Revolution #147, November 16, 2008

Food For Thought: Mandela and Obama

Many today compare Barack Obama to Nelson Mandela, the South African leader who came to power in the early 1990s, after decades of apartheid rule, in which black South Africans had virtually no rights at all, including the right to vote, to live in certain areas, to move about freely, etc.

While basically a reformist, and never really a revolutionary, Nelson Mandela was associated with (and paid a price for his involvement in) the struggle of the oppressed black people in South Africa (while Obama has never played even the kind of role that Mandela played in relation to the struggle of oppressed people). With the election of Mandela in the 1990s—with the coming to office of a black president in South Africa—there was an end to the formal system of apartheid segregation. But the economic conditions of the great majority of black people in South Africa have continued to get even worse since that time, and in many ways so have their social and political conditions. Worst of all, this political shift to a black presidency has played a big role in killing off the previous mass uprisings and resistance of black people and the widespread revolutionary sentiments that accompanied this mass rebellion--leaving the masses of black people in South Africa cruelly oppressed and at the same time politically demobilized, while their actual conditions, including continuing poverty and massive unemployment, continue to worsen. And, for the time being, the revolutionary uprising of the millions of youth and other black people, the hope and striving for a better world that marked that uprising, and the inspiration this provided, have been replaced by growing crime, which has further demoralized masses of black people.

This is a bitter experience whose crucial lessons—which point sharply to the need for revolution and a radically different society and not simply to a change in the color of the person administering the oppressive system—must be deeply drawn, for the benefit of the masses of black people in South Africa and for oppressed people everywhere, including in the U.S.

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