History And Legend

Vukani Mbhele (Mercury, November 17) is entitled to his own opinions but not to his own facts.

By objecting to the facts I put forward on Oliver Tambo ( Mercury, 14 November), it is clear that Mbhele prefers imagery of legend rather than historical reality. With the passage of time, the images of those who have been hailed by earlier generations as legends are not infrequently tarnished by historical facts that were hitherto ignored or suppressed.

A good example of that is the 2008 publication by Cambridge University historian Nigel Knight on Winston Churchill. Famed for his wartime broadcasts and image of a stubborn bulldog, Knight’s research shows Churchill’s stewardship to have been marked by poor strategy and disastrous decisions from Gallipoli in 1915 to Dieppe in 1942 and beyond 1945 when he was the absentee leader of the opposition (writing his WW2 histories) and a lacklustre Prime Minister during his second term in office.

Just as the repository of history serves to right-size the image of Churchill, so Mr Mbhele should recognise that Tambo’s image is not immune to historical review. Even Stephen Ellis, who is sympathetic towards the ANC, acknowledges that at best Tambo was an umpire presiding over the quarrelsome factions of the ANC (External Mission: ANC in Exile,p. 102). Until 1969, Tambo’s role was that of an acting leader. To a large extent, he was upstaged by the UDF after 1985.

Tambo, like Thabo Mbeki, may have lived decades in exile, but Mbhele should not be under any illusions about their lifestyles. As recipients of aid from the likes of Sweden, the USSR and other leftist donors, they did not exactly slum it in terms of how they were feted and accommodated by their patrons – from London to Moscow.

Another legend that cannot defy the facts of history is that of Samora Machel, Mr Mbhele objects to him being labelled a tyrant. But there is no other term to describe his cruel incarceration of political opponents in “re-education camps” where they were tortured, beaten and starved or Machel’s wanton massacre of villagers in Tete and Zambesia provinces and his pogrom against Christians. Machel and Mengistu of Ethiopia were the Stalins of Africa. The facts are in Dr Peter Hammond’s book The killing fields of Mozambique (Cape Town, 1998).

Sent into The Mercury and published, 22 November 2017.

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