Opinion: Mandela’s legacy

By Peter I. Berman

(Peter I. Berman was vice president for investments for the South African Chamber of Gold Mines (the country’s consortium of gold mine producers) in the early 1980’s and author of “Gold Demand and Supply” a principal reference work on the global gold mining industry.)

Amidst the outpouring of genuine praise for the celebrated life of Nelson Mandela, Africa’s “Great Man”, as South Africa’s first democratically elected President and a humble man without pretense there are those who remind us of some unsavory aspects of the revolutionary.

They include an early infatuation with the Communist Party, relying on nefarious “freedom fighters” such as Fidel Castro, Arafat and Gaddafi and support from the Soviet Union, armed conflict by the ANC and continuing corruption, bloodshed and incompetence by the ANC since Mandela left office after just one term. Together with significant out-migration of the former ruling class

Like all r.enowned leaders Mandela’s legacy of leading the new South Africa is mixed. A few examples remind us that our saints, too, are blemished. George Washington reportedly the nation’s largest slave owner, authorized the destruction of the Iroquois nation as one of his first official acts. Lincoln came late to freeing the slaves during the course of the Great Rebellion. Even the celebrated Churchill was a better politician than Commander in Chief.

So just what is Mandela’s enduring legacy ? At day’s end he and his ANC comrades achieved a quite remarkable transition of power from a centuries-entrenched small minority of white rule to the tens of millions of native South Africans without wholesale bloodshed, destruction and transfer of property and wealth, and without forced outward migration of the former ruling class. Orchestrating such a transfer of power without a visible civil war is no small achievement. Indeed, there is no modern era analog of such a successful transformation. To be sure perhaps only in an export-rich relatively isolated country like South Africa could the post-Mandela nation stumble along in relative harmony.

Perhaps only those who actually lived and worked in South Africa during the Apartheid years instituted in 1948 with their cruel “pass laws” and banishment of most of the native population to “bantu lands” can fully appreciate the success of Mandela’s impossible task of negotiating a transfer of power. For most purposes Apartheid South Africa was a firmly run feudal state where a predominantly African army and police force kept “public order” under the white officer class. A large portion of the white “noble class” lived in a style replete with servants that’s hard to describe. Johannesburg, the main city, was surrounded by tens of thousands of magnificent estates maintained by a large servant class shabbily housed in nearby Soweto.

Central to Mandela’s strategy was holding “forgiveness” meetings where the former oppressors acknowledged their errors without retribution such as the firing squad, property confiscation, imprisonment or forced exile. Assisted by the continued loyalty of the police and armed forces to the national authorities. Mandela had the advantage of South Africa’s relative isolation at the horn of Africa, of the ANC’s difficulty in securing weapons sufficient for wholesale armed conflict and of the indigenous population’s pride in having lived from time immemorial in an unconquered land. Furthermore, the gold and diamond mines on which the country depended continued to operate without major interruption. In the early protest years the ANC received little outside support nor much support from the white community within the country. Hence, the reaching out for the likes of Castro, Quadaffi and Arafat. And acknowledgement of their support after achieving power.

At day’s end Mandela’s achievement in transferring power was and remains an extraordinary accomplishment heightened by the harsh imprisonment for 27 years. It’s a uniquely South African accomplishment. And one in which Africans of all nations to take pride. In watching the televised 10-day-long celebration one can only be impressed with the large numbers of white South Africans celebrating. Mandela’s legacy is shared by an entire nation white and black. That is no small achievement. Indeed, it has no modern parallel.


One response to “Opinion: Mandela’s legacy”

  1. M Allen

    Absolutely correct, Mr. Berman. Well said.

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