Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
(From “The Road Less Taken” by Robert Frost.)
I read that Nelson Mandela has died at the age of 95. You’d get that overall impression if you turned on the radio, the TV or the Internet anytime in the last two days. His resume, depending upon who does the editing and interpretation tells of a great man or evil communist. I’d choose Option C and suggest he was both. The real question would be “At what part of his life are you discussing the man?”
As a younger man, Mandela is probably guilty of being aligned with the Soviet Union’s effort to effect world revolution. When the ANC did violent things, they frequently did them with Soviet AK-47s. Go to Barnes and Noble.com, search “Nelson Mandela” and you’ll be rewarded with How to be a Good Communist.. It’s tough to deny the man was a communist when he was considerate enough to write us a how-to manual on being one.
Then again, context here is king. Who else was fighting to help Black South Africans get out of their ghettos? Mandela had to choose between two evils. He picked what he sincerely believed to be the lesser of two evils.
It’s shopworn humor to encourage people to vote for Cthulhu and not wimp out, but few of us are ever under the same constraints that Mandela dealt with as a young man. Al Sharpton runs his mouth about Apartheid, Nelson Mandela spent a significant chunk of his adult life (27 years!) in a nasty jail because of it. I’ll opine here that Nelson Mandela would not have been as adamantly pro-Communist if he had known better what was happening in Russia or Cuba or if he had been presented with a better menu of ideologies to choose from.
Of course, this all sounds like smarmy justification of an “acceptable liberal.” It smacks of Gov. Christie’s bro-mance with Obama here in the United States. If you didn’t know me well, you could almost accuse me of selling out so that people would like me and believe I was sensitive. It’s not until we compare what Mandela did with power to what Robert Mugabe in next-door Zimbabwe did with the same opportunity that we can take a fair and accurate measure of how much better Nelson Mandela was as a human being and a leader than most of his generation of African leaders.
USA Today does a good job of boiling down the proper eulogies to one useful paragraph. Here’s the two-minute version of why Nelson Mandela was several standard deviations superior to the typical Post-Colonial African Dictator.
South Africans know, for example, that when Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island, South Africa's Alcatraz, he was taunted by white jailers and denied most privileges. He responded by doing whatever it took to become friends with those jailers. They know that when he was finally freed in 1990, he worked with white President F.W. de Klerk to keep whites from fleeing, to prevent a wave of racial violence. They know that when Mandela won the first democratic elections in 1994, he appointed de Klerk his deputy and kept many whites in the government, the exact opposite of the cruel, kick-them-out revenge others wanted. They know he established Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, offering amnesty for the truth. And that he used sports to promote reconciliation, encouraging blacks to support the once-hated Springboks, South Africa's white rugby team. And how, after just one term as president, he stepped down.
By contrast, USA Today could write the following about Robert Mugabe and be just as accurate. President Mugabe has been in power, in one form or another, since 1980. He is as willing to hand over the reins of power as Edward, Hammer of The Scots. Mugabe’s version of Mandela’s Truth and Reconciliation Commissions involved the 5th Brigade of The Zimbabwe Army. The 5th Bde was trained up to peak efficiency by the open-hearted North Koreans and then turned loose to execute Operation Gukurahundi. About 20,000 civilians guilty of the felony of not supporting Mugabe were reconciled with taking a long, happy dirt-nap. After several years and several mass graves full of Gukurahundi, Mugabe was “rewarded” for his efforts with a mass-exodus of white people and an inflation rate that requires higher mathematics to quantify and compute.
One fan of Former-President Mandela eulogized him as “The Anti-Mugabe.” If I were a close-friend or a member of the Mandela Family, I’d take that one and be proud of the old man. Activist/Rock Star Bono described humor, humility and ability to compromise as Mandela’s fundamental character traits. That would make the old, African Communist vastly more qualified to run The US Senate than Harry Reid.
Detractors accurately point out that Nelson Mandela did not exactly make Post-Apartheid South African heaven upon Earth. Unemployment is over 20%. Mandela’s successors to power have been far less forgiving of the Apartheid Regime than Mandela was as president. South Africa has a murder epidemic worthy of Flint, MI and an HIV rate worthy of Petersburg, VA. That is all true, but all out of context.
To understand what good he accomplished, one has to examine what South Africa could have become instead. Post-Apartheid South Africa was one or two really bad decisions away from being The Post-Kurtz Congolese Republic. Nelson Mandela should be congignly celebrated for preventing that tragedy from occurring while he still remained alive.