In spite of the shortness of the notice, the Symposium on Mandela and the Unfinished Revolution in Africa held on Friday, the 20th of December 2013 recorded a decent attendance and was marked by deep and penetrating interactive presentations by scholars and activists who made it a stimulating event.
Lead discussants included Professor Alozie Princewill, Dr Dele Seteolu (both of the Lagos State University, Ojo), Comrades Ngozi Iwere, S.O.Z. Ejiofoh, Issa Aremu and Kayode Komolafe who made notable contributions to the anti-apartheid struggle in the late 70s up to the early 90s as student and trade unionists. The symposium was hosted and chaired by Mr. Femi Falana, SAN.
The symposium recognized the huge personal sacrifice that Nelson Mandela made to the struggle against apartheid, but noted that he made his contributions within the collective. While, Madiba’s sterling commitment cannot be overemphasized, participants cautioned against the celebratory portrayal of Mandela by forces of imperialism as a mere reformist whose genius lay in conciliatory acquiescence or accommodation with the structures of oppression.
Mandela was first and foremost a revolutionary who used his skills and strength to ensure justice, fairness and equity to bring about racial and economic justice in South Africa. Unfortunately, participants noted, South Africa, in spite of the efforts of Madiba and his comrades, remains a society divided into the haves and have nots, with the huge gap between the poor, usually the blacks, and the rich, usually the whites, being the widest anywhere in the world. The indisputable fact that economic power is yet to be democratized in post-apartheid South Africa demonstrates clearly that the ideals of the Freedom Charter are yet to be fully realized.
The demonization of Robert Mugabe by the West also came up for discussion at the symposium in the context of the differing approaches by South Africa and Zimbabwe to the land question. While the symposium could not defend the electoral malfeasances traceable to Mugabe and his unwillingness to yield the space for young politicians to run Zimbabwe and his repressive tendencies, the symposium could not fault the repossession of lands that were forcibly taken from the people by the colonialists.
Citizenship without land ownership is empty. Every country must find peculiar ways of resolving the land question. The west cannot prescribe its prejudices and interests into a code for African peoples in relation to the land question.
Naturally, the forum also highlighted the contributions of other African greats such as Kwame Nkrumah, Nwalimu Nyerere, Herbert Macaulay, Patrice Lumumba, Aminu Kano, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Amilcar Cabral, and Chris Hani to mention but a few. The symposium agreed that these and other notable sons and daughters of Africa should be celebrated regularly in order for the upcoming generation to connect with the ideals championed by them.
With respect to the alleged slight of Nigeria at the burial ceremonies of Madiba as President Goodluck Jonathan was not allowed to address the audience, it was noted that the people of South Africa did not by that rubbished the undoubted contributions of Nigerians and the country that was regarded as one of the frontline states in spite of the significant geographical distance between the two countries.
It was more a reflection of the undeniable low quality of those who occupy political offices in Africa today. The participants noted that the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, was relentlessly booed by South Africans at the same ceremonies. The lesson here is that those who occupy lofty offices should do everything to justify the respect of the people in their own personal right.
The symposium resolved as follows;
1. The struggle for social justice in Africa in general is yet from being over. It is arduous and long. African people require creative understanding of the present crisis in order to forge appropriate strategies to deal with the crisis of underdevelopment manifested in poverty, diseases and general exclusion from decent living.
2. There is need for regular interactions among revolutionaries in Africa and their organisations to compare notes and learn from one another as was the case in the 1960s.
3. There are many kinds of Mandelas being sold to the public by people who have their interests to protect. It is therefore necessary to make it clear that the essential Mandela was a revolutionary who led Umkhonto We Siswe (the Spear of the Nation) and had no illusion as to the undeniable truth that the struggle for justice in South Africa was far from being over.
When these interests celebrate Mandela and demonise other African leaders, the way they do, they merely signal their intention to privilege one method of struggle over another. Though a towering African personality, Mandela was not alone in defining the revulsion of the African to oppression. We have a duty to celebrate all the other heroes and heroines of the African resistance movement.
4. Without doubt one of the virtues for which Mandela is justly celebrated is forgiveness. But the point needs to be made emphatically that forgiveness ought always to be predicated by restitution. Part of the problems of contemporary South Africa is that restitution is missing in the post-apartheid equation or calculus.
5. 18thof July of every year, Mandela Day, should be used to celebrate the heroes and heroines of the African struggle for liberation and social justice.
6. As we enter 2014 there is the need for comrades interested in political change to meet regularly and create a broad platform for the articulation of opposition to the anti-masses policies of governments at all levels in Nigeria. This has become more desirable as the realignment of forces among the mainstream political parties indicate clearly ideological unity among them. The need to create a third force driven by an ideology that coincides with the interest of the popular masses has become an urgent task.
Femi Falana, SAN
For Friends of Mandela
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