The Presidential Years
Nelson Mandela and Mandla Langa
Review: Brian Joss
It’s a pity that former president Jacob Zuma didn’t heed the words that Nelson Mandela spoke to the ANC at his farewell conference when, as he sometimes did, he diverted from his prepared speech. Mandela warned the incoming leaders against surrounding themselves with yes men and women. Mandela followed this with a warning of the dangers when a leader hangs out with “powerful and influential individuals who have far more resources than all of us put together”. Mandela often went off-script, writes Mandla Langa, and it sometimes had senior members of the ANC scuttling to put out fires.
Another incident was early in the presidential years when the question of moving Parliament to Gauteng was broached. Langa notes that Mandela needed to summon all of his reserves of wisdom when it came to the relocation of Parliament which is almost as a much a symbol of Cape Town as Table Mountain.
What appeared to be a niggling matter at first soon escalated with factions being formed to lobby for their preferences. Mandela soon put a stop to it by berating some of the people reportedly involved including newly appointed finance minister, Trevor Manuel, who remembers a bruising meeting with the president at Tuynhuys. Although Manuel wasn’t part of the faction, and when he tried to explain, Mandela told him: ‘I’m not interested in your views, ….’but if you don’t want to be part of the collective you must leave…’ For Manuel, it was one of the big take-outs of the engagement. “It removes the idea of the uninvolved saint who has no view of his own,” Manuel recalls in Dare Not Linger.
Another insight in to Madiba’s personality was when FW de Klerk wrote to him suggesting a meeting between Mandela, IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, deputy president Thabo Mbeki and himself, to mediate to put an end to the violence in KwaZulu-Natal. Mandela wrote back: “Rather than suggesting pointless meetings, I would appreciate your input on how to deal with the legacy of the inhumane system of apartheid of which you were one of the architects.”
The history of our country may have taken a different course if Mandela’s endorsement of Cyril Ramaphosa as his deputy president had not been overruled by the ANC and presidents Julius Nyerere and Kenneth Kaunda, although I’m not sure why they were interfering in South Africa’s domestic affairs, with whom Thabo Mbeki had built up a solid relationship.
Indeed, the first signs of corruption in government came under Mandela’s watch. When the Sarafina II scandal erupted. Over the past decades it has slipped under the radar but there was a brief mention of it in some national newspapers during the presidential race and the ANC’s 54h elective conference. The then health minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, commissioned a musical at a cost of R14-million to highlight Aids awareness. The play, Sarafina, was about a schoolgirl, fought the injustice of apartheid.
Now in Serafina II she is an adult and a social worker, teaching about the dangers of unsafe sex and Aids. Dlamini-Zuma lied to Parliament and she gave the production contract for the musical to a friend of hers. Critics panned Sarafina II and Mandel refused to accept Dlamini-Zuma’s resignation. Which led to the perception that Mandela and his cabinet were soft on corruption.
The historic images are poignant: the picture of Madiba polishing his shoes in an aeroplane and the photograph of him with Francois Pienaar after South Africa won the Rugby World Cup at Ellis Park, probably best describe his role as a statesman and a man with the common touch. Zapiro’s cartoon depicting the end of the Mandela era says it all.
Dare Not Linger is an account of the presidential years with comment by Mandla Langa and private notes that have never before been published. Langa has given context to the role Mandela played in laying the foundation for the Rainbow Nation. But sadly it all went wrong and we have to wonder what legacy Mandela left us or what we have learnt from him.
Madiba was a great bridge-builder, a firm believer in consensus and a reconciler. Nelson Mandela’s considered thoughtfulness comes through on every page. Perhaps it was better that he didn’t live to see what happened to the country.
In his preface, Langa tells how at Mandela’s last ANC conference as leader, the singing crowd settled on a “valediction to a unique son and a sad admission that South Africa would never be the same again”. They sang: ‘Nelson Mandela,’ ‘there’s no other like him’.
Graca Machel writes in the foreword that “Mandla Langa has done an extraordinary job of listening to Madiba’s voice and responding ‘authorially'”. Dare Not Linger is a riveting account of the presidential years and Langa’s interpretation as well insights by others who were close to Mandela add value and understanding. The icon’s voice is just as strong as it was in Long Walk to Freedom. And as with Long Walk to Freedom, Dare Not Linger will become required reading for every South African.