December 10, 2013

His pragmatism was the key to building a new South Africa

Posted in Irish Independent · 37 comments ·

In 2001, I was lucky enough to work briefly in Johannesburg for a large South African advertising agency. The project was a government-sponsored initiative on how to re-brand the new South Africa and how to position the economy. For the first few years post-apartheid, South Africa had been seen as simply a mineral-based, commodity-driven, extractive economy. The state was keen to portray the economy as having a burgeoning entrepreneurial class of small businesses.

In order to facilitate the new image, the ANC government had to build a bridge from the old commodity-based economy to something that felt more like a knowledge economy. Such a bridge is paved with education and education costs a lot.

Therefore, the state was constantly trying to balance the needs of the people and the appetite of investors for risk. As a result, much of the work focused on how to present the changing South African economy to foreign investors.

The group was mixed, but still largely white and Indian.

When asked what was the South African economy’s best asset, the answer, almost in unison, wasn’t gold, diamonds, other minerals, tourism or the potential of the population – but Mandela, pure and simple.

Even back then, the name Mandela was a brand and the brand stood for the rainbow nation, the possibilities and the future. As long as Mandela’s name could be invoked, there was still a chance that the rainbow nation would make it.

He embodied forgiveness, reconciliation, magnanimity and more to the point, pragmatism. Indeed, this pragmatism seemed to be shared by many fellow citizens. On the first night, having heard lots from white men about how the people have an enormous capacity for mercy and compassion and this was the reason that the rainbow nations would survive without much recrimination, I was chatting to one of the few black guys on the team.

When I asked him how the whole thing was working and whether there was any truth in the whites’ suggestion that the blacks were particularly tolerant even after everything that had occurred during white rule, he grinned and said: “They pretend it never happened and we pretend to forgive them.”

These sentiments could have come directly from that other brilliant hero to South Africans, Mahatma Gandhi, who memorably said of reconciliation: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

Mandela understood this and knew that it was not, and still is not, in the gift of millions of poor Africans to forgive, but that there had to be a mechanism to deal with the past.

This type of leadership, the ability to understand not just your own people but to have the authority to bring your enemies with you, is one of the many extraordinary attributes that Mandela displayed at a critical juncture.

Leading two tribes – black and white – bringing them together and forging a joint project would be a truly magnificent achievement, but to have brought the many tribes of South Africa together is something that practically no one could have dreamed of. Yet Mandela did this.

JK Galbraith, the great American economist and adviser to JKF, said: “The role of the leader is to understand the anxieties of his people and do something about it.”

In the context of South Africa, there were times when Mandela seemed to understand the anxieties of the whites as much as the blacks.

Mandela was prepared to take enormous risks to make sure that interests were balanced and fears assuaged.

Over the intervening years I have visited South Africa a number of times and remain shocked by just how much of the country’s wealth the white population has managed to hold on to without massive social upheaval.

Yet the country is profoundly different now to 10 years ago. It is a young country – only 18 years old. Despite the massive disparity in wealth, the country is going patiently in the right direction. This patience must owe a lot to Mandela.

South Africa is not only becoming normal despite its grotesque origins, but very few would have forecast such a peaceful transition to democracy.

Whatever happens in the years ahead, the true achievement is that so much has happened so far under the wise and extraordinary leadership of Nelson Mandela.

  1. whatamess

    i hope too for pragmatism with vote on The Volcker Rule today

  2. whatamess

    where is everybody?!…

    all i see is tumble-weed ?

  3. 5Fingers

    A1 article. Last Saturday’s IT Turner cartoon says it all. I pray we have more Mandelas. But will it be possible without the intervening suffering he had to endure. A saint if ever there was one.

  4. joe hack

    The good and the great are supporting “terrorist” – mandela – the supporter of “terrorists” include would believe Naomi ‘Blood Diamonds’ Campbell, Bomber Obama, hypocrite cash in on Mandela’s name bono and Eamonn Gilmore the x member of the stickys – official Sinn Féin. What would Kevin Barry make of Ryan Tubridy now Ryan an x member Fianna Fáil Cumann at UCD?

    It seems when it comes to support for apartheid Irish Style – as it was it the North of Ireland – self loathing is the order of the day, the Halo Effect is not equal – definitely not equal in Dub 4
    Mandela was not Gandhi, or even close to him he was more an Castro, Adams or McGuiness.

    “had no alternative to armed and violent resistance” the black pimpernel Mandela.

    Meanwhile while eulogising a “terrorist” in the south, Bomber Obama is busy killing them in the east.

    Invitus Ubuntu – Mandiba

    the black pimpernel


    Out of the night that covers me,
    Black as the pit from pole to pole,
    I thank whatever gods may be
    For my unconquerable soul.

    In the fell clutch of circumstance
    I have not winced nor cried aloud.
    Under the bludgeonings of chance
    My head is bloody, but unbowed.

    Beyond this place of wrath and tears
    Looms but the horror of the shade,
    And yet the menace of the years
    Finds and shall find me unafraid.

    It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll,
    I am the master of my fate:
    I am the captain of my soul.

    By: William Ernest Henle

    • 5Fingers

      All politicians careers end in failure. Mandela just did not last long enough for that to happen.There will always be the disaffected.

  5. Ryu Hayabusa

    What Mandela’s passing really underlines and reinforces is the dearth of leadership in Europe and beyond over 80 years or so. Chumps and Stooges like O’bama and Cameron are like pied pipers leading the peoples down the road to penury and Totalitarian enslavement.

    I find it nauseating that they are trying to surf the wave of solidarity surrounding the funeral but they are being opportunistic and true to form.

    • whatamess

      “penury and Totalitarian enslavement”

      as always,well put Hayabusa!

      Cheap credit drives consumer spending and as a result, the economies are reduced to volatile expanding and contracting credit bubbles..this seems to be the only ‘known’ MO of the monetarist’s system?? .. but a cul-de-sac for humanity ! just where empire wants us , all frightened, huddling ,praying for a saviour!

      “Debt, is future consumption brought forward” or put another way, “current borrowing is future consumption, DENIED, when borrowed for consumption” ( i.e.consumption debt )

      However when borrowed ,for lets say, mission based, non proprietary MEGA projects, the debt is productive debt, NOT more bubbles leaving craters and endless despair.

      • Ryu Hayabusa

        Indeed ,this is the nub of the issue.

        Debt heaped upon more debt with little or no productive end product.
        Essentially just to keep this insane credit merry-go-round spinning!

        Potential worthy future tangible infrastructure projects shelved or mothballed because the capital was instead funnelled toward the banker filthbags and their paymasters.

        As you say the conundrum is how to deflate the current bubble in a steady and orderly fashion (if this is even possible the further along this situation progresses) and move to a sane, logical and practical system with an equitable medium of exchange.

        The opposing forces are so deeply entrenched though. It is a pickle to put it mildly.

  6. Ryu Hayabusa

    They say one of his greatest achievements was securing a donation of £20,000 from Maggie Thatcher the twisted ol’ bat who famously branded him a terrorist in the 80′s.

    It must surely rank up there!

    History will be the shrewder judge in deciding upon who is and is not the ‘terrorist’ in the equation.

  7. Mandela and de Valera both reprieved from execution for terrorism.
    both revered, both president. both remarkable. Neither were saints.

  8. Nelson Mandela fought apartheid in South Africa and won.

    Gerry Adams fought apartheid in Northern Ireland – and won.

    Both were brave freedom fighters who devoted their lives to a worthy cause.

    It amazes me how people in the Republic of Ireland today, both old and young (some of the young being Che Guevara t-shirt wearing liberals – another brave freedom fighter) can’t say Gerry Adams’ name without getting a bad taste in their mouths.

    If you deny men and women a right to work and feed their children (a prominent aspect of apartheid in both South Africa and Northern Ireland) they are going to fight back – they have a right to.

    I wasn’t in favour of the IRA in my youthful innocence – now as a mature man and a father, I realise they were right to do what they did.

    There’s your pragmatism.

    • joe hack

      It case of branding, Bono and other might were a T-Shirt with Mandela face on it, but Gerry Adams face won’t sell records.

      Some Irish are self loathing more so in Dublin 4, they appease the Brutish British; tip the hat to ya Sir. Sycophantism

      Meanwhile Enda Is busy bashing a home grown “terrorist”, while his mate, Sticky Eamonn Gilmore is over in South Africa cerebration one – Schizophrenics don’t ya think.

      Self Loathing it’s guaranteed Irish in Dublin 4 “IDIOTS”

    • joe hack

      It a case of branding, Bono, and other might wear a T-Shirt with Mandela’s face on it, but Gerry Adams face won’t sell records.

      Some Irish are self loathing more so in Dublin 4, they appease the Brutish British; tip the hat to ya Sir – Sycophantism

      Meanwhile Enda Is busy bashing a home grown “terrorist”, while his mate Sticky Eamonn Gilmore is over in South Africa cerebration one – Schizophrenics

      Self Loathing it’s guaranteed in Dublin 4 “IDIOTS”

    • Paul Divers

      Good post.

      What about the people in Ireland today who have the right to work taken away?

      When I was 16 the hunger strikes were on and if I lived in NI I would have been sorely tempted but Gerry Adams should now retire. He served his purpose and the best thing he can do is move on and let young bloods like yourself take up the chase

      Ps. I would trust McGuinness before Adams.

      • joe hack

        The people are compliant they don’t think for themselves they want someone else to do Thinking Hurts that why people don’t do it.
        Compare the number of comments relating the last article about Christmas and this one. When come to something that maters the comments shrink. The media knows this, DMW knows this, and if you’re in the media business which is about making Profit, what would you do? X Factor type media sells

        I Kind of agree with you about Adams retirement, I would not be surprised if he move on but timing is everything election and such and can’t leave a mess behind him

        I would disagree 100% on your last point Adams may not be the popular kid that you want to hang out with in school but he has principals, love them are hate them.

  9. [...] author David McWilliams penned a short tribute on his blog to the recently departed Nelson Mandela here, [...]

  10. joe hack

    Man doing sign language at Mandela’s memorial service was a fake.

    He was not the only fake there!

  11. SMOKEY

    Child rape daily, carjackings and 50 or so murders a day. You can have it. I wouldn’t set foot in that kip. And the new young leader of the ANC Youth League wants to exterminate the white race. Julius Malema and his record speak for themselves.
    Oh, and didn’t Mandela’s wife engage in necklacing? I think I will pass on any Mandella the great t shirts for now.
    And as for Zuma,……
    Actually, I have a necklace for BONO! Now that would be worth seeing!

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