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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.