by Robert Emmett Murphy, Jr.
Nelson Mandela was condemned for decades by elements of the governments of both the United States and England, yet he became almost universally hailed by the same come the 1990s and now, again, in his death.
Even among those who now hail him, stupid things are being said –like Rick Santorum comparing his legislative battle against Obamacare with Mandela’s decades in prison fighting Apartheid. (Plus, Santorum apparently didn’t know South Africa has had fully socialized medicine for the last fifty years).
Some quick refutations of the most inaccurate stuff I’ve seen this week.
Mandela was absolutely not a racist. His ideology always and unconditionally rejected all racialism and sectarianism. From his earliest days as an attorney, till his tenure as president some forty years later, he built coalitions that crossed barriers of color, class and tribe. This was true even while he was engaged in armed struggle (early 1960s) and in prison (1962 to 1990).
Was he a Communist? Yes. The most powerful nations in the West had turned their back on South African injustices in exchange for access to natural resources, and the Soviets offered help. But Mandela also re-thought that position and worked with some pretty free-market leaning economists after his release (I’d argue he went way too laissez-faire as a result). Let us not forget, from his jail cell, he got to watch the first eight years of the Communist implosion. He didn’t ignore those lessons when the time came for him to make sweeping policy decisions. Also, even as a Communist, he was both pro-democracy and pro separation of powers; in short, he was far more like Orwell’s Social Democrat than a Soviet ideologue.
Was he a terrorist? The African National Congress (ANC) had a fifty-year policy of non-violence that hadn’t worked and wasn’t working before, in the early 1960′s, under Mandela’s leadership, they moved to a guerrilla war strategy that forced Apartheid into the international spotlight. They DID NOT, however, embrace terrorist tactics.
During his long imprisonment, Mandela became more tolerant of those tactics, but as he was in prison, you can not blame him for any of the actual acts.
Even before his release from prison, he completely renounced terrorist tactics (people make issue of the fact that he didn’t renounce violence and no, he did not, but all honest people know there a line between a soldier and a terrorist. Has the US, with the world’s largest military, renounced violence?). Upon his release, Mandela worked with his former enemies to forge a new and Democratic South Africa.
Yes, his record with the whites who were once his enemies is far better than his record with the blacks who were once his enemies. And yes, he allowed fools into his administration who (among other things) destroyed the nation’s health care system. But he did a lot of good things, and most of what he did was not only righteous, but effective.
He was not only remarkable, but remarkably blessed. His astounding accomplishments will carry on, and all his sins will be forgotten. How many of us can claim that particular blessing?
With that forgetting, South Africa will likely free itself from some of its own chronic misjudgments, because they can keep the spirit of the father of the nation alive without repeating his mistakes.
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