Questions about Nelson Mandela’s Legacy

With others, I celebrate the life of Mandela, truly a great man! He was instrumental in helping to bring down apartheid in South Africa. He will be remembered for leading the anti-apartheid movement from violent to more nonviolent direction. He will be remembered for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and other policies that pursued reconciliation instead of revenge within the country when the ANC gained political power.

The criticisms of his leadership, that is now being discussed among commentators, have to do with his compromising with the white power structures of S. Africa and his agreeing to continue policies of neoliberal global economics, which had already taken root in the country. These policies of the World Bank, IMF and other agencies, perpetuated by the Transitional Executive Committee (TEC) in S. Africa, which took control of the South African government, had the effect of adding to general impoverishment of the poor, increasing unemployment, lowering life expectancy, increasing white ownership and control of corporations and of the best land and other resources, and laying the ground for later pervasive corruption in the government. It has been described as the replacement of racial for “class apartheid.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said the following in 2001. “Reconciliation means that those who have been on the underside of history must see that there is a qualitative difference between repression and freedom. And for them, freedom translates into having a supply of clean water, having electricity on tap; being able to live in a decent home and have a good job; to be able to send your children to school and to have accessible health care. I mean, what’s the point of having made this transition if the quality of life of these people is not enhanced and improved? If not, the vote is useless.”

The question now being asked among people analyzing the legacy of Mandela’s presidency is whether he made these compromises with the white power structure of that time out of ignorance or expediency, whether he was forced to continue these policies, or whether he had little power to change these policies that were already underway in S. Africa.

But in spite of these issues, let’s not lose site of the greatness of Mandela and his modeling forgiveness and reconciliation.

If you want to explore this more here are a couple longer articles that give more information about the pressures Mandela was under and what economic policies were accepted during his regime. and


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