Calling him one of the “most influential, courageous and profoundly good people to ever have lived,” President Obama ordered all U.S. flags lowered to half-staff in honor of Nelson Mandela, who died on Thursday, December 5. As the worldwide tributes pour in for the former leader of the African National Congress (ANC) and first black president of South Africa, it is good to remember just who Mandela was, and who he wasn’t.
As president of South Africa, Mandela—though a typically bumbling socialist—was not a vengeful character. After having spent much of his adult life in prison, he is widely praised for not seeking to retaliate against the former white rulers, and for having largely urged reconciliation and compromise in undoing the injustices of Apartheid. Though Mandela was a committed Marxist, he was also a pragmatist, disappointing his more impatient comrades by not immediately carrying out the massive nationalizations of industry he had promised, so as not to drive away foreign investment. And he recognized his own limitations, both physical and political, in deciding not to attempt to remain in power after his term in office.
Most white South Africans rejoin that Nelson Mandela had no reason to seek revenge on anyone, nor any basis for extending forgiveness to his previous jailors. After all, as the most famous prisoner of the previous Apartheid government, he had been fairly tried and convicted of complicity in many murders, and he confessed to participation in 156 acts of terror, crimes that would certainly have earned him the death penalty in a great many countries. Moreover, his confinement was more than comfortable by any standards. During his legendary twenty-seven years in prison, Mandela communicated freely with his followers, and somehow managed to accumulate a considerable fortune. He was continually offered release by the white Apartheid government, but on one condition: that he renounce violence in pursuit of political reform. That is something he consistently refused to do.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily
Mandela was personally involved in the targeting and timing of terrorist bombings that took place during his imprisonment. Even a group as left-leaning as Amnesty International refused to grant Mandela political prisoner status because of the obviously violent character of his ideology and his actions. His African National Congress party ran a horrific camp for political prisoners in Angola, with daily torture and murder, often by the “necklacing” technique, whereby a gasoline-filled tire is placed around the neck of a victim and set ablaze. Virtually all the victims of this particular horror were blacks.
Within South Africa, on direct orders from Winnie and Nelson Mandela, the ANC targeted not only whites, but also black civil servants, teachers, lawyers, and businessmen—essentially anyone who imagined a post-Apartheid South Africa that differed from the one mandated by the Marxist ANC. Even simple black peasants who refused to carry out terror attacks were treated as enemies. Thus, just as the terroristic FLN killed far more Algerians than did the French during the Algerian war for independence, the ANC was the leading cause of death, by far, for black South Africans throughout the period of Apartheid.
The only reality that makes it even remotely possible to view Mandela as a “statesman” is that he lived on a continent where the definition of “statecraft” is not exactly rigorous or exemplary. Since the wave of decolonization following World War II, the number of African states ruled by ruthless dictators has always been in the majority, and sometimes approached unanimity. The precise number of tyrants involved is actually difficult to ascertain. One simply loses count, and the shadows of the worst of them conceal the merely “semi-heinous” crimes of the lesser despots, so that their names are eclipsed and you find yourself asking: “Does so-and-so really fit the African definition of a tyrant?”
Numbered among the rogue gallery of miscreants who have wielded power on that tragic continent, we find some of the world’s biggest drug traffickers, diamond smugglers, and slave traders. It seems that the poorer an African nation is, the greater the wealth accumulated by its “President for Life.” Almost every country in black-ruled Africa has a system of gulags. All elections are rigged, free press is non-existent, and all dissent comes from exiles. In the past fifty years, there have been more wars in Africa than in all the other continents combined. And everything is considered a weapon of war: ethnic cleansing, child soldiering and child rape, even cannibalism. Just refraining from committing genocide in Africa practically sets one up for comparison with Mother Theresa.
So in this regard, Mandela (post-Apartheid, at least) does indeed look pretty good. Though personally implicated in a great many murders, there is at least no record of him ever eating a political foe or advocating child rape or promoting genocide. And he left office voluntarily in 1999, even if this was due more to advancing years, frail health, and the realization that he had no talent for governing, rather than to a real commitment to democracy. Still, by African standards, this is the stuff of a Nobel Peace Prize.
Mandela did, however, leave behind another socialist nightmare in the making. With their motto of “liberation before education,” the ANC has proved itself completely incapable of governing, and South Africa is sliding into chaos at an alarming rate. Since 2004, South Africa has experienced almost constant political protests, many of them violent. Activists like to refer to the nation as the most “protest-rich in the world,” which, along with prison camps, is the only type of “riches” a socialist nation can produce. The nation is staggered by unemployment, corruption throughout all levels of the police, military, and civil service, and ubiquitous, inescapable crime. Life in South Africa is far more dangerous, especially for blacks and women, than it was under Apartheid. With about fifty murders a day, the nation is now among the undisputed murder capitals of the world, most of these crimes going uninvestigated. The astounding estimates of other violent crimes, including rape, are almost impossible to believe. But only the truth of such figures could account for the fact that the private security business in South Africa is the largest in the world, with over a quarter-million private security guards in a nation of under 53 million.
Taking their lead from the disaster in neighboring Zimbabwe, the government of South Africa is now looking the other way as white farmers are driven off their land by arson and murder. It is said that job advertisements, even those posted by the government, routinely include the phrase “Whites need not apply.” Would it be an exaggeration to say that a “reverse Apartheid” is taking place in South Africa? The nearly one million white South Africans who have fled the growing chaos don’t think so.
Of course, life in South Africa is now most dangerous for the most defenseless, for those waiting to be born. As president, Mandela—ever the pragmatist—signed the most liberal abortion law in all of Africa, with no reason at all needed for a woman to procure abortion in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, and abortion easy to obtain through all nine months. Since this law took effect in 1997, even the most conservative estimates put the number of abortions that have taken place at one million. Once again, socialists and pragmatists of all stripes reveal that they cannot conceive of any form of good governance that does not involve killing on a massive scale.
Yes, some South Africans view Mandela as a nearly messianic figure. Desmond Tutu has publically thanked God for the “gift” of Mandela. But this is the same “bishop” Tutu who recently stated that he would decline his own invitation to heaven if God turned out to be a “homophobe.” Any pious invocation by Tutu has to be regarded as more than a little suspect. Nor can we have any confidence in Barack Obama when he declares that Mandela “achieved more than could be expected of any man” and that “he belongs to the ages.” Obama no doubt believes he himself “belongs to the ages,” since his signature “accomplishments”—the government seizure of medical care, the enthronement of abortion, and the promotion of homosexual “marriage”—are all policies promoted by the ANC in the new South Africa. So we should not expect to hear much from the Obama administration about Mandela’s violent past. Statists never find anything to reproach in one of their own.
(Photo credit: Steven Siewert)