The Nelson Mandela national memorial day turned out horribly wrong for the bourgeoisie, the ANC, and President Jacob Zuma as the masses completely upset the applecart and took center-stage. Around 90 heads of state, presidents, prime ministers, kings, business tycoons and foreign dignitaries from all over the world came to attend the memorial service of former president Nelson Mandela. But these "respectable people" came face to face with a defiant, emotional and raucous proletarian crowd of over 60,000 at the FNB stadium in Soweto. The result was a massive embarrassment for these "respectable people" and especially for President Zuma who was booed amidst an outpouring of raw emotion by the masses.
The memorial event for Nelson Mandela was supposed to be a showpiece event for Zuma and his government. It was supposed to bring together people from all walks of life in a spirit of unity to say good-bye to Nelson Mandela in front of the whole world. Everybody was supposed to put aside their differences and show that South Africa was still the "Rainbow Nation". Instead, the masses let the rich and powerful know exactly what their true feelings were. The first person they turned on was President Zuma.
The massive crowd started booing and jeering loudly as President Zuma entered the giant stadium. The jeering and chanting eventually died down only to resume each time Zuma was shown on the big television screen. This prompted the organisers to stop showing the President's image on the big screen and to switch off the screen for a while. But this could not last and after US President Obama spoke, the ANC Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa had to make a plea for "discipline" from the crowd by invoking the legacy of Nelson Mandela. But even as he was pleading with the crowd, the volume of jeering and whistling would increased in an act of defiance.
Some in the crowd accompanied the booing and jeering with thumbs-down gestures and rotating hand gestures, frequently seen at football games in South Africa when fans want to see a substitute to be made. The President was completely stunned by this. He is usually a very juvenile character, but this time round he wore a stony expression.
The complete irony is that those who were booing Zuma were clearly ANC supporters who were singing ANC songs of struggle. These were working class people who form the mass base of the ANC. At present the President is involved in a series of personal scandals and is a firm supporter of capitalist policies like the National Development Plan.
One of the scandals is that it is alleged that more than R200 million of tax payers’ money was used to upgrade the private residence of the President. This is happening in a country which has a chronic shortage of housing for millions of poor people. Just in the last 3 months he has signedinto law bills like the Transport Laws and Related Matters amendment bill, and the Youth Wage Subsidies bill, etc, against the expressed wishes of the masses, in a bid to appease the bourgeoisie. On Tuesday, in front of the whole world, the working masses let himknow how they feel.
At first the President's protectors called this jeering "an orchestrated event". Some even blamed supporters of the newly-formed Economic Freedom Fighters, which is a political party that has recently been formed by expelled ANC Youth League members. But that argument soon fell flat on its face when it was so obvious that the protesters were ANC supporters.
The ANC later condemned the behaviour of the people who booed during the memorial service. Spokesperson for the ANC, Jackson Mthembu said: "Some amongst the mourners displayed despicable and unbecoming behaviour by repeatedly heckling Comrade President Zuma. This is a period of mourning. None amongst us should use this solemn moment to disrespect anyone amongst us, whatever their personal views and grievances."
Mtembu's views were the opposite of the workers in the crowd. Terror Moloi, a laundry worker from Soweto interviewed at the stadium, said: "He (Zuma) only favours his own friends. He is not following Mandela's path. He has abandoned the values of Mandela."
Another worker, Funeka Gingcara-Sithole, expressed the same sentiment: "Mandela had a vision, Mandela lived that vision. But what Zuma speaks, he does not live. He should do the honourable thing and resign." These are the authentic voices of the working class in South Africa.
The crowd did not limit their disdain to President Zuma. There were countless times when they started to sing freedom songs while the various world leaders were addressing them. This shows the amount of disdain that the masses have for the “rulers”. These people were so detached from the crowd that they stood around sheepishly, not knowing how to speak to a proletarian crowd.
But whatever Jackson Mtembu and his like says, the truth is that this is the result of two decades of frustration, anger and hopelessness and a lack of improving living standards, coming together in a potent mix with the grief of the death of Nelson Mandela. Some, like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, said it is not what Nelson Mandela would have wanted. He is wrong. He is referring to the caricature of Mandela that the media has carefully cultivated over the last 20 years. In 1994, speaking at a congress of the mighty trade union federation, Cosatu, Mandela said: "If the ANC do to you what Apartheid did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to Apartheid." Those are the words of the militant Mandela.
At the time of Mandela's death we wrote the following: "No doubt the bourgeoisie will invoke Nelson Mandela’s legacy of "national reconciliation" and "national unity" at the time of his passing. The aim is clear: try and hold the masses back; block their path to genuine emancipation. However, this will not be easy and can only be short-lived. "These words were written just four days before Tuesday's events!
The masses were the heart and soul of the memorial service. The politicians, the imperialists and bourgeoisie were looking the proletarian masses in the face, and they hated what they saw. We have often said how militant and outspoken the South African working class are. On Tuesday, the ruling classes from all over the world saw it with their own eyes.
The Marxists will not join the hypocrites who are condemning the masses about "despicable and unbecoming behaviour". We salute the working masses at the FNB stadium for standing up for themselves and for letting their rulers know exactly how they feel. What is despicable is the behaviour and complete hypocrisy of the leaders of countries like the USA who hold millions of people in capitalist bondage, while enriching the rulers even further, and yet eulogize Nelson Mandela.
In the days following the memorial service, Mandela's body will lay in state in Pretoria before his funeral on Sunday 14 December. But whatever happens now, the working masses have shown that they are ready to fight. They have declared this in front of the whole world.
As far back as 1998, Ted Grant and Alan Woods wrote about this process unfolding. In a document called Marxism and Imperialism: The Third World in Crisis, they wrote:
"We should not underestimate the effect of the conceding of some democratic rights amongst the black population. Inevitably, at the beginning, there were some illusions. The concession of some things like electricity and clean water in the townships, in particular, will be seen by the blacks as a major advance. But the hopes placed in the ANC leaders by the masses far exceed such concessions. The black workers and especially the youth have grown increasingly angry at the conduct of the ANC leaders. After generations of what amounted to slavery, the mass of black South Africans aspire to real equality and civilised conditions of existence. For the masses the question of democracy is always a concrete question, linked to jobs, wages and housing. The ANC-led government introduced through the misnamed Growth, Employment and Redistribution plan (GEAR) a number of attacks on trade union rights, privatisation of the utilities, etc...
"We can see that already happening. There is a growing discontent within the ANC rank and file and the unions about this government and the way a new black elite has joined the white bourgeoisie leaving the majority of the black population still living in conditions of poverty."
Those words could have been written today. The task now is to bring the genuine ideas of Marxism to these mass organizations.