Thursday, December 12, 2013

12th June, 1964 - Mandela Imprisoned for Life

Guest post from Today in Alternate History, inspired by @uchrotweets "Black South-african leader dies in prison, aged 95 #althistory"
Judge-president of the Transvaal Dr. Quartus de Wet addressed the accused as Rolihlahla Mandela, respecting his request to be known henceforth by his Xhosa tribal name. Mandela and his fellow members of the African National Congress (ANC) were convicted as violent communist agitators and sentenced to life imprisonment.

The Christian moniker "Nelson" was a result of British bias in the education system, his teacher Miss Mdingane having insisted that he use the name on his first day when he became the first member of his family to attend school. And yet Mandela's personal decision to drop "Nelson" as his first name was only a small part of a much bigger picture. The ANC had made an ideological gear shift, embracing Chairman Trotsky's vision for "International Revolution" instead of the "Socialism in One Country" concept advocated by Commissar Stalin.

Thereafter the ANC began to operate more broadly across the continent. Mandela's death was announced on 5th December, 2013, with the simplest of tweets "Black South-african leader dies in prison, aged 95 #history" [1]. It was a moment of overwhelming sadness and yet triumphant defiance as recorded half a century before in his trial declaration: 

"During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die".

Addendum by Jeff Provine His native South Africa, like many African states, continues to struggle. Post-colonial Africa served as a hotbed of Cold War activity as well as decades of exploitation and oppression. Racial and ethnic divides formed battle-lines, all promoting local warlords. South Africa itself faced waves of unrest, each contributing to major economic downfalls and rampant inflation, though it still acts as a regional center under the shadow of wealthier Nigeria.

1 comment:

  1. At first I thought the point of divergence was Mandela getting the death sentence and being executed, which almost happened.

    Thinking of the effects of different strategies adopted by the ANC is interesting, but I suspect that if the ANC was less effective than historically was the case, some other organization would have emerged to become the center of popular resistance.

    Another interesting question is whether whites could have continued to monopolize political power in South Africa longer, or even indefinitely. I actually think that the question is they could have, but at some cost to the white minority itself. Some possible strategies which were actually explored was taking the colored minority into partnership with the whites (they were almost as numerous, so this would have still diluted the white minority's advantages), and constructing a full out police state (this would have impacted white's civil liberties), or alternatively just accepting economic isolation from the rest of the world and relative poverty and not changing the domestic power structure, such as North Korea and Cuba did.

    One problem with these scenarios is that the government in the late 1980s was well aware that they would probably get a better deal negotiating with Mandela and his colleagues than any future leadership, and that they didn't have much time to take this chance. The collapse of the Soviet Union also removed a major backer for the ANC so the government had a window of opportunity to negotiate with a weakened ANC before a new backer was found. The chances of the white minority were better in a multicultural liberal democracy with one man one vote and property rights, than to have negotiated a privileged position in a non-liberal regime dominated by some other ethnic group.


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