Mandela's funeral and the hypocrisy of the rich and powerful

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16 December 2013

Last week, in Johannesburg, four current and past British prime ministers, both Labour and Tory, attended a memorial service for Nelson Mandela. They joined 50 heads of state from all over the world, politicians of every description, plus celebrities - from Bono to Richard Branson.

Whatever they may claim, however, the rich and powerful were not mourning the man who was once seen, both in South Africa and abroad, as the symbol of the struggle of the black South African poor majority against apartheid.

If only because that man - whom Thatcher famously branded a "terrorist" - had long been dead: he died on that day in 1990, when he was pulled out of his jail; the day when he agreed to sell out the black working class and its decades-long struggle for social emancipation.

Celebrating the looting of Africa

What was certainly the most shocking aspect in this sanctimonious line-up of representatives from the world's richest countries, was its hypocrisy.

As if the capitalist classes of these countries hadn't been the biggest beneficiaries of the exploitation of black South-African workers under apartheid! After all, wasn't the apartheid era South African economy dominated by the all-powerful Anglo-American mining conglomerate - whose name says it all? And didn't French and US weapons manufacturers make a fortune out of selling their deadly wares to the apartheid regime?

And today, while these same heads of states hail Mandela's role as a "freedom fighter", aren't they keeping Africa under the constant surveillance of their military bases, at the same time? Yes, Britain with its bases in Sierra-Leone and Kenya; France in Gabon, Senegal, Djibouti and Chad and the US in Djibouti and the Red Sea...

Worse even, these rich countries have a long record of meddling in Africa's affairs - directly, using their own troops, like the British in Sierra-Leone and the French in Ivory Coast, Mali and the Central African Republic, or indirectly, using mercenaries, like the US, in the Congo and the Sudan.

Just like yesterday under the hated apartheid regime, which reduced all non-whites to sub-human status, today's Africa - including multi-racial South Africa - is subjected to the same parasitic looting by these rich capitalist classes. The murder of 34 platinum miners at Marikana, last year, shot for daring to take strike action at a mine owned by the London-based conglomerate Lonmin, was yet another illustration of this subjection.

And this is precisely why these heads of state were mourning Mandela - not because he was once a symbol of the struggle against apartheid, but because he saved them from the wrath of the poor by ensuring that the collapse of apartheid would not affect the profits of the western companies operating in his country.

Men die, the power of the masses doesn't

Today, judging from the singing and dancing which has been taking place in the streets of South Africa, the black poor have been celebrating Mandela as a symbol of their struggle, because that is what matters - a struggle which will continue, as long as this exploitative capitalist system remains.

As to those politicians who claim Mandela's mantle to cover their subservience to the exploiters, they get the treatment they deserve. President Zuma, who shares responsibility for the Marikana massacre, was intermittently booed. He and Mandela's other successors may be black - like most of today's police and soldiers who regularly go on the rampage against the poor - but the South African working class has learnt to recognise its enemies, and Zuma is one of them, just as much as Cameron and Blair are our enemies.

It was only 20 years ago that the apartheid system was ended. Having helped create so much profit for the mining and financial conglomerates, it came to threaten these same profits, thanks to the mobilisation of black South African workers against it - a mobilisation which had the potential of turning into a general uprising which might have spread over the African continent.

Mandela and his successors may have rescued capitalist interests, both western and local, by depriving the black working class of the gains it was hoping for. But this rescue will only be temporary. Ever since the end of apartheid, the explosive power of the South African working class has been building up. We can be sure that it will erupt again, and that next time, it will find leaders from within its own ranks, to take its fight as far as it should have gone at the time - all the way, right up to the overthrow of the capitalist order.