1 Jul 2013

A 'repellent photo op', a troubled ANC, and Mandela

A baking winter sun beats down on the brown lands around Johannesburg. One of the most industrial and commercial centres south of the equator bustles about its business.

Nelson Mandela’s ailing presence in Pretoria’s heart hospital 35 miles away is somewhere in the background. But it does not eclipse the deepening sense of disillusion with the ruling ANC. Matters came to a nasty head yesterday when Winnie Mandela told my ITV colleague Mark Austin how much she loathed what the ANC and President Zuma had done in staging a “photo op” with Mandela in April.

Madiba barely flickered as Zuma beamed and talked of Mandela being “up and about” at a time when he patently wasn’t.

Last night on Channel 4 News, we interviewed Mandela’s erstwhile cohort, Ronnie Kasrils, who served as a defence minister in Mandela’s government and later as intelligence minister. He told me he “agreed absolutely with Winnie Mandela”. “People were shocked,” he said. “I found it repellent, and wrote that I did.”

But this is the least of it. There is concern that the lack of renewal in the ANC, the corruption, and more, are holding the country back. Some talk to me openly of Mandela’s presence amongst them as protecting the ANC leadership from this growing sense of disillusion. The “photo op” affair – which has taken some time to ferment, caps the sense that the ANC is using Mandela’s closing time amongst them for electoral advantage. I suggested as much to Mr Kasrils: he responded – somewhat sardonically I thought – with, “I would hate to think so.”

Obama: hero and villain

Barack Obama’s long planned official visit here has been intriguing to behold. He has been greeted as both hero and villain. The “son” of Mandela’s overwhelming of racial hatred, Obama is seen as a worthy inheritor of all that has flowed from Mandela’s famous victory.

But Obama’s time in office is also seen as a failure by many critics here. They regret that it has taken him so long to make it to Africa, and South Africa itself, in his presidency. They damn his handling of wars, drones and targeted assassinations.

The authorities here were careful to micro-manage Obama’s time here. He was only seen in intimate handpicked situations. There were no moments when the general public even glimpsed him. The few protests – peaceful indeed – were firmly disposed of with stun grenades.

Altogether a prickly time here – and yet not one devoid of hope. South Africa remains rich in potential. The youth are better educated than ever before. The burgeoning black middle class is sporting its entrepreneurial exuberance. But that eternal yardstick of rich and poor is still an unhappy one. The gulf is as wide as at any time.

Mandela, however, will be remembered, not for his management of the economy, or his handling of the political system, but for the message of forgiveness that excused this country, in the aftermath of apartheid, the horrific bloodshed that in all other circumstances would have seemed unavoidable.

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10 reader comments

  1. Robert Taggart says:

    RSA – the best hope for that continent – little hope if the ANC continue to ‘run’ it unfettered.
    NRM – the best hope for the transition – little hope for the transformation.
    ANC – the best hope for the majority – little hope to those who can make a difference.

  2. Philip Edwards says:


    No need to be circumspect here.

    Firstly, Nelson Mandela’s lifetime of courage and personal sacrifice is not in question.

    Secondly, all those Western politicians who have engaged in war criminality, genocide and corruption – that is, virtually all of them – aren’t fit to lace Mandela’s shoes. Neither is the current leadership of the ANC.

    Apartheid is gone, but the job is unfinished.

    Would that we had a leader of Mandela’s stature and courage in Britain. Instead we get Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Ed Milliband, Nick Clegg, Michael Gove, Danny Alexander, George Gideon Osborne, Boris Johnson and all the other farts-in-a-bottle. The US is even worse. And one day history will present its invoice: I dread to think what it could be.

  3. Meg Howarth says:

    ‘Mandela…will be remembered, not for his management of the economy, or his handling of the political system, but for the message of forgiveness that excused this country, in the aftermath of apartheid, the horrific bloodshed that in all other circumstances would have seemed unavoidable’ – a resounding yes to that! Forgiveness is key, for personal as well as political progress, for freedom from tyrrany and fear.

    As for that repellent photo-op – I regret to have to say I find Zuma himself repellent.

  4. Peter says:


    While you’re out there in SA, why not have a good look around and see what Nelson Mandela’s ANC brought that country in 20 years of power..

    * Massive joblessness
    * Lamentable poverty
    * Violence beyond imagination
    * Breakdown of law, order, and infrastructure
    * Uncontrollable corruption

    This, is Nelson Mandela’s legacy.

    The price of his freedom…. Nelson Mandela: A Nation Imprisoned.

    He was first and foremost a terrorist who plotted to overthrow the government to replace it with communism, which is why he was jailed. Only AFTER he walked free, he was given the ultimatum by the USA / UK to abandon communism for democracy, and in Checkmate, changed course. You call him a hero if you wish, and we will disagree.

    As a Journo, I do believe you’re the best I’ve ever seen.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. margaret brandreth-jones says:

      Peter , Jon is a born rebel and aspires to feel a connection to one of such great stature. I recall from one of his past blogs (although I cannot be precise) that he called for more rebels and revolutions, but that was before the Arab spring.

      The divide between rich and poor is still surely as great in this country ,but the poorest in Africa start from a sub human springboard. It isn’t the divide which is the problem, we need rich people ;in all countries alike it is the starting point from where we measure the divide.

  5. joseph peter says:

    I wish all leader to be like Mandela.He is worthy of emulation.

  6. Mudplugger says:

    It’s tempting to wonder whether the same level of conveniently-forgetful hero-worship will be applied to Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness whenever those two ‘reformed terrorists’ approach their departure date ?

    Similar strategies, similar tactics, but maybe not quite so PC. Some sort of discrimination ?

  7. scarce says:

    How long did it take Jon snow to receover form his jet lag?. back from South Aftrica;

    Hima nd mark Austin started their uk bulletins back otn he same day; Were they on the same flight;

    C4 can afford him first class with a full bed to strecth his lanky torso across.

    He’s probably taller than Amrk Austin

  8. Caliban says:

    Hello Jon

    This comment is not on topic and has nothing to do with the Mandela story. I couldn’t find another way to contact you.

    I have been a regular viewer of C4 News for several decades now. I like its in depth and serious coverage of a wide range of stories. But . . .

    Over recent months a strong left wing bias seems to have crept into it’s coverage of nearly all political and social issues. I haven’t really noticed this in the outside news reporting from Gary, Michael, or Alex but it seems highly evident in story selection and studio analysis, interviews and discussions.

    I know it’s a truism that both the Left and the Right always think news programmes are biased against their particular views. And I’m sure I am no exception to that rule. But, my (admittedly right wing) views have not changed substantially over the years, but my view of C4 News has.

    Of course it’s possible my opinions have hardened, but I think it much more likely there have been editorial changes in C4 News. I’m now actively looking for an alternative for my evening news, and you might be pleased to hear I have not yet found one. But I am still looking. And would much have preferred to stay with the old C4 News I enjoyed and respected so much.

    You may well dismiss this comment as spurious and (ironically) biased. In which case, thank you for many years of solid, reliable and honest journalism. I will miss you and the team greatly.

    Kind regards

  9. Tim Greening-Jackson says:

    Given the generally fawning nature of the coverage I presume Channel 4 news will be on hand in three days time when they expect Mandela to rise from the dead?

    Mind you I thought it was gracious of Peter Hain to give Mandela credit for his assistance in Hain’s destruction of apartheid.

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