Michael Moynihan on Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela Was Undeniably Great But He Doesn’t Need a Halo
He will be forever linked with the abolition of apartheid, but he was also a friend of Gaddafi and Castro, and we must accept his shortcomings to truly fathom his accomplishments.
For a man imprisoned for his political beliefs, he had a weakness for those who did the very same thing to their ideological opponents, but were allowed a pass because they supported, for realpolitik reasons, the struggle against Apartheid. So Mandela was painfully slow in denouncing the squalid dictatorship of Robert Mugabe. He was rather fond of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro (it won’t take you long to find photos of the two bear-hugging each other in Havana) and regularly referred to Libyan tyrant Muammar Qaddafi as “Brother Leader of the Revolution of the Libyan Jamahariya.” It was on a return visit to Robbin Island, when Mandela, as president, announced with appalling tone deafness that he would invite both Castro and Qaddafi to South Africa.
In 1997, he unloaded on the Clinton administration when it criticized his embrace of the Libyan dictatorship. “How can they have the arrogance to dictate to us where we should go or which countries should be our friends? Gaddafi is my friend.” In 2000, the Boston Globe reported that when Iran charged 13 Iranian Jews and eight Muslims with espionage on behalf of Israel, Mandela “expressed his satisfaction with assurances from Iranian leaders that their trial would be ‘free and fair.’” To those critical of his stance, he shouted that “you have not been to Iran. I have been to Iran, and your criticism has no foundation,” declaring the trial “a purely domestic affair in which citizens of the Islamic Republic are being tried. Foreigners should avoid any action that may be regarded rightly or wrongly as interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.” The affairs of non-democracies, Mandela argued, were not the business of democracies.
Thankfully, not all governments indulged this brand of human rights isolationism when Mandela was jailed on Robben Island. The problem with this stance isn’t merely that Mandela was wildly wrong—which he was—about the fairness and independence of the Iranian judiciary or the righteousness of the Cuban and Libyan dictatorships, but his reliance on the old debating trick of shouting “sovereignty” about a crowded political prison. This was, you might remember, the argument of both the apartheid regime and its criminal co-conspirators.
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Mandela’s accomplishment: That he did not turn South Africa into a totalitarian “democracy” by consolidating power around himself. After Mandela,
South Africa’s transition to a more open economic system has been facilitated by a relatively competitive trade regime, but structural reforms to diversify the economic base have achieved only marginal progress. With overall regulatory efficiency constrained by the lack of transparency, policies to sustain dynamic flows of investment are not firmly institutionalized. The government faces challenges in improving the effectiveness of budget management.
Nelson Mandela ‘proven’ to be a member of the Communist Party after decades of denial
A new book claims that, 50 years after he was first accused of being a Communist, Nelson Mandela was a Communist party member after all.
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