My remembrance post about Margaret Thatcher lionized her for something all too rare in political “leaders” – will. Thatcher knew what was right. That’s not unique. But she also had the political will to see it through, no matter how hard. And it was very hard, encountering a virulence of opposition few politicians can withstand. However, she stood firm, believing voters would ultimately support what was right – and if not, then so be it. We need politicians willing to lose.
Nelson Mandela represented a very different but no less important leadership quality – goodwill. Now, if ever there was a man coming to power with a justifiable grievance against his foes, it was Mandela. They’d imprisoned him for 27 years! And of course had denied his people the most basic rights. So if he’d used power to do down those enemies, to settle scores, we should not have been surprised. But that was not Nelson Mandela. Instead, he did the opposite, and that was surprising – again, something all too rare in political life.
So instead of showing his opponents a fist, Mandela reached out the hand of goodwill. He had the vision to understand how that was best for all South Africans, black as well as white. A vindictive policy would have perpetuated the ugly and dysfunctional past conflict. Mandela inherited a “for whites only” country but did not seek to make it “for blacks only” (unlike, say, Zimbabwe’s vile Mugabe). Instead he sought a South Africa that would settle down, rise above its past, and join together to get on with improving quality of life rather than rubbing old wounds.
That made Mandela unique. And what a shame that is; a shame that one who thus was genuinely a “uniter rather than a divider”* was in fact so unique. I am too often disappointed and frustrated that “leaders” so persistently lack that sort of vision. Ones like Mugabe. And, I hate to say it, Obama. And, alas, Mandela’s own successors in South Africa, gone from bad to worse. All relentlessly pursue partisan agendas. They imagine it serves their interests – but does it really? Is it better to be a Mugabe than a Mandela?
Mandela’s death occasions an outpouring of veneration. Mugabe, they’ll spit on his grave.
* As George W. Bush promised to be. (And Obama too.)