On Nelson Mandela


Nelson Mandela


I’m by no means an expert on Nelson Mandela or South Africa.  But my sense is that a very great man — a very surprisingly great man – lies close to death right now.  (Some claim that he actually died several days ago but that the announcement is being delayed for various reasons.)


Long out of the public limelight, he’s already essentially lost to us.  Still, his death, whether it occurs in the next few hours or within a few months – he’s nearly ninety-five; the end cannot be very far away – will be a sad and historic milestone.  The world will be much poorer without him.  We all know that it has always happened and will always happen, but the loss of truly great people is a tragedy, no matter how long they live.  Death hits us especially hard, seems particularly obscene, when it takes indispensable people from us.  And Nelson Mandela has been such an indispensable person.


When apartheid ended in South Africa and the country’s long-oppressed black-majority population came to power, there might have been a bloodbath.  Such violence wouldn’t have been surprising.  There might at least have been a generation or two, as in far too many other African countries, of vengeance-fueled oppression in reverse, as well as tribal corruption, destructive “African socialism,” a cult of the leader, tyranny.


Instead, after years of turmoil, South Africa made a remarkably peaceful and neat transition.  And an enormous share of the credit for this goes to Nelson Mandela.  (If you haven’t seen the remarkable and inspiring Clint Eastwood film Invictus, starring Matt Damon and, more centrally, Morgan Freeman as a superb Mandela, you should do so.)  South Africa was unbelievably fortunate, because Nelson Mandela wasn’t an Idi Amin, a Robert Mugabe, or a Sekou Toure, but one of the great ones.


And he needn’t have been.  After his twenty-seven years in prison, he might have been expected to be angry, to seek retribution, to assume power as a tool for racial and individual revenge.  That wouldn’t have been justified, but it would have been understandable.  But he didn’t.


Posted from Phoenix, Arizona



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  • Angelina

    He is and has been for so long, one of my heroes and one of the greatest leaders and men the 21st/22nd century has seen, however controversial the man and/or his politics may be to some. His autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom” is a good book too. And yes, agreed- Invictus is a fantastic depiction of the essence of his leadership and moral fiber that inspired the captain of his country’s rugby team and his nation to achieve more than they would likely have otherwise expected possible. Thank you for honoring this great man.

  • Steven Montgomery
    • DanielPeterson

      I think he may well have been that. (I don’t know enough about his earlier life to be certain; that’s surely how I used to think of him, though.) But my point is that he didn’t END UP that.

  • rockyrd

    I do not know if the sources Steven quotes are reliable or not. To me, Mandela probably had to garner support from wherever he could. When he took over South Africa, he could have instituted a blood bath, but didn’t. Amazingly, he held the entire country together. He did not rule like a communist. Many great leaders travel down questionable paths before settling on a wise philosophy. Mandela is one. Of course, we all know everything the USA has done has been perfect and without tarnish (?).

  • Steven Montgomery

    For Rockyrd, Angelina, Tarbush and others: More on Mandela–Not so Fast!


    Rockyrd: He settled “on a wise philosophy.” He was, and still is, from all the evidence (which is massive, and I’ve actually looked into some of it), a Communist. That doesn’t seem like a wise philosophy to me.

    William: Communism is not much of an “enemy?” Maybe you’re just too young to know of all the crimes of Marxism/Leninism/Communism. Just ask family members of those who have received the “necklace treatment.” Simply put, Communism is Satan’s Counterfeit of the Gospel Plan.


  • Steven Montgomery

    Nelson Mandela, then Deputy President of the African National Congress, and Joe Slovo, General Secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP) giving the Communist clenched fist salute, beneath a giant Communist emblem, at a rally held on Sunday, July 29, 1990.