We South Africans fondly call our beloved Nelson Mandela “Madiba,” a Xhosa word for “leader.” We have even coined an epithet summing up Mandela’s achievements: Madiba Magic.
Mandela worked his magic against George W. Bush and America before the U.S.-led liberation of Iraq. At the World Woman’s Forum in May 2003, he accused Bush of “having no foresight” and “plunging the world into a Holocaust.” He castigated the U.S. for “committing unspeakable atrocities in the world” and behaving arrogantly because “the Secretary General of the United Nations is a black man.”
Mandela is also a master of the vanishing act. His magic has all but made South Africa’s 1998 invasion of Lesotho disappear from the moral memory of all those applauding him. The logic of the invasion, code-named “Boleas,” was a blueprint for the rationale of Operation Enduring Freedom in Iraq five years later. It was on September 11, 1998, that then-President Mandela gave the order to invade Lesotho.
Mandela perpetrated this forgotten tragedy against one of the world’s most impoverished countries. (Lesotho has a per capita income of $600, lower even than sanctions-era Iraq.) However, the media seemed to be uninterested in an atrocity in which the victims were black people fighting for democracy and the aggressor was the enlightened world’s icon of sainthood.
On May 23, 1998, general elections were held in Lesotho, in which the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) headed by Pakalitha Mosisili won 79 out of the 80 parliamentary seats; the Basotho National Party (BNP) won the other seat. There was widespread popular anger at the election results, which were patently fraudulent – thousands of ballot papers had been found dumped into the Mohokare River. An alliance of the 8 opposition parties filed a joint suit in the courts challenging the validity of the election. When the suit was dismissed, the Lesotho people came out to protest on the streets of Maseru. They called on their king, Letsie III, to use his constitutional powers to dissolve parliament. Continuous day and night vigils were held outside the Royal Palace gates. Mosisili eventually ordered his police to disperse the vigils. Several attempts to break up the protests failed until the order was given for the police to shoot into the crowds. Five protesters were killed and 60 were seriously wounded. The opposition called for a nationwide stay-away using tactics the ANC had perfected against apartheid-era South Africa. The protesters then resumed their vigils, bringing the country to a stand-still.
The Mandela-led Southern African Development Community (SADC) then intervened and appointed a judicial committee to investigate the legality of the elections, headed by the South African Judge Pius Langa. Mosisili promised to dissolve parliament if the Langa Commission found any irregularities. The people on the streets, assured by Mandela, pinned their hopes on the Langa Commission and returned to work. On August the 20th the Langa Commission completed its report and found that the elections had been “98% fraudulent.” The Report recommended that the election be declared null and void and that there should be new elections.
News of the Langa findings trickled to the streets of Maseru, where people immediately burst into celebrations. However, Mandela blocked the release of the Langa Report claiming that it had to be discussed first with Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Jaquin Chissano of Mozambique. That meeting took place on September 11, 1998, where it was decided to rewrite the Langa Report and then invade Lesotho. On September 13, Mandela, Mugabe, Chissano and Mosisili meet in Mauritius where they “sexed-down” the Langa Report. William Boot of the Mail and Guardian, quoting a source who was at the secret meeting, wrote that “the report which finally saw the light of day is in many respects dramatically different from the interim one and cops out on every score.” The sections of the Report finding the elections to be fraudulent were excised and instead the doctored Report concluded, “though there were some irregularities, the election results reflected the will of the people.” On September 17, nearly a month after the Langa Commission had released its official Report, Mandela released the doctored Report. (But they forgot to doctor the index; the index published referred to pages in the original report.) The Lesotho people felt betrayed when one fraud was compounded by another, and demonstrators took to the streets again, this time joined by civil servants, police officers and soldiers. Mandela then left South Africa for an official visit to Canada and the United States. And the invasion of Lesotho began.
On the morning of September 22, roughly 700 South African soldiers armed with tanks, helicopters, fighter jets rolled over the border. The invading force bombed the few military bases on the outskirts of Maseru, attacked the Royal Palace and occupied the city. Other units of the South African National Defense Forces (SANDF) moved north to secure the Highlands Water Project at the Katse Dam. Like Iraq, Lesotho has a single natural resource in abundance: water. Six months prior to the invasion Mandela struck a deal with Mosisili whereby Lesotho’s water would be pumped into water-starved South Africa. The opposition had campaigned against the deal claiming that it was grossly skewed in South Africa’s favor. All sixteen of the Lesotho soldiers guarding the Katse Dam were killed.
The ensuing anarchy in Maseru was devastating. This is how one reported on the scene described it:
“Throughout the capital city of Maseru, which has been burned to a blackened shell, looters now scamper through the streets grabbing whatever they from destroyed shops. On roads leading in and out of the city, fighters – young men with hatchets, have erected barricades covered with anti-South African graffiti.”
(Lesotho Tabloid News Service, Sept 24, 1998). Sound familiar?
South African soldiers were implicated in the looting. Makoanyane, the only armory in Lesotho, in the control of the SANDF, was ransacked; its hospital is stripped bare; clothes, money and possessions of the soldiers who ran away were stolen. There were widespread allegations of rape committed by South African soldiers (Amnesty International, October 1, 1998, and Johannesburg’s newspaper The Star, September 30, 1998). South Africa denied these incidents but promised to investigate. (The investigations were never carried out.) Some 800 Basotho women demonstrated in the streets of Maseru against the South African invasion. A dawn-to-dusk curfew was imposed with orders to shoot to kill anyone breaking the curfew.
Operation Boleas was the greatest tragedy in the history of the ancient mountain kingdom of Lesotho. Seventy civilians were killed, and 4,000 people were displaced. In all, the estimated damages totaled more than half-a-billion U.S. dollars. It was estimated that it would take a decade for the country to get back to where it was before the invasion. Mandela refused to pay a single cent for the damages, saying the Basotho themselves were responsible for destroying their capital; in fact Mosisili agreed to reimburse South Africa for the costs South Africa had incurred to finance the invasion ($4 million U.S. dollars a day).
In light of Mandela’s aiming Chomskyite rhetoric at President Bush, all that remains is to assess the facts:
South Africa and Lesotho are both members of the Commonwealth; according to the rules of the Commonwealth a Commonweal country must inform the Commonwealth before deploying forces in another Commonwealth country. Nelson Mandela never did this.
According to the Lesotho constitution, the King must sign any request for foreign forces to enter the country. This never happened.
The UN Charter recognizes regional arrangements (SADC) in Article 52, but Article 53 clearly states that “no enforcement action shall be taken under regional arrangement or by regional agencies without the authorization of the Security Council.” Mandela never brought the proposed invasion of Lesotho before the UNSC, much less get its authorization.
Security Council Resolution 1441 authorized military action against Saddam’s Iraq. In exactly similar circumstances, Nelson Mandela completely ignored the Security Council – while the same black man was Secretary General.
On casus belli:
The ostensible causus belli: This was an “intervention to restore democracy and the rule of law. There is a responsibility to intervene when democracy is under threat.” No, this is not Bush speaking on Iraq; this is Mandela on Lesotho when asked in Canada on September 22, 1998, why South Africa invaded.
The real causus belli: ”South Africa intervened to protect certain South African interests such as the Katse Dam water scheme.” This is the reason given by Mandela’s special adviser Fink Haysom in an article he wrote for The Star (October 14, 1998, p. 6).
President Bush’s intervention undeniable got rid of tyranny and corruption. Mandela invaded Lesotho to stifle democracy and maintain a corrupt, tyrannical and fraudulent ruler in power over an unwilling population at gunpoint.
Some leftists can argue, however idiotically, that oil was Bush’s real reason for going into Iraq; however, al South African government official has stated in no uncertain terms that cheap water was Mandela’s reason for invading Lesotho.
Bush has asked Congress for $84 billion to rebuild Iraq; his administration is canvassing the world for contributions. I wonder what Chomskyesque invective Mandela would issue if Bush told the Iraqi people: “You destroyed Baghdad; pay for the damages yourself. In fact: pay us for the costs of the invasion, and we’ll take it in oil.”
I tremble to suggest: is the only difference because Bush is white? Or is it because the Bastho people are black?
Mandela is venomous in his criticism of Bush and in fact the entire American people.. But listen to Mandela and his administration on criticism leveled against them:
“Only the ignorant are critical of the South African government.” This is Mandela to hostile questioning in Canada on the Lesotho invasion. Or this: “Any criticism is essentially made out of ignorance.”
The best is this – and it is not Ari Flesicher lashing out against critics of his President, it is Ari Fleischer’s South African counterpart, Presidential spokesman Parks Mankahlana defending Mandela against critics of the Lesotho invasion: “The candidness of our government does not deserve to be rewarded with verbal abuse and disingenuous disregard for the facts as we saw them….Perceived executive errors do not give license to the prostitution of the truth or the manipulation of fears of an impending apocalypse.” Former president Mandela sang a much different tune when he accused Bush of unleashing a “Holocaust.”
At the time of the Lesotho invasion, Ronnie Kasrils was deputy Minister of Defense. He stood up in parliament and with Wagnerian pride and stated the invasion of Lesotho was an “honorable baptism of fire.” Kasrils, the only Jew and only anti-Semite in the South African government, besides being an unrepentant Bolshevik, is South Africa’s most ardent Chomskyite. By the way: Kasrils is now Minister of Water and responsible for the Katse Dam project.
Noam Chomksy wrote in his 2003 book Power and Terror, “There’s a famous definition in the Gospels of the hypocrite, and the hypocrite is person who refuses to apply to himself the standards he applies to others.” Such a description makes Nelson Mandela, the admittedly exploitative invader of Lesotho, seem pharisaic. Through his long struggle against apartheid, Mandela was endowed with a mantle of political sanctity. He deserves no such thing, and his predictably left-wing histrionics should not be paid heed by any well-meaning person.