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Reflections on Mandela’s Legacy

It is the fate of true revolutionaries to die in obscurity, brutalized in prisons, forsaken by their loved ones, ravaged by disease and malnutrition, discredited by senility or madness, rendered irrelevant by time. Those who manage to escape this pitiful end often fall prey to another form of imprisonment, constructed by memory and guarded by cowardice and hypocrisy. Such is the destiny of Nelson Mandela.

A man of true courage and virtue, he survived 27 years of imprisonment at the hands of South Africa’s racist apartheid regime to serve as President of a new, ostensibly unified “Rainbow Nation”. Mandela’s greatest achievement was in negotiating a peaceful end to white rule in 1990, advocating forgiveness instead of revenge. After winning South Africa’s first general election in 1994, Mandela worked tirelessly to ensure the stability of his country. To this end he created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a restorative justice initiative meant to help South Africa come to terms with the traumas of apartheid. Individuals who were considered to be the victims of terrible injustices –whether perpetrated by whites or blacks- were invited to deposit a testimony after which the culprits were given an opportunity to testify and ask for amnesty from civil and criminal prosecution.

The Commission succeeded reasonably as a vehicle for amnesty, in that all applications for Amnesty were considered, even if they were sometimes unfairly dealt with. As far as establishing factual truth, the Commission experienced a great deal of success in determining what happened even if the moral issue of why remains controversial. Reconciliation, on the other hand, remains to be seen, especially now that statistics have begun to show that people believe South Africans are more divided than before.

As we mourn Mandela’s passing, we must also recognize the limits of his legacy. Although journalists from around the world rush to eulogize him, his goodness and shopping cart links pricing provacyl site courage stand in stark relief with the realities of contemporary South Africa. 43.5% of South Africans rarely or never speak to a member of another race. The Gini coefficient, which measures inequality, is at 0.69, identifying South Africa as one of the most unequal countries in the world. Its president, Jacob Zuma, has been accused of being at the center of one of the country’s biggest corruption scandals, having allegedly spent millions of rand of taxpayers’ money on a swimming pool and other renovations to his second home. While Zuma’s home remains safe from unwanted intrusion, South African landowners face violent attacks on their property and persons. Middle and upper class whites flee urban centers for high security communities, expecting to find refuge from crime behind concrete walls patrolled by armed private security details.

If South Africa has failed to realize Mandela’s vision of a racial and economic equality, those of us with liberal or leftist convictions should also refrain from recognizing ourselves in Mandela’s legacy. Economic inequality continues to increase at an alarming pace all over the world while xenophobic extremists hold more and more sway over Western political systems. We live under constant surveillance while American drones are permitted to murder individuals on the other side of the planet with virtual impunity.  Ecological disaster looms on the horizon, threatening billions with societal collapse, food shortages, displacement, war, and disease. The left and their liberal counterparts have failed to address these problems in any substantive way, just as they failed to effectively challenge apartheid for much of its existence. Though Mandela should serve as an example for those who pine for a more equitable world composed of just societies, we must understand his legacy as a small victory in a battle the establishment left still refuses to fight.

Martin de Bourmont

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