As we all know, Nelson Mandela is a saint: he freed his people from oppression, restored their inalienable, Nature-given right to vote, and brought justice to South Africa. He raised his country from the vilest pits of evil and made it a flourishing democracy, free from the violence and terror that plagued it in its darker years.
Its people are noble and free, its government is enlightened and just, its Human Development Index declined for a decade after 1994 and still isn’t back up to where it was, its second president was an HIV denialist who compared “orthodox AIDS” scientists to Nazis in an attempt to justify an anti-retroviral drug ban that cost hundreds of thousands of lives, its current president was accused of raping a HIV-positive woman and responded by reporting that he took a shower afterwards to “minimize the risk of contracting the disease,” the average woman in the country is more likely to be raped than complete secondary school, the murder rate has increased by an order of magnitude in the last 40 years despite underreporting of murders of whites, and 20 percented of the white population emigrated in the decade after the 1994 reforms, citing crime as a primary reason for leaving — and given that white farmers are being murdered by the thousands and genocide has become a serious concern, it’s not hard to see why.
Channel 4 calls Mandela’s legacy a “qualified success”, saying that, although “just after Nelson Mandela left office, UN crime statistics marked South Africa as the worst in the world for murder and assault — of the countries where statistics are gathered”, he established South Africa as “one of the world’s great democracies.” Perhaps they believe that those two words, ‘great’ and ‘democracy,’ always coincide, but a look at South Africa and at its presidents shows that they do not. The New Yorker is even more pessimistic:
Mandela’s twenty-seven years in prison condemned the South African regime in a way few could have predicted at the time of his sentencing. But it also allowed him to view the trajectory of other anticolonial movements from the sidelines. When he was sworn in as President, he had the perspective of three decades of postcolonial history, much of it validating the idea that reconciliation held more promise than the decidedly less charitable route that states like Zimbabwe took. No figure could garner Mandela’s moral standing by simply pantomiming forgiveness out of necessity. He believed in the redemptive power of forgiveness. But he also recognized that it was the only route that lay between civil war and the mass exodus of the moneyed, educated class of white people who were integral to the economy.
Praise Mandela, he wasn’t Mugabe! It must be admitted that he wasn’t — that it could have been worse. He managed to not only avert civil war, but also institute a functioning democratic system capable of the peaceful transfer of presidential power — though, considering who followed him, one may wish that he hadn’t.
But already in his successes one may see the dark stirrings of something far outside the doctrine of the church of democracy that has declared him a saint: just look at how he handled the regime change. Whether it was to avoid leaving any faction dissatisfied enough to go to war or simply to cover up administrative incompetence that, as the Sunday Times put it, “could have destroyed the election,” the parties “cut a deal among themselves” to manufacture an outcome that no one would contest. Had the wisdom of the people been allowed to shine through unaltered, things would have been much worse. Mandela’s greatest achievement was not bringing democracy to South Africa, it was helping to subvert it.