Mandela's legacy of reconciliation

Mandela's legacy of reconciliation


As in South Africa, many around the world are mourning the passing of the country's first black president, Mr Nelson Mandela. Now as before, he is an enduring icon of a battle against brutal racism - a man larger than the oppressive colonial system that had kept him behind bars for over a quarter of a century, including long years as prisoner number 46664 of desolate Robben Island. Through it all, he never abandoned his principles and generosity of spirit, qualities which stood out when he included his white captors in the government he led at the end of the cruel apartheid era.

Many credit him with the "miracle" of avoiding bloodshed during the highly charged power transition. As former British premier Tony Blair put it, "through his dignity, grace and the quality of his forgiveness, he made racism everywhere not just immoral but stupid". In so doing, he inspired others to seek reconciliation, rather than retribution. Other African countries turned to democracy and the rule of law following South Africa's success in forging a new social and political compact. Countries in the region too can draw from Mr Mandela's demonstration of the role of patient compromise in governance, particularly when struggling to dissolve the pain and memory of bitter, long-standing feuds.

Certainly, Mr Mandela's tryst with destiny would not have been possible without his followers and former South African president F.W. de Klerk, who freed him and with whom he shared the Nobel Peace Prize.

When jailed for life, Mr Mandela was consigned to be forgotten. Though unseen for years, he still became the world's most celebrated political prisoner partly because of the unflagging efforts of those who demonstrated, chanted, staged concerts and kept the brutality of apartheid in the public eye in other ways around the world.

The motive power of the liberation movement gave way increasingly to a culture of entitlement among his followers after Mr Mandela retired from public life. A disenchanted minority now ask if their hero had done enough during his time to improve the lot of impoverished blacks. His departure has left South Africa without a moral compass as it now faces wildcat strikes, corruption and infighting among leaders.

What bodes for his beloved nation if it "will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again", as US President Barack Obama put it? One hopes that his compatriots will be able "to forward the example that he set". As they mourn the death of a Colossus, the hope of the rest of the world is that they will also be imbued with renewed resolve to keep the dream of unity alive. The father of their nation would have wanted nothing less.

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