C&B Notes

The Real Legacy of Nelson Mandela

Mandela continues to be an exemplary statesman for South Africa and the rest of the African continent.

Mr. Mandela’s lasting political bequest to his own people and to the rest of Africa is more nuanced.  What was crucial to South Africa’s chances of a functional future was not so much anything he did in his short presidency, from 1994 to 1999, but rather his decision, like George Washington in the early days of the American republic, to step down.  He easily could have stayed for a second term and then have ventriloquized his rule through some pliant placeholder.

If anyone was well positioned to launch a political personality cult it was Mr. Mandela.  His refusal to do so is probably his greatest legacy to his homeland.  It set South Africa on a course different from most other African nations.  Seventeen years into its post-apartheid incarnation, South Africa is already on its fourth president.  This has radically reduced the danger of a single leader dominating the state.

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