Dying Dec. 6 at the age of 95, former South African President Nelson Mandela went to his grave officially ending apartheid but with South Africa more divided than ever, with Blacks and Whites living in different worlds. While apartheid officially ended in 1994, it harks back to Dutch and British colonial rule in the 1700s and 1800s. It wasn’t until the British passed anti-slavery laws in 1833, some 30 years before U.S. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation Jan. 1, 1863, that the idea of Black rights emerged on the African continent, long colonialized by Europeans. Mandela, and his civil rights group the African National Congress were treated brutally by the White South Africa’s Afrikaner government. Arrested and tried for high treason in 1956, Mandela spent years defending himself in court, eventually imprisoned at Robben Island in a 8-foot by 8-foot cell in 1964, where he spent 18 of his 27 years behind bars.
Walking out of prison a free man in 1990, Mandela vowed to continue his fight for against apartheid, South Africa’s official policy of racial segregation. “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison,” said Madela after his 1990 release. While there’s little sympathy for the White minority South African government, it should be pointed out that, despite its apartheid policies, the Afrikaner government provided a safe haven to Jews during European Nazi Holocost in WWII. Leading a band of Dutch colonists to a bold new world in the southern- most tip on Africa, South Africa thrived like no other country on the African continent. It’s easy to forget that South Africa served as a model of a prosperity in one of the planet’s most untamed destinations. While Mandela fought for African rights during a tumultuous period, South Africa battled to save its republic.
Former South African President F.W. de Klerk, awarded the Nobel Prize with Mandela in 1993 for ending apartheid, fought hard against change to South African society but eventually accepted fate. “I was impressed, however, by how tall he was. By the ramrod straightness of his stature, and realized that this is a very special man. He had an aura about him. He’s truly a very dignified and a very admirable person,” said de Klerk, stretching to say something positive. At the time de Klerk capitulated to ending apartheid in 1993, South Africa was under far worse U.N. sanctions than today’s against Iran and North Korea. Branded a pariah state by the U.N., the South Africa had its hand forced to end apartheid. Since 1994, the consequences to South Africa are unmistakable: More black-on-white crime, driving many Afrikaners out of their once colonial homeland. Unlike U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Mandela wasn’t shy to use violence to achieve his ends.
Mandela saw the plight of Africans as more than civil rights sought by U.S. advocates for racial equality. Mandela fought not for civil rights for the indigenous African population but to end Dutch colonial rule in South Africa. “My people, Africans, are turning to deliberate acts of violence and of force against the government in order to persuade the government, in the only language which this government shows by its own behavior that it understands,” Mandela said in the early ‘60s. When Mandela referred to “my people,” he wasn’t including Afrikaners, attesting to his commitment to ending White majority rule in South Africa. Before sent to prison in 1964, Mandela made friends with Cuban President Fidel Castro, eventually getting Castro to send Cuban revolutionaries to fight the Afrikaner government. U.S. officials don’t like to acknowledge Castro’s role of aiding Mandela’s ANC in liberating South Africa. Liberated since 1994, South Africa faces abject poverty and racial inequality.
Mandela’s legacy to South Africa involves an incomplete experiment at power-sharing where Black majority rule has made it more difficult for Afrikaners and other non-black communities to thrive in a post-apartheid atmosphere. While Mandela’s venerated as the man who ended apartheid in South Africa, he left office in 1999 after one term without witnessing the kind of equality and opportunity once imagined. “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination,” Mandela said at his trial in 1964 before going to prison. “I have cherished the ideal of democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. Bit if need be, it is an idea for which I am prepared to die,” showing his defiant side before his long incarceration. Mandela’s dream of equal opportunity can’t be realized unless South Africa can preserve its industriousness.
Mandela’s infections smile and charisma won’t be replaced by anyone soon to continue South Africa’s struggle to balance industriousness, jobs and opportunity with Black majority rule. South Africa’s more crime- in-the-streets doesn’t help its future where more private and multinational businesses are driven out. Unlike the U.S. where African Americans remain a minority, Black majority rule in South Africa poses its own problems. Poverty, disease and ignorance can only be fixed in an atmosphere favorable to private and global business. South Africa’s 72-year-old black president Jacob Zuma can’t reverse the anti-business climate that has added to the unemployment rate and diminished prosperity. Since Mandela took office April 27, 1994, there’s not been one White president. Mandela’s true legacy can’t be achieved until South Africa recognizes the importance of minority rights.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’d editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.