Tonight, I've read a lot of tributes to Nelson Mandela upon his passing.  Respect for him appears to cross ideological lines, with liberals, conservatives and libertarians alike paying their respects.

There are some in the minority though, pointing out that he was a Communist terrorist, condemning him and those who laud him.  I have to strongly disagree with what I see as some prose that can only be described as mean-spirited and short-sighted.  True, he did have allies who were Communists and terrorists, including the Communist Party of South Africa.  My view is that he was a pragmatist, who took allies as he could, and demonstrated gratitude to them.  Sometimes that meant accepting some bad bedfellows, such as the PLO, Libya, and that center of Red wretchedness, the USSR.

But more than his associations as a revolutionary, Mandela should be judged for what he accomplished twenty-seven years later, upon his release from prison.  Consider his role in the racial bloodletting and civil war that followed.  Oh, what bloodbath, you might ask?  That we didn't see South Africa convulse into vengeance or a Hobbesian war of all against law was, in large part, due to the effective, and I'll add, morally inspired, leadership of Nelson Mandela.

This was not inevitable.  He could have followed the path of Robert Mugabe, into dictatorship, corruption, violence and oppression.  And he would have been cheered by the multitudes, at least for a while.  Instead he took a much, much higher road.  Then he did something most rare for an African leader: He left office at the end of his term, refusing to be seduced by power.

I have to admit that while he was in prison, I was highly skeptical of the prospects of such inspired post-apartheid leadership, including by Nelson Mandela.  He was not a plaster saint either; great men too have their share of foibles and flaws.  But there is no way to deny that in the end, he was the right man in the right place for the end of apartheid.

Godspeed, Madiba.

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Comment by Jim Werbaneth on December 7, 2013 at 9:33pm

I'm still seeing a lot of chatter elsewhere about him being a "radical Marxist" and a terrorist, and altogether no friend of the United States or its values.  I do accept that he had Marxist-Leninist allies, for whom he retained gratitude.  Also, upon his release and especially as president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela said some awful things about my own country.  Similarly, my hometown paper, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, referred to him as a "political saint." There is a tendency toward extremes, either extreme condemnation, or unrealistic canonization. 

But what matters to me more, and I mean a lot more, are his deeds and their results, not selected quotes, and certainly not the random brickbats that some feel compelled to fling in his general direction.  The hagiography too can be misleading.  The ultimate verdict on Mandela, I firmly believe, will be based on the way that he could win over former enemies, even some of the most bitter, through essential humanity and, neglected too often and especially on the internet, good manners.  Secondly, he offered South Africa an exceptionally soft landing upon the collapse of apartheid.  The first represents uncommon character; the second extraordinary results.

Comment by Kim Kanger on December 7, 2013 at 12:11pm

He led his life totally uncorrupted by power. Mugabe actually had the opportunity of walking this path too, after his period of reconciliation in Rhodesia. Instead he chose to be despised instead. The example set by Mandela puts a vast majority of would leaders to shame.

Rest in peace, Mandela

Comment by Wayne Rotella on December 6, 2013 at 6:48am

Well said Jim!

And thank you for the comparison to Mugabe. Many of the negative words used against Mandela can be said of Mugabe as well. The difference is that Mandela chose the path of peace and forgiveness in order to unite a fractured country.

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