Mandela Legacy: Archbishop Thabo Makgoba Got It Wrong!

Published on 31st July 2018

Many people, I suppose including the Archbishop of the Anglican church of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba, would agree with me that the church is society’s moral barometer. I heard him in the past commenting on bad leadership and governance. I suppose he also believes in freedom of speech and of association. I suppose that he is also aware that the subject of separation of church and state has been a controversial issue in history. He is also aware that if he enters the realm of politics, especially partisan politics, he risks losing the honour and respect accorded to men and women of the cloth.

Makgoba is also aware that during apartheid years, millions of people and their leaders from different liberation movements and political organisations suffered, were jailed, exiled and lost their lives such as in Sharpeville in 1960 and Soweto in 1976; in detention and others were hanged and most of those who were hanged were members of the PAC and its military wing POQO, the forerunners of APLA.

In The African Executive of 10 July, Makgoba’s article in which he defended the legacy of Nelson Mandela was published under the headline, “Mandela’s legacy defended” in which he makes startling comments and sweeping generalisations. In his opening sentence he writes, “This month we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Madiba's birth. We give thanks for Madiba's life.”

What is so special about Nelson Mandela’s birth and life compared to Robert Sobukwe’s birth and life, Anon Lembede’s birth and life, Pixley ka Isaka Seme’s birth and life, Sol Plaatje’s birth and life, Steve Biko’s birth and life, and Onkgopotse Tiro’s birth and life Archbishop? 

In March this year I wrote a letter to South Africa’s various daily newspapers in which I raised issues to which I would like Makgoba and like-minded people to respond. What criterion does Makgoba use in deciding to celebrate the centenaries of people who were involved in the struggle? In my view it is based on gut feeling. And why should he make a fuss out of a centenary based on gut feeling?

Last year the SABC and ANC and probably Makgoba celebrated the centenary of Oliver Tambo. It was all over radio and television and the private media, electronic and print, also jumped on the bandwagon. Would Makgoba agree with me that if it’s based on those who were once ANC presidents — and why confine it to former ANC presidents — it is inconsistent? If this is the case – and I believe it is – so what is the hue and cry all about, Archbishop?

Why doesn’t Makgoba think the centenaries of Dr James Moroka’s in 1991, Dr AB Xuma’s in 1993 and Albert Luthuli’s in 1998 were supposed to have been celebrated? If it’s based on those who were jailed on Robben Island, why did they not celebrate the centenaries of Govan Mbeki in 2010, Walter Sisulu in 2012 and Zeph Mothopeng in 2013? If it is based on outstanding theoreticians, why did they not celebrate Anton Lembede’s centenary in 2014, AP Mda in 2016 and IB Tabata in 2009?

All those except Tabata were once members of the ANC, with Mothopeng, Lembede and Mda having been members of the ANC Youth League. Mothopeng and Mda subsequently left the ANC but Lembede died a member of the youth league. Why is he being ignored, Archbishop? What did Lembede do, Archbishop? Is he being punished by you and the ANC for the purity of his ideological predilection because he was unapologetically a dyed-in-the-wool Africanist?

As a man of the cloth you should stop your partisanship and celebrate and/or commemorate equally all those who took part in the struggle, who include PAC founding President Robert Sobukwe, whom the ANC loathe so much. When are you, Archbishop going to celebrate the life of Sobukwe since he is, as you know, greater and more important than Mandela?

 Archbishop Makgoba continued to write, “I am sad when I see young people attacking Madiba's legacy and claiming he “sold us out” by not building us the Promised Land in his lifetime. We ought not to take the events of history and look at them through the lens of today's eyes; when we do, we are bound to be insensitive to the realities that our forebears faced and to pass naïve and shallow judgements on their achievements.”

This is polemics and it is misleading. What legacy of Mandela is he referring to when he in the same breath contradicts himself by saying that young people “are attacking Madiba’s legacy claiming that Mandela sold out by not building us the Promised Land in his lifetime”? Makgoba is plainly wrong to think that it is only young people who are pointing out – not attacking - Mandela for having sold out. The second President of the PAC, Zeph Mothopeng, who was older than Mandela and was involved in politics long before Mandela was active in politics, is one of the first people to accuse Mandela of selling out and even refused to meet Mandela in Harare in 1990 during a meeting contrived by former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. The longest serving political prisoner on Robben Island Jafta Masemola also held the same views on Mandela as Mothopeng. Masemola was born in the early 1930’s and was a founder member of the PAC in 1959.

There are people of my generation, including me, who believe Mandela sold out and we are not young some of us are grandparents. Makgoba should not be saddened by young people “attacking Madiba’s legacy and claiming he ‘sold out’ by not building us the Promised Land in his lifetime.” Does the institution he represents, the church, not embrace the truth and freedom of expression?

Archbishop, who sent Mandela to go and clinch secret deals with leaders of the apartheid government and captains of industry on behalf of the people of South Africa? I guess you are aware he continued with these secret negotiations after he was released in 1990 from the house in which he lived at Victor Verster prison. You are also aware that when he began to negotiate with our oppressors in 1981 and 1990 respectively, PAC leaders Zeph Mothopeng and Jafta Masemola were alive. You are aware that when Mandela was smuggled in and out of Robben Island Mothopeng and Masemola were aware of it. I take it for granted that you are aware that he revealed in his book published in 1994 that he began negotiating with PW Botha in 1981. I also presume that you read the late Professor Sampie Terreblanche’s book Lost in Transformation in which he decries the fact that Mandela made a lot of silly concessions during the secret talks he held with Harry Oppenheimer and were later joined by other ANC leaders. I guess you are aware that Harry Oppenheimer hated Sobukwe with a passion.

If you were Mandela, wouldn’t you have a problem negotiating in secret with an exploiter who hated with a passion your fellow freedom fighter lest other people find out? Why, Archbishop, do you think Mandela didn’t take his fellow freedom fighters in confidence and inform them of what he was doing? He didn’t even inform his fellow ANC members and co-accused in the 1964 treason trial and with whom he was convicted such as Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu and others. Is the Archbishop aware that Mandela said he wanted to serve only one term and duck because he knew he was wrong by negotiating on behalf of the African people because he didn’t have their mandate?

The Arch writes, “We ought not to take the events of history and look at them through the lens of today's eyes; when we do, we are bound to be insensitive to the realities that our forebears faced and to pass naïve and shallow judgements on their achievements.” A proper rebuttal to this insipid statement is that for us to chart the future we must reconcile the past with the present.

I presume the Arch is aware that his predecessors Desmond Tutu and Njongonkulu Ndungane had an association with Sobukwe. Tutu is said to have been tutored by Sobukwe when he was studying for Matric and he told Professor Connell West about Sobukwe’s powerful voice. Ndungane was a member of Sobukwe’s PAC and also served time on Robben Island for his PAC activities. Why does the Archbishop think his predecessors never talked about nor mentioned Sobukwe since the dawn of the “new dispensation”? I have never heard the Archbishop himself talk about or mention Sobukwe.

Why? Is it forbidden in the Anglican Church to talk about or mention Sobukwe? There is a memorial lecture named after Archbishop Makgoba or initiated by him. This year it has hosted the Nelson Mandela memorial lecture in which a university student challenged Trevor Manuel who presented him and accused him of distorting the history of Sobukwe and the PAC. Archbishop Makgoba was in attendance and I wonder what he has learned from the revelations by that student.

The Public Protector Advocate Thuli Madonsela always mentions Mandela as an exemplary leader so is the Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng and former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgand Moseneke who was himself a member of the PAC and served time on Robben Island. Why does the Arch think these people avoid to talk about and/or mention Sobukwe? Is it a coincidence? If it is, I guess he will agree with me that it is a strange coincidence.

“We need to remember that 30 years ago, as Madiba entered discussions ahead of his release, then began negotiations with apartheid leaders, our country was at war. Historians describe it as a low-intensity civil war but for us and those communities who saw thousands of men, women and children killed it was most definitely a high-intensity war. And if you want to end a war you don't do it through more war – especially when your forces, in this case MK and APLA, have no prospect of military victory any time soon,”  Makgoba.

South Africa has always been at war and the ANC was not in the forefront of waging war against the apartheid government and they and the apartheid government were not the ones who were supposed to decide its outcome. People who were killed were not from Mandela’s organisation they belonged to different organisations as I have already pointed out that members of the PAC and its erstwhile military wing POQO were hanged in the early 1960’s at the Pretoria Central prison which is now called Kgosi Mampuru prison. About a hundred PAC/POQO members were hanged. Why does Archbishop Makgoba think Mandela had a right to decide on the fate of soldiers who did not belong to his organisation and an organisation he described as terrorist in his 1994 book?

It is not true that APLA had no prospect of military victory as if we were engaged in a conventional war. Perhaps MK had no prospect of military victory as one of their leaders Joe Slovo conceded in an interview with a US conservative magazine the New Republic. We were engaged in a guerrilla warfare and the apartheid government was sanctions and internal resistance weary that capitulation by Mandela, ANC and MK was uncalled for.

The people of South Africa as led by the PAC had nothing to lose but the shackles that bound them to perpetual servitude. Oppression is now subtle thanks to Mandela and the ANC and supported by the likes of Archbishop Makgoba. There is no justifying the compromises Mandela made and it is absolutely disgusting for Makgoba to talk about Mandela Day. What Mandela day when we don’t give the necessary honour and attention to Africa Liberation Day? Mandela is a mere mortal like any other person and he sold us out.

We must remember that all healthy democratic societies are built on three pillars: peace and security, sustainable development, and human rights and rule of law. These pillars are interconnected and interdependent, for there can be no long-term security without development, and there can be no long-term development without security. No society can long remain prosperous without the rule of law and respect for human rights.

I urge you to make sure that my speech from 1997 will not be as relevant in twenty years as it is today. The third wave is on the horizon. We can all feel the swell. Catch this wave.

By Sam Ditshego

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