Friday, December 6, 2013

Mandela; the most thoroughly co-opted revolutionary in history

You only have to look at this headline out of The Guardian; Mandela funeral to bring together world's most powerful people, to understand that Mandela is a far more unifying figure in death than he was in life.

Just about everybody, from all strands of the political spectrum, wants a piece of the Great Man.

Mandela's funeral is a magnet for reactionary leaders from countries where Mandela was condemned as a terrorist even after he was released from prison.

And from countries where the struggle against apartheid represented a business opportunity. Like Canada for example.

Former Canadian PM Brian Mulroney is bound to show up at Mandela's funeral, basking in the glow of having once been an early supporter of the anti-apartheid movement.

He was, and here's why. Back in the dirty old days South Africa's venerable Krugerrand gold coin was the medium of choice for gold hoarders around the world. When Mulroney became PM he lobbied incessantly for a boycott of all things South African, including of course the Krugerrand.

Just a few years earlier Canada had introduced its own gold coin, the Maple Leaf. As sales of the Krugerrand atrophied, sales of the Maple Leaf took off, to the delight of Canadian gold mining companies.

Mulroney was duly rewarded for his principled stand against apartheid with a directorship at Canada's biggest gold-mining conglomerate, Barrick Gold, a sinecure that made him many millions of dollars after he retired from politics.

And while it is fitting to celebrate the life of Mandela at the time of his passing, it is of far greater import to map what might happen next.

Two generations that have grown up in post-apartheid "freedom" have little to celebrate. Life expectancy today is less than it was under apartheid. The Zuma kleptocracy alienates more black youth by the day.

The most popular leader in the country is Julius Malema, who advocates Mugabe-style forced land redistribution. Mandela was able to keep the lid on a pressure cooker by the mere fact of his staying alive.

That's all over now.

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