Nelson Mandela passed away today, December 5, 2013. It is not often that I get a chance to record something as “historic” on this Blog on the day it happens. In fact, the only other time I can recall doing so was when Bin laden was killed. But this is truly a moment of history, and we all know it on the very day it happened. Nelson Mandela was for the people of South Africa what James Thomas Flexner said that George Washington was for America: “The Indispensable Man”. Here was a man who had languished in prison for over twenty-eight years. Younger people likely do not recall those days when South Africa had in place a system of racial injustice called “Apartheid” which made it into a matter of law that the black majority would be discriminated against. For his activities in opposition to this system Nelson Mandela went to jail.
Mandela – the Serious-Looking Man
This picture of him above (or one very much like it) is the only image of him which I can recall having seen for years. A serious face on a serious man who clearly meant serious trouble for his captors if they ever let him go. I can’t say that I was a student of South African affairs, but I did keep up on world affairs, and throughout the 1980’s I can recall hearing it time and again: “FREE NELSON MANDELA!” Newsmen would routinely refer to his country not as “South Africa”, but as “Racist South Africa.” Some U.S. administrations, such as Jimmy Carter’s took a very hard-line on the country. Others such as Ronald Reagan’s took a less hard line, following a policy of “constructive engagement.” Most of the media in the U.S. took a dim view of that, and were not shy about saying so. Nevertheless, Nelson Mandela was eventually freed by the South African government in February of 1990.
Mandela. Like Washington Takes the High Road
But an odd thing happened on Mandela’s release from prison: he showed no bitterness. He had no bitterness towards his former captors who had stolen twenty-eight years of his life. Like George Washington, he saw his nation’s best interests, and put them first. He worked with South Africa’s last white President, F.W. De Klerk to smooth the transition to democracy and majority rule. Like George Washington he was elected President of his new democracy. He had no bitterness towards any of those with whom he might have disagreed. He spoke well of President Reagan. He never pursued punitive efforts against the former proponents of Apartheid. After years of the darkest fears that his country would descend into the civil wars and tribal blood baths that characterized so many of Africa’s new nations, it just didn’t happen. Instead, with Nelson Mandela setting the example, his country settled down to peace and prosperity. His countrymen were spared the agony of civil war and the world was spared yet another region of political instability. And most importantly, like George Washington, Mandela showed no lust for power. When his term came to an end in 1999, he voluntarily stepped down, relinquishing power that would have been his for the taking. This is an EXTREMELY rare thing in today’s world. That is why Nelson Mandela was for his own country the indispensable man, and for the world, he was a rare beacon of light. That is why we honor him today. That is why his death today is a moment of history.
Fox News Reports of 12/5/13.