JoeForAmerica, via DeVine Law’s report here, was one of the first conservative sites on the web to note the passing of Nelson Mandela last Thursday in mostly laudatory terms based upon his actual actions after being released from prison. Some good friends of ours took exception at our comparison of him to George Washington given his guerrilla activities with the ANC against the apartheid government of South Africa. And some writers that post here wrote their own columns expressing contempt for Mandela variously as a Marxist, Communist and/or terrorist.
It is certainly true that Mandela did express affinity for the economic views of Karl Marx at various times in his life and that he engaged in acts of sabotage that resulted in innocent civilian deaths. Certainly reasonable minds can differ on whether those acts could be defined as terrorism but we don’t think they rise to level of Islamist-like terrorism like those that brought down the Twin Towers on 9/11. But even if they did, that does not negate what Nelson Mandela did to reconcile and lead his nation beyond apartheid.
Much as Saul the Pharisee conspired to kill Christians before meeting Christ on the Damascus Road and becoming the greatest Christian evangelist in Scripture, so Nelson Mandela became a new man after serving 27 years in prison.
An Astute Political Observer from Texas best expressed our holistic view below:
The reactions to Mandela’s passing are generally what one might expect, and, as laudatory as they are, also generally deserved. But two corners are not covering themselves with glory: The first, from the right, being those who denounce him as a Communist (he was) and a friend of tyrants (most definitely) and a terrorist (debatable) and having left a legacy of ruin (not really), and therefore not worthy of the praise given him. The second, from the left, is having a marvelous time dredging up every skeptic of Mandela and his ANC prior to 1990, and getting in one last kick against those who failed to join the liberal consensus at the proper time.Well. Historical memory is malleable and imperfect. The truth about Nelson Mandela is that one may bring the full bill of charges against him and still find a great man: and that bill exists. The implacable critics on the right, and the post-facto triumphalists on the left, both forget Burke’s admonition:
“I cannot stand forward, and give praise or blame to anything which relates to human actions, and human concerns, on a simple view of the object, as it stands stripped of every relation, in all the nakedness and solitude of metaphysical abstraction. Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind.”
Those who believe Mandela was obviously a reconciliation-minded hero before 1990 willfully ignore the circumstances of nearly every one of his political type before him, from Mugabe to Nkrumah to Nasser to Indira Gandhi and much beyond. The list of left-wing figures who appealed to liberal principles while out of power, and then governed as bloody-minded authoritarians when in it, is long. In fact, it’s most of them. Caution that Mandela would prove yet another of their number, when his background was so drearily common in their ranks, was simply prediction born of empiricism.
Those who believe that Mandela was obviously at bottom a terrorist and Marxist both in and out of power willfully ignore the circumstances of what he actually did when his entire nation — including all his enemies — lay within his grasp. It’s a long list, but let me cite three illustrative things. First, he invited his Robben Island jailers to his inauguration, and even later intervened to see that one of them received a promised civil-service promotion. Second, he wore the Springboks jersey: if you don’t know the story, look it up. Third, and most important, he retired after a single term in office.
It’s the first two that set him apart as a good man. It’s that last, George Washington-style deliberate setting of precedent with the shedding of supreme power — and make no mistake, he could have died as a sitting president had he wished — that sets him apart as a great man. Acquisition of power is common. Exercise of power is too common. Restraint and refusal to use power is uncommon. Relinquishing power entirely, under no compulsion or stricture, is extraordinary. That alone, even in the absence of all else, makes a life worth celebrating — and remembering.
We welcome all views at JoeForAmerica.com and think it is healthy for conservatives to engage in reasoned healthy debate.