As the world mourns the death of one of its most admired personalities, the legacy and achievements of Nelson Mandela are being reiterated everywhere. In most international media stations, especially in the west, his greatest achievement was his role in promoting reconciliation between whites and blacks in South Africa and promoting coexistence to create a rainbow nation. Unlike previous post-independence governments in Africa, Mandela’s actions in embracing the previous apartheid regime was seen as the act of a true statesman.
However, many forget that the previous apartheid regimes had plundered many black South Africans of their wealth and source of livelihood. Many people – forced out of their lands and into shanty towns – were denied basic rights, such as education, and faced discrimination. Moreover, most of South Africa’s natural wealth benefited the apartheid regimes over the centuries. In an objective view, Mandela should have continued with the same ideals that took him to prison in the first place – justice for black South Africans – and at least call for reparations for all the atrocities committed against them.
On the other hand, one must admit, if he insisted on having revenge, or rather retribution, for black South Africans, the results would have been different for South Africa’s economy. In 1994, most of the economy was held and controlled by white South Africans. A wave of retribution would have resulted in major capital flight, leading to a collapsing economy, high unemployment in the Black South African community and high inflation. In short, South Africa would look a lot like Zimbabwe today. The economic collapse of South Africa would have later resulted in a protracted conflict.
In retrospect, Mandela’s approach was brilliant. Instead, he advocated for the inclusion of white South Africans in the nation building process by including an Afrikaans song in the national anthem, ensuring that the constitution protected their property rights and encouraging black South Africans to participate in rugby, a game that was considered white. To the surprise of many, Mandela also continued South Africa’s foreign policy of increased ties with western countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, who once considered him to be a terrorist and a communist. His actions may have been inspired by his experience in Robben Island; but, rationally, South Africa’s economic interests, including those of black South Africans, may have been more important to Mandela. He may not have been a saint, but he was a political genius.
Rest in Peace Madiba!
By Gertrude Chelimo