Deroy Murdock, a skeptic, offers a tribute.
I feared that releasing Nelson Mandela from jail, especially amid the collapse of South Africa’s apartheid government, would create a Cuba on the Cape of Good Hope at best and an African Cambodia at worst.That's not how events turned out.
Mandela invited the warden of Robben Island prison to his inauguration as president of South Africa. He sat him front and center. While most people would be tempted to lock up their jailers if they had the chance, Mandela essentially forgave him while the whole world and his own people, white and black, were watching. This quietly sent South Africa’s white population a message: Calm down. This will be okay. It also signaled black South Africans: Now is no time for vengeance. Let’s show our former oppressors that we are greater than that and bigger people than they were to us.One television reminiscence from Thursday noted Mr Mandela's interest in the Civil Rights era in the United States. Apartheid was the oppression of a majority by a minority; Jim Crow the other way around: how get the majority to see the logic of ending Jim Crow?
Max Boot is blunter, if at the same time, pessimistic.
I can remember growing up in the 1980s when there was widespread suspicion among conservatives in the U.S.–including many in the Reagan administration–that if the African National Congress were to take over, South Africa would be transformed into another dysfunctional dictatorship like the rest of the continent. That this did not come to pass was due to many reasons including F.W. de Klerk’s wisdom in giving up power without a fight.On occasion, a Cincinnatus still lives among us.
But the largest part of the explanation for why South Africa is light years ahead of most African nations–why, for all its struggles with high unemployment, crime, corruption, and other woes, it is freer and more prosperous than most of its neighbors–is the character of Nelson Mandela. Had he turned out to be another Mugabe, there is every likelihood that South Africa would now be on the same road to ruin as Zimbabwe. But that did not happen because Mandela turned out to be, quite simply, a great man–someone who could spend 27 years in jail and emerge with no evident bitterness to make a deal with his jailers that allowed them to give up power peacefully and to avoid persecution.
Mandela knew that South Africa could not afford to nationalize the economy or to chase out the white and mixed-raced middle class. He knew that the price of revenge for the undoubted evils that apartheid had inflicted upon the majority of South Africans would be too high to pay–that the ultimate cost would be borne by ordinary black Africans. Therefore he governed inclusively and, most important of all, he voluntarily gave up power after one term when he could easily have proclaimed himself president for life.
The (not unexpected) tragedy for South Africa is that Mandela’s successors, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, have not been men of his caliber: Mbeki, the previous president, was a colorless technocrat who could not inspire his people or face head-on the challenge of AIDS; Zuma, the current president, is a rabble-rouser who has been accused of numerous improprieties from rape to corruption. Their struggles and that of the ANC bureaucracy they preside over only place in starker relief the transcendent genius and sheer goodness of Nelson Mandela.