Friday, February 12, 2010

20 years after a hero's liberation

This essay is part of an occasional feature on this blog that presents compelling stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, IsraelStine and the Trumped Up Enemy of the Month. A list of all pieces in this series can be found found here..

"Anyone can handle adversity. If you really want to test a man's character, give him power." -Abraham Lincoln

I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge yesterday as being the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's liberation from prison. Mandela remains arguably (though not arguably in my opinion) the greatest living political figure and certainly one the greatest of the 20th century. Not simply for his role in liberating South Africa from apartheid but for his sage guidance of the country during the early years of the country's real democracy. I maintain that the greatest thing he ever did for South Africa, even greater than leading the apartheid struggle, was to serve only a single term as the country's president. In doing so, he prevented the country from trading one oppressor for another. The decision prevented the development of a cult of personality and sent a loud and clear message that the well-being of the state must never be dependent on the beneficence of a single individual. He thus fulfilled his promise upon being released from prison that he stood "not as a prophet but as [the people's] humble servant." This mentality, the mark of true statesmanship, is likely the biggest single reason South Africa has so far avoided going down the road of other countries with similar liberation struggles like Zimbabwe and Angola.

Note: The South African Broadcasting Corporation has coverage here, here The Johannesburg Daily Mail and Guardian has reports here and here. The BBC has a report here as well as memories here and here as well as pictures.

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