Mandela: The West was terrified of a South Africa joining the Soviet Empire

The West was terrified that majority rule in South Africa would bring alignment with the Eastern bloc. The prospect of SA, with an economy around 8 times the size of the whole of Africa, going down the Marxist road was unthinkable

by Robin Mitchinson on 7 December 2013 14:31

Amidst the plethora of tributes, the essence of Madiba’s career has become somewhat obscured. The collapse of apartheid was entirely due to Nelson Mandela. That brooding presence in a cell on Robben island was apartheid’s nemesis.

The anti-apartheid movement took a long time in gaining traction. The world was largely indifferent to South African politics until many years after apartheid was imposed. Most people (even now) don’t know how to pronounce it – not ‘apart-hide’ but ‘apart-hate’, which neatly describes it.

Sporting boycotts were imposed by the sports organizations, not by governments. The US and most Western governments actively or discreetly supported the Nationalist government of South Africa as a bulwark against Communism. Some continued arms shipments until very late in the day. A trade embargo was not enforced until the ‘90s.

The stark reason for this was that the West was terrified that majority rule in South Africa would bring alignment with the Eastern bloc. The ANC made a strategic error in aligning itself with the SA Communist Party. The prospect of SA, with an economy around 8 times the size of the whole of Africa, going down the Marxist road was unthinkable.

Mandela became an icon. He became the focus of the anti-apartheid movement. Few had even heard of other leaders such as Oliver Tambo, Mbeki and Slovo.

Opposition to apartheid became policy for just about every respectable country in the world. Membership of the anti-apartheid movement was  practically de rigeur. Attending an anti-apartheid demo in London's Trafalgar Square became virtually a rite of passage for British students. Hugh Masekela’s song ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ became a students’ anthem everywhere.

The movement became pretty-well unstoppable, especially after the end of White Rhodesia. The epicentre was not the ANC. It was Mandela.

The focus was not apartheid. It was Robben Island. What would have been the outcome had Mandela been executed as sought by the prosecution at his trial? Or forced into exile like so many?

A Rhodesia-style civil war; nasty, brutish and long. Mandela has three other qualifications that secure his place in history, and as one of a tiny handful of people who were entirely a force for good.

Unlike almost all other African Presidents, he did not rob the treasury. He was squeaky clean. He stepped down voluntarily at the end of his first term, a unique event in African politics.

And he not only set the blacks free. He set the whites free from their own self-imposed prison of the mind.

Robin Mitchinson is a regular contributor to The Commentator

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