Nelson Mandela Was Undeniably Great But He Doesn’t Need a Halo

tags: South Africa, Nelson Mandela



Michael Moynihan is cultural news editor at The Daily Beast.

We will hear much in the coming days about Nelson Mandela’s surplus of saintly qualities, of which there were indeed many. And we will be treated to the interminable and drippy encomiums of pundits and celebrities who couldn’t differentiate the ANC from the BBC, wouldn’t know Joe Slovo from Slobodan Milosevic. We can be snide about it, but they’ll all start with the correct premise: Mandela was a man of unique bravery who designed the dismantling of a political system of unique evil. It was that pigheaded determination--at great personal cost--that liberated his country from the clutches of an illegitimate regime....

When former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died, we saw a rather different reaction, but one that invoked Mandela to demonstrate the Iron Lady’s callousness. It was said, with ritualistic frequency, that she had denounced Mandela himself as a “terrorist” (she hadn’t). And it was quite rightly—and quite frequently—remarked that Thatcher’s unconscionable indulgence of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet should sully her reputation....

And here is where one must bring the knives out for Mandela. For a man imprisoned for his political beliefs, he had a weakness for those who did the very same thing to their ideological opponents, but were allowed a pass because they supported, for realpolitik reasons, the struggle against Apartheid. So Mandela was painfully slow in denouncing the squalid dictatorship of Robert Mugabe. He was rather fond of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro (it won’t take you long to find photos of the two bear-hugging each other in Havana) and regularly referred to Libyan tyrant Muammar Qaddafi as “Brother Leader of the Revolution of the Libyan Jamahariya.” It was on a return visit to Robbin Island, when Mandela, as president, announced with appalling tone deafness that he would invite both Castro and Qaddafi to South Africa....



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