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The politics of building legacies and sleeping in peace


On Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the Xhosa son of South Africa, rested his head one final time. His personal struggles and his championing of those agitations of his countrymen for dignity and justice came to a close. Certainly the symbol and longevity of his well-lived life spent so lavishly on the quest to raise the best in mankind to an honored place in human engagement had not ended. That solid record and legend of achievement will indeed live on and on.

Echoing the sentiments of millions of Mandela’s countrymen and millions more folk worldwide, more than 100 world leaders paid their final respects this past Monday in South Africa to this seminal common man and extraordinary leading man of the people. Many have tried to mount the high steps to which he climbed, but most had failed, as more will fail in the future. Mandela was singularly blessed with the African gold and iron of character needed to see beyond the obvious and the expected and to trek a path towards that way. It took a special kind of courage and an unrelenting belief that he was living for a higher purpose to carry him to where non-military leaders seldom venture. His like will not be seen again soon, but the world is clearly better that he was for a time among us.

Reading some of the blogs and e-mails both praising him and damning him (for not doing more), one is again reminded of how limited and desperate for attention some of us still are. In this time of deep sorrow and joy, some still crave to use the moment to chastise Mandela for not using his presidential clout, when he had it, to raise the standard of living of Black South Africans, and to snatch the White privileges of property and wealth from those who had benefited from the unceasing and unrequited labors of poverty-stricken laborers in the country. Some still rankle with anger over what they consider to be a sellout of Black interests in the compromise agreements Mandela made in 1994-96 to save his country from the looming fires of a vengeful inferno, and to reconcile with those Whites who hated him.

What those critics lack is any pragmatic perspective. None of them sat where Mandela sat. None of them faced the grim reality of what a racial conflagration would do to the country, and whether to take the higher road to try and build from where South Africa had already progressed. None of them had to make that call. We, some of us, may disagree with what Mandela decided, but we weren’t there and really do not know enough about the situation to judge it.

No, real “Uhuru” has not yet come to South Africa. But everyone of the taxi drivers, custodians, retail workers, and other regular South Africans I have talked to within the last five years (I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited South Africa years times during the last five years) said the same thing—Mandela made the right choice. He gave them all a fighting chance to make South Africa work for them all. Any other choice would have meant a scorched earth consequent.

There is still poverty and lack of adequate housing in the country. But all of the poor are not Black anymore. I saw White homeless and beggars in the streets, and Whites protesting shantytown living conditions. Wealthy Whites still own the majority of the land and the country’s resources, but slow steady progress is being made to correct that. South Africa still exists as Africa’s most economically developed country, and both education and skilled training for the Black African population are expanding exponentially every year.

The road will be hard and the climb forward will be very steep, but Mandela-Madiba did his part to help steer the ship in the right direction and to give it a full gust of wind for the journey. His leadership model will be studied for years to come. We can only hope for another rise of such an extraordinary human being among us.

Rest in peace, dear brother, you more than earned it.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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