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In the December 2008 edition of Harpers magazine, the South African poet in exile Breyten Breytenbach published a 90th-birthday letter to the former President, Nelson Mandela. The letter is replete with despair, grief and anger over the condition of South Africa, and it is full of scenes of misery and violence and reports of official indifference. 

Breytenbach then applies the usual South African balm of fantasy: "I expect...that you are immune from sycophancy." "And I don't think your self-deprecating humbleness is fake." "Madiba [Mandela's popular nickname], you will be remembered for being naturally curious and compassionate about the lives of the people you came in contact with." "Dear Madiba, I'm aware of how unfair it is to lay all of the above at your feet, like some birthday bouquet of thorns. You deserve to have your knees warmed by a young virgin, like old King David in the Bible — not pummelled by the likes of me."

As a new South African permanent resident in April of 1994, I stood in line to vote in the first multiracial elections. I was a small-time activist in Cape Town for the next ten years, so I certainly shared Breytenbach's brain fever over the "rainbow nation". The West's fight against racism and authoritarianism was supposed to find its final triumph here. 

I dealt with the shock of my disappointment much as Breytenbach did, by nearly going round the bend, although my disappointment went in the opposite direction. It began with facts about Mandela that I learned from his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom (Little Brown, 1994), and progressed to knowledge of his business dealings when the local investigative magazine noseweek put me on the phone to get dirt. 

I found myself interviewing a business manager of Mandela's. This man had told the national and international press that the profits from the sale of lithographs Mandela had signed (but not created, in noseweek's opinion) went to a children's charity. We had proof that the money — probably amounting to many millions of dollars — went into a private family trust of Mandela's, from which he might be making charitable contributions (as anyone might from his own means), although there was no evidence of this that we could find. The manager finally told me that, yes, it was Mandela's money without restriction — he could spend it all on sweets if he wanted. 

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June 29th, 2009
3:06 PM
Daniel A spends much verbiage telling us how much cleverer and more informed he is and in that way superior to us all. Where are your constructive solutions, Wiseman? How do you advance matters? You are happy to call knowledgeable people child-like, without seeming to realise your stance has all the qualities of the puerile. There are many of you Daniel. Fortunately there are also many more who are scientifically enlightened to a supreme degree. Please bother us no more.

June 27th, 2009
12:06 AM
I am South African, and the tone of this article is reminiscent of the impassioned dinner-table diatribe that one often hears two glasses into the main course. There are many grains of truth-telling, but I don't see any unifying insight .... the only thread holding the themes of the article together is a thread of despair. **** Two specific points on which I disagree: [1] that South Africa was ready for a peaceful transition to democracy, and Mandela simply managed the process as any sensible person could have. The postcolonial disasters in other countries are testimony to the alternative possibilities. If Mandela had returned from his decades in jail and decided to enact some vengeance, he could have done so. A quotation from the speech he gave in May 1994:" We understand it still that there is no easy road to freedom. We know it well that none of us acting alone can achieve success. We must therefore act together as a united people, for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world. Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all." [2] I simply don't agree that there is a culturally or psychologically group in South Africa that can be usefully referred to as "Africans". The black South Africans with whom I've lived and schooled and worked have exhibited a diversity of work ethics and personal philosophies... some of them wanted to be more Western, and some of them did not, some were more traumatized by the racial tensions in their upbringing, and others less so, but none of them, when faced with the question of "How will you live?" ever responded with the mindless & melodramatic paraphrase you suggest: "As we always have -- however we can." In rural area, yes, traditional tribal values are still widespread. But the tribal cultural background -- and the noxious hybrid culture that has developed in areas wracked by violence and crime -- is not an inescapable mindset that rises from the African soil into the minds of people. Some widespread beliefs (wrt violence and entitlement and gender rols) are very unhealthy aspects, but these aren't immutable or innate. They can be changed through conversation and experience and knowledge, and through a loving, untraumatized upbringing. **** Yes, Mandela has flaws, and yes, as transformatory leaders in many other countries are, he is idolized. But this is not the reason that the country faces its present difficulties. The difficulties are not metaphysical, the cultural divides between traditional Africans and Western whites are not unbridgeable: the solutions lie in health care and education and crime control -- these same boring, practical problems that persist, acknowledged but unsolved, in developing countries around the world.

Daniel A
June 26th, 2009
11:06 AM
A good article by Ruden, on the on-going tragedy of the country of my birth South Africa. Yet I do have a few bones to pick with it. Surprisngly, perhaps because of a lack of space, Ruden doens't give attention to the disastrous and sinister foreign policy of the ANC, under Mandela and Mbeki and now Zuma. The ANC's foreign policy has been supportive of numerous tyrannies and despots, especially in the Islamic World whilst its knee-jerk anti-Americanism has been pathetic and childish. One of the first nations that the ANC normalised relations with was Iran, Mandela personally welcomed Ayatollah Khameni on a high level state visit to South Africa in '94 in the very early days of his presidency. It set the tone fore the years to come. High level cozy relations with Iran and Syria, as well as support in the UN for the despots of Sudan and Burma, whilst predictably the concomittant vilification and demonisation of Israel has been the ANC default policy from which it has never waivered. It also should be mentioned that the arch-militant allegedly far left massive and influential South African Trade Union Movement COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions) has entirely sold worker's rights and interests down the river in its open alliance with the ruling pro-private industry and cronyist ANC - yet this has drawn too little comment. Another thing, and this sets the cat among the pigeons, Ruden makes the same predictable mistake and oversimplification that the otherwise excellent RW Johnson and Russell make in their own analyses, namely the AIDS issue. A mere blog post is not adequate to explain the complex scientific controversies re AIDS, but Ruden and Johnson and of course most everybody else simply repeats the standard line re AIDS, Mbeki and South Africa that one hears ad infinitum from people who have not even the vaguest clue of HIV/AIDS science. Fact is whatever criticisms one may have of Mbeki and his strange stance on HIV, the fact is that ARVS (anti-retrovirals) are toxic poisons that are not merely harmful to human health, they are deadly (esp AZT and nevirapine). The evidence for this is in the scientific literature and numerous scientific reports, FDA findings and the medical records of many victims (not patients) of ARV so-called therapy, even the drug companies admit how harmful and potentially fatal their drugs are. But hey this is a multi-billion dollar BigPharma industry, and Ruden and others question none of it. From causing severe blood toxicity, bone marrow suppression, kidney disorders. liver toxicity, cardiac arrest, severe metabolic disorders, mitochondriopathy and more, ARV therapy translates to severe immune deficiency by prescription! Those administered ARVs in pregnancy are subject to high rates of miscarriges, babies are born suffering from stunted growth, deficiency in motor skills, nervous system disorders including convulsions and epilepsy, deficient physiological development and high rates of infant mortality. To make matters worse, HIV testing in Southern Africa is largely unreliable, putting profits ahead of human welfare, the cheapest assays are used in the majority of testing (the poor in SA's townships and rural areas are tested largely on the ELISAs). These are simply unrealiable for reasons that Ruden and others would simply not understand, knowing nothing of the relevant biochemistry. They simply trust the self-appointed "experts". Even the US NIH is on record as considering ELISAs unreliable for HIV testing, hence in the US a confirmatory Western Blot is needed for HIV diagnosis. I personally know of people in SA who have tested positive, then negative, then positive, then negative on ELISAs, it is a scandal that is totally censored. Hence the talk of HIV infection rates in SA and Africa as a whole remain predicated on false assumptions, the accuracy of the testing. Calling me an AIDS denier is not going to change the facts that thanks to the ARV roll-out, thousands of South Africans are being poisoned by toxic deadly drugs predicated on HIV testing which is both inadequate and inaccurate. In other words people are being poisoned for drug comapny profits when many of them are not even HIV positive at all! Once again, because of this figures for HIV positives in SA are pure fiction, guesswork and confabulation. Censorship rules naturally, and very few are the wiser. Ruden trusts in a medical priesthood whose authority she does not question, like most everybody else. She echoes the party line here for she knows nothing of AIDS science and pervasive censorship and out and out lying keeps the horrors of ARV iatrogenic murder (and that's what it is) and maiming ongoing. This is the real AIDS tragedy you won't hear from CNN, the NY Times and of course Standpoint. Rudin ends her article with this line "It is urgently time to start looking beyond the myths." Indeed but the irony of this re ARV "miracle therapy", their supposed safety and efficacy and other related unquestioned assumptions that rest on shaky ground re HIV/AIDS is a myth Ruden and most all of her readers here do not question. Tragically so. A related irony is that Mandela himself did much to promote ARV therapy in South Africa, something for which he should be heavily criticised. Like most everybody else, he had no problem promoting something the science of which he has no comprehension, and like most everybody else, including Ruden (who ironically praises him here when he should be harshly criticised), the deadly consequences of such ignorance are lost on him.

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