roman to be immortalised on currency?
Many of us who are critical about the legacy of Nelson Mandela were irked and even outraged by the South African Reserve Bank’s decision to place his iconic image on our paper currency. Some say that Madiba, as an icon of the anti-Apartheid struggle, a fearless freedom fighter who spent years in prison in the name of achieving the yet-to-be-implemented Freedom Charter, is being further appropriated by capitalists and government officials to serve a wholly different agenda.
Adorning the new Kruger Rands to boost AngloGold, being wheeled out for the World Cup finale to make Sepp Blatter and his FIFA cartel filthy rich, and legitimising greed and materialism at Cape Town’s Waterfront and Sandton’s Nelson Mandela Square, Madiba’s legacy has seemingly been twisted into something quite different than what he supposedly stood for during the Struggle.
Its one thing for non-profits to use Mandela’s legacy for good (see the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund or the 46664 campaign), say some critics. Yet it is another to make a profit off our most loved struggle icon. Madiba has become a brand, misused for the pursuit of profit rather than the benefit of all South Africans.
Cynics like writer Benjamin Fogel immediately noted the irony arising from the use of Randelas in the form of drug consumption or a visit to one’s local strip club. He remarked to me that we may soon be hearing poignant slang such as: “Yo! One hundred ‘dibas for yo trick to suck me? Right?” and “Ek het twenty ‘dibas vir jou tik!”
But who is Nelson Mandela, the man behind the image? Who is the real person, not the legend?
Those who lament the appropriation of Madiba’s image do not realise that the Randela is the crowning fulfilment of Nelson Mandela’s political philosophy.
Despite reports that Mandela was a secret member of the SACP early on in his career with the ANC and contrary to National Party’s strategy of whipping up anti-communist hysteria, Mandela was leader of the then openly anti-communist ANC Youth League which later formed a strategic alliance with the SACP. As a Young Lion, he was found making pro-capitalist statements as far back as the 1950s. Throughout most of the Struggle, he really just considered himself a nationalist. And despite his remarkable courage and principle as a leader during the anti-Apartheid fight, by the time he entered into back-door negotiations with the Apartheid government, Mandela was already advocating a third way – economic liberalism underpinning a semi-welfarist agenda.
In other words, with the support of the likes of Cyril Ramaphosa, Thabo Mbeki and Joe Slovo, and in the name of “compromise”, Mandela’s economic agenda became a solid embrace of capital. The economy was liberalised, government services were outsourced and the interventionist Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP) morphed into the staunchly laissez faire GEAR. In fact, knowing that rank and file ANC and trade union activists would resist the implementation of the Growth Employment and Redistribution Framework, Mandela made sure he presented it as “non-negotiable”, thereby short-circuiting all debate within the tripartite alliance.
Through ensuring that South Africa was to be investor-friendly after 1994 and follow the economic prescriptions of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, Mandela was pandering to foreign money, some of which was directly complicit in Apartheid profiteering. The implementation of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) during Mandela’s tenure as president was meant to build a loyal black national capitalist class with whom these culpable foreign firms could do ‘guilt-less’ business in the name of developing the nation.
Yet there was also another core reason for the implementation of BEE as a supplement to the liberalisation of the economy. While liberalisation was mean to stabilise the Rand and make the South African economy safe for capital, BEE was implemented to stave off discontent amongst the masses by co-opting the most upwardly mobile black South Africans, particularly leftist trade union and ANC leaders into the capitalist class.
Poor black South Africans were sidelined from their radical leadership that they built throughout the 1980s. The poor and their people’s politics were therefore demobilised by BEE and other programs that empowered key cadres from the ANC, South African Communist Party (SACP), the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and South African National Civic Organisation (SANCO).
The combination of liberalisation and BEE-oriented policies has been far from successful in building a happy, healthy, safe and caring society. With around 40% unemployment, millions of South African families living in shacks and dispossessed of their land, and a failing healthcare and education system, we are nowhere near the benchmarks laid by the ANC’s own Freedom Charter.
In this light, the post-1994 era was not a revolution; instead, it was a grand compromise between white capital (with Cecil John Rhodes as its icon) and prospective black capital (with Mandela as its icon) – hence Mandela Rhodes Place, an appropriate name for the Cape Town hotel. This era staved off the revolution and closed off spaces of liberation that were built and which flourished during the liberation struggle.
It is, therefore, quite fitting that our currency has now married the Rand (the core symbol of South African capitalism) with Mandela (the icon of South Africa’s political transition to a liberal capitalist democracy). The Randela, then makes perfect sense to anyone who differentiates between the rhetoric and the actual policies of Nelson Mandela and the ANC. The Randela is the culmination of the recklessly excessive post-Apartheid free market policies presided over by Tata Madiba.
It is high time, then, that we begin to dismantle the myth of Nelson Mandela. He is not our Madiba any longer, even if there was value in his role against Apartheid. He is now our Randela: an icon of money and freedom for those who can afford it. A symbol of massive inequality on a scale unknown throughout the world – except perhaps in neighbouring Namibia. A representation of a country that is being legally raped by huge BEE-certified mining conglomerates – even via Mandela’s very own grandson’s involvement in Aurora Mine.
In fact, the irony here is telling: Mandela’s very own Grandson, Zondwa, and President Zuma’s nephew Khulubuse, left mineworkers out to dry when their Aurora Empowerment Systems went into liquidation. For two years, the pair have refused to pay their own workers the ‘dibas they deserved and are currently facing criminal charges, while at the same time letting their hired thugs such as Big Brother’s “Bad Brad” gun down workers demanding decent pay.
Say what? Only 70 Randelas per day is the wage of a Western Cape farmworker? Who else than Randela, then, can be labelled as the new face of South African inequality and oppression? DM
Jared Sacks is a founder of the Children of South Africa. Since 2007, he has been living in Cape Town working directly with communities supporting their efforts to build authentic grassroots social change. He has worked closely with a range of poor people's social movements. He is also the compiler of the anthology No Land! No House! No Vote! Voices from Symphony Way.
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