Mandela Round Table: Nelson Mandela and the Legacies of Liberation - Panel 1

Nelson Mandela and the Genesis of the ANC's Armed Struggle: Notes on Method 
Thula Simpson (University of Pretoria)

In recent years the circumstances surrounding the ANC’s turn to armed struggle have been the subject of much controversy amongst historians. The debate has been fuelled by scholars determined to overturn what they see as years of historical fabrication propagated by South Africa’s ruling party. Particular attention has been paid to the period leading to the formation of what became the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). The literature has been enlivened by the fact that Nelson Mandela is the ANC leader who stands accused of having distorted the history of the struggle and his role in it. The charges are that he lied repeatedly during his lifetime in denying that he had ever been a South African Communist Party (SACP) member; that he was dishonest in not revealing that it was the SACP rather than the ANC that was responsible for the formation of MK; that he committed an act of gross insubordination – violating an ANC policy directive in the process – in  proceeding from the formation to the launch of MK; and that as part of this insubordination he effectively marginalised ANC president Albert Luthuli, who remained steadfastly opposed till his death to the use of violence as a method in the South African struggle. These are serious charges against Mandela’s integrity both as an activist and as a chronicler of events. In each case, the charge is based either on newly available archival material or on fresh interpretations of existing sources. This presentation will discuss all the charges, weighing the arguments of the protagonists against the evidence they have been able to provide in support of them.

Mandela & Matanzima attorneys-at-law: lawyers, the legal field and liberation 
Tim Gibbs (University College London)

As elsewhere in the colonial world, South Africa’s legal profession produced many of the leading anti-apartheid politicians – famously Mandela and Tambo, attorneys-at-law (est. 1952). Mid-century Johannesburg was the hub of the interlocking networks of lawyers-cum-politicians who would play a leading role in “the struggle”. Many histories also stress the importance of the object of “the law” in opposing apartheid. These narratives lie at the heart of Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, as well as accounts such as George Bizos’ Odyssey to Freedom: a memoir by the world renowned human rights advocate, friend and lawyer to Nelson Mandela. Yet the majority of black lawyers who have sat in the post-apartheid constitutional court took another route, receiving their education and early professional training in the Bantustans. In the mid-1970s there were more African lawyers in the Transkei Bantustan – ruthlessly ruled by Kaiser Matanzima, a trained attorney who had once offered a legal partnership in Umtata to his close kinsman, Mandela – than Durban and Johannesburg combined. How do the professional and political trajectories of lawyers inside the Bantustans mesh with the better known struggle historiography? And what might be the broader significance of these narratives at a time when the judiciary and legal profession has become a battleground for controversies concerning professional formation, elite accountability and the “rule of law”?

Discussant: Martin Plaut (Institute of Commonwealth Studies)

Thula Simpson (University of Pretoria), Tim Gibbs (University College London), Martin Plaut (Institute of Commonwealth Studies)
Event date: 
Monday, 24 April 2017 - 2:00pm
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