President Nelson Mandela has secured his place in history as a champion of peace and reconciliation, but he reminded his party faithful Tuesday that it was the fire in his belly that won him respect and admiration in the anti-apartheid struggle.
In a stinging farewell speech as head of the African National Congress, Mandela accused some white South Africans of trying to sabotage the country’s young democracy by undermining his ANC-led government.
He said a “counterrevolutionary network” of apartheid-era sympathizers has refused to go along with black rule and is waging a “campaign of destabilization” across the country.
“This counterrevolutionary network--which is already active and bases itself on those in the public administration and others in other sectors of our society who have not accepted the reality of majority rule--is capable of carrying out very disruptive actions,” he said. “It measures its own success by the extent to which it manages to weaken the democratic order.”
Mandela said the network, made up of “various elements of the former ruling group,” has tried to topple the ANC through covert means, including subverting the economy, using crime to erode confidence in the government and driving wedges between the ANC and its allies.
He singled out the activities of the National Party, the architects of apartheid, with particular disdain. And he did so on Reconciliation Day--a national holiday aimed at healing wounds among the races--and in this out-of-the-way outpost best known as a bloody battlefield in the Boer War almost a century ago.
“Our experience over the last three years confirms that the National Party has not abandoned its strategic objective of the total destruction of our organization and movement,” said Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison under National Party rule. “The leopard has not changed its spots.”
Addressing the opening session of a weeklong party convention, where he will officially retire as ANC leader, Mandela, 79, lashed out at white-dominated institutions with a rancor seldom displayed by the country’s No. 1 glad-hander.
In a more typical setting, the grinning president last week posed for photographers with actress Brooke Shields, and over the weekend he happily told a national television audience that his deputy is running the country while he performs ceremonial tasks.
Even on Tuesday, the biggest ovation by the 3,000 delegates came when Mandela embraced his former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, waiting in a line of well-wishers gathered on the front stage.
“This is not the man of reconciliation we have come to know,” said a West European diplomat of Mandela’s Tuesday address. “It is the kind of speech Winnie Madikizela-Mandela could have delivered.”
But in what ANC officials described as his parting partisan volley in South African politics, Mandela--dressed in a yellow ANC T-shirt--spared virtually no one, including some within his own organization.
He accused the South African news media of using the new democratic order to “protect the legacy of racism,” as evidenced by “its own patterns of ownership, editorial control, value system and advertiser influence.”
He attacked nongovernmental organizations dependent on international subsidies. Without giving names, he said some of the “NGOs” had become instruments of foreign governments and institutions trying to influence South African politics.
He even took on corrupt elements in the ANC, saying personal ambition and individual gratification for some have overshadowed “our goal of creating a better life for all.”
ANC officials characterized the nearly four-hour speech as frank, robust and unequivocal and said it was meant to rally the rank and file at a crucial juncture in the party’s history as its larger-than-life leader steps aside and the 1999 national elections approach.
“The president felt it was important, as he departs, to lay before the movement the challenges it faces in the future,” said Pallo Jordan, an ANC executive and government official. “Apple pie, motherhood and milk toast would have all been very well and good, but what would [we] do the day after tomorrow when Nelson Mandela is no longer president? Would apple pie and motherhood help us? I don’t think so.”
ANC officials said Mandela’s bluntness was also designed to serve his likely successor as president and party chief, Thabo Mbeki, who was reportedly one of the main writers of the address.
Mbeki has often been compared with Mandela in an unflattering light, with Mandela cast above the fray as the grand conciliator while Mbeki is portrayed as fighting in the trenches for the less glamorous achievements of the country’s transformation.
The speech, the officials said, placed both men in similar roles. “He was putting the issues to the conference firmly on the table so no one can run around,” said Mac Maharaj, an ANC official. “From the beginning . . . reconciliation and transformation have been interlinked parts of one whole.”