How Mandela Changed African Politics

Roundup: Talking About History
tags: South Africa, Nelson Mandela

Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist and regular contributor to The Root. He is also Washington Correspondent for The Philadelphia Tribune and Chief Political Correspondent for UPTOWN Magazine. He can be reached via Twitter @charlesdellison.

It will be easy to remember Nelson Mandela the iconic, larger-than-life activist and freedom crusader. Reflections on Mandela will, naturally, focus on the human rights advocate aspect of his life: from years unjustly locked in an apartheid-era prison to his obsession with racial reconciliation in a country that seemed irreversibly distant from it.

While Mandela’s personal biography certainly stirs the soul, often serving as a recipe for inspirational social change, it’s not the only chip he brought to the table. There is a tendency to either overlook or underestimate his executive acumen and leadership style. It took considerable skill and political trade craft to pull off what many deemed impossible: somehow peacefully guiding Africa’s largest and most powerful economy through a period of radical political transformation.

But, even during his one-term as President of South Africa, the rest of the world seemed to give little thought to exactly how he was doing as a head of state. We seem satisfied with knowing nothing more beyond the legends and tales that have molded him into a sort of metaphysical or mystical being. Yet, Mandela the governor or chief executive was probably much more consequential and transcendent than Mandela the activist and revolutionary....

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