Mandela: white roadblocks unify blacks
Brandfort, South Africa
Do not be misled by the bursting of bombs. World attention may be focused on rising sabotage sponsored by a group outside South Africa, but the real initiative in black politics is swinging back to black movements based inside this country.Skip to next paragraph
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This assessment comes from Winnie Mandela, one of South Africa's most prominent black activists.
Mrs. Mandela is a stalwart supporter of the aims of the African National Congress (ANC), the group that is the source of rising sabotage here. But she is delighted with the trend toward strengthened black politics by other groups in the country.
She thinks a new phase of internal black activism is dawning that is carrying on in the tradition of the ANC. She sees this development as complimentary, rather than at odds with whatever tactics the outlawed ANC is using from the outside.
But Mrs. Mandela also believes some of the emerging black activists are naive. It is naive for proponents of the resurgent ''black consciousness'' movement to exclude whites since one cannot simply wish away the whites in South Africa, she feels. Such a view is extremist, she thinks. To her, the nonracialism long preached by the ANC is the only answer.
Mrs. Mandela's husband, ANC leader Nelson Mandela, is serving a life sentence for attempting to overthrow the government.
Every attempt has been made to send Mrs. Mandela into political oblivion, too. She has been banned for 22 years, and exiled for the last seven here in this remote farm town where blacks live out of sight at the end of a dirt road, emerging only to work for the white community.
Mrs. Mandela's banning order prevents her from being quoted, but the views outlined here come from a lengthy interview with her and from conversations with those close to her.
Friends say Mrs. Mandela does not lament about her life far away from Soweto, the black township near Johannesburg where she was a key political leader. A trained social worker, she is immersed in community work here in Brandfort. She is organizing a mobile clinic for first aid, and helping to set up soup kitchens for hungry blacks, hard-hit by severe drought.
Rather than taking Mrs. Mandela off the political map, the government has in fact put tiny Brandfort on the road map of influential visitors to this country. In addition, up to 20 letters a day arrive pledging support from all corners of the world.
What one learns on a visit to Mrs. Mandela's three-room home - friends say she calls it ''three cells put together'' - is not comforting. Those close to her say she considers it inevitable that a violent end will come to South Africa's ruling white-minority government. She feels it is too late for even truly progressive steps to be enacted unilaterally by the government.
Asking what the government can do to gain some goodwill from the black majority is dealing in hypotheticals, Mrs. Mandela is said to believe. She sees the government pressing ahead undaunted with apartheid, a policy it knows is rejected by the black majority. Close associates say Mrs. Mandela regards the new constitution the government has drawn up in the name of ''reform'' as ''the worst of all the apartheid measures,'' enacted by the ruling white Afrikaners.
The proposed new constitution will bring Coloreds (persons of mixed-race descent) and Indians into Parliament as junior partners. But it will still exclude the 72 percent of South Africa's population that is black.
Friends say Mrs. Mandela sees the proposed constitution as ''the best recipe for the worst violence, the worst possible confrontation between blacks and whites.'' Blacks see the constitution as proof the government has no intention of recognizing the rights of blacks.
But Mrs. Mandela is optimistic, and particularly cheered by political developments, say those who know her well. She feels the constitution ''has been one of the best unifying factors'' to come along in some time for blacks.
Exclusion from the constitution has provided cement for a degree of black solidarity not seen since the 1950s, Mrs. Mandela is said to believe.
Friends say Mrs. Mandela is supportive of the newly launched United Democratic Front, a mostly black umbrella organization founded to oppose the constitution. She regards the UDF as a ''mass movement'' that is going to ''go very far.'' And friends say she does not see the UDF trying to be a ''replacement for the ANC.''
Mrs. Mandela acknowledges there is also some new activity within the black consciousness movement that reached its peak in the unrest of 1976. But she regards their views as extreme.
The blacks of Brandfort seem to take Mrs. Mandela's peculiar status in stride. While they file home from work past her house, many stop briefly to say hello. But they come single file, careful not to violate her banning order, which prohibits her from meeting more than one person at a time.