Mandela’s Failures

Posted on May 11th, 2010 by James

How far does a person need to go to be a successful revolutionary? How much must they accomplish?

These are the questions at the heart of a purported interview with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the second wife of Nelson Mandela. Madikizela-Mandela has said she never gave this interview, and didn’t say these things, so take that into account.

The article (wrongly?) quoted Madikizela-Mandela as saying, “Mandela let us down. He agreed to a bad deal for the blacks. Economically, we are still on the outside. The economy is very much ‘white’. It has a few token blacks, but so many who gave their life in the struggle have died unrewarded.”

Whether or not Madikizela-Mandela actually said this, this quote does hold at least some truth. The economy is still mainly in the hands of the minority whites. This is the reality I saw and heard about in my (very short) time in South Africa several years back.

One pastor I talked to mentioned the places that whites go often, and the blacks can only afford to go once a year, maybe. He spoke of an economic apartheid.

I visited a sheep ranch, where colored workers lived in little shacks, while the white ranch owner lived in a beautiful home. The owner talked of how great it was that apartheid was over, but was nervous that there might be a restructuring of the economy that would take his family’s home for generations away.

Did Mandela not go far enough? Should he have pushed for further equality, pushed for economic reform and reparations? Because while great steps have been made, there is not yet equality or justice in South Africa.

And if he had pushed for more, how would the world view him? Would he have received the Nobel Peace Prize? Or would he be dismissed as a radical figure?

You have to remember that Mandela entered prison a revolutionary who was readying a guerrilla war against the government. He was a radical. But 27 years later, he left prison a changed person. He was more willing to compromise, and wanted to end apartheid peacefully.

In betting terms, he went from going for broke, to playing it safe. And while he didn’t make the gains he could have, he did make some remarkable improvements.

Should he have gone for broke? Or is a safer approach better? Do his successes make up for his failures, and how do you draw that line?

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