The Herald Bulletin
---- — He had predecessors who accomplished what he did. But both Mohandas K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated in their quests for justice through nonviolent means.
Nelson Mandela, though, despite contracting tuberculosis during his 27 years of incarceration in South African prisons, earlier this month essentially died of old age at 95. His legacy of transforming his homeland from apartheid to racial cooperation is one of the greatest success stories of all time.
Mandela was born into royalty in South Africa. But during his formative years, the policy of racial apartheid had taken hold in a land where fear and suspicion governed relations between the native peoples and European-descended colonials.
At the outset Mandela was committed to nonviolent protest against colonial policies. But as he allied with others against injustice, the African National Congress was born, in part feeding off the communist movement with cries for greater militance in achieving the goals. His critics denounced him as a Marxist terrorist.
Convicted of various charges including treason, Mandela received a life sentence. He served 27 years in solitary confinement, most of it on the notorious Robben Island. Eventually, amid a time of rising civil strife and escalating world opinion, Mandela was released from prison in 1990.
Such a fate would have embittered most human beings. Indeed, before his incarceration, Mandela had expressed the feeling that his long-held goals would never be achieved by nonviolent means alone.
Fortunately for South Africa and the world, Mandela chose the high road. Rejoining the ANC, he entered negotiations with South African President F.W. de Klerk that resulted in the abolishing of apartheid and the establishing of multiracial elections in 1994.
The worst fears of a changing system were allayed. That can be attributed to Mandela himself, who led the ANC to victory, promulgated a new constitution and brought both sides together in a united South Africa, inviting several other political parties to join the cabinet. Instead of retribution, he promoted togetherness.
His administration continued the government’s existing economic policy, which has given South Africa one of the strongest economic positions on the continent. He also introduced measures to encourage land reform, combat poverty and expand healthcare services. Internationally, he acted as mediator between Libya and the United Kingdom in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial, as well as overseeing military intervention in Lesotho.
Mandela declined to run for a second term as South African president, preferring to work as an elder statesman, focusing on charitable work in combating poverty and HIV/AIDS through the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
For his efforts Mandela received international acclaim, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Soviet Order of Lenin.
Bitterness would have been an understandable course for Nelson Mandela. Fortunately, he was too big a man for that and instead chose the path of reconciliation.
Jim Bailey’s reflections on Anderson’s past appear on Sunday. His regular column appears on Thursday. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.