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Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela has died, and with him, one hopes, so have a lot of illusions and delusions of both opponents and supporters. I was always conflicted about Mandela, admiring his courage but highly doubtful about his politics and of what he and the ANC would bring to South Africa. I never met him, but did meet several ANC representatives at the UN and elsewhere, and, to say the obvious, had serious problems with their anti-USA and pro-USSR proclivities. While I worked at the UN, Mandela was the cause célèbre of all right thinking people and, naturally, of UN diplomats. The UN passed countless resolutions condemning apartheid, demanding freedom for Mandela, and, of course, condemning the Reagan administration's approach to dealing with South Africa.

I took part in informal "off the record" meetings with ANC reps while in Geneva and Vienna. As mentioned before, I worked for Maureen Reagan while she was the US representative to the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Despite being the President's daughter, she did not support the administration's stance on dealing with South Africa, including not meeting the ANC. She insisted on talking to them to the horror of the State Department. I did my duty and warned Ms. Reagan that it was not US policy to meet the ANC, but, if she insisted, well, I would be there, too. The meetings proved inconsequential, but showed the intense hostility of the ANC towards the USA, capitalism, and Western democracy. Some of the ANC had a very hard pro-Soviet, pro-Castro line, and there was no reasoning with them. These meetings, frankly, shaped my view of Mandela, making me suspicious of him and what he would bring to South Africa were he freed and in power at the head of the ANC.

As it turns out, I was right and wrong. The ANC was a lost cause; they did not believe in democracy, and had a large element of thuggery in their ranks. Many were terrorists who had received training in Libya, and were out for revenge and blood. Mandela, however, was more complicated than I had thought. He had had his violent phase, but only after trying peaceful opposition to apartheid. Both in and after coming out of prison, he proved an extremely intelligent negotiator and compromiser, reaching understandings with Botha and De Klerk, and turning down the volume of the anti-white message of the ANC. He seemed to have an understanding that whites and other non-blacks were essential for a peaceful and prosperous South Africa. He also, surprise, did not go full Mugabe. He won election--although the vote counting was suspicious--served his term, trying to unite blacks, whites, Asians, and others into accepting the new post-apartheid South Africa. He did not try to drive the whites out, and did not go around confiscating farms and businesses. He did not encourage revenge against whites and sought a reconciliation of the races. A practical politician, he turned a blind eye to the rampant corruption among the ANC, finding it better to let the party members expend their revolutionary fervor making money. At the end of his term, he stepped down. Yes, he stepped down. That is an amazing thing in Africa; he stepped down on completing his term of office. It does not happen much on that continent. He, however, never got over his deep mistrust of the USA, and despite his credentials as a victim of human rights abuse, refused to criticize Qaddafy, never gave up his fervent admiration for Castro--who, ironically, runs a racist regime in Cuba--and remained very anti-Israel.

Was he a great man? I think the answer is yes. He had great flaws, but great courage, drive, and commitment to his cause. He showed that a determined person can make a difference. He also showed that an African president can play by the rules and try to be president for all the people of his country. For that he deserves kudos and respect. He, nevertheless, did not establish a viable democratic political system in South Africa, and proved unable to stop the escalating criminal violence that has turned Johannesburg into one of the world's rape and murder capitals. His successors have proven notably less "great" than Mandela, and ANC corruption has gone into the stratosphere--including by Mandela's gangster ex-wife, Winnie. The white and other middle class flight he wanted to avoid proceeded and has grown. I think the jury remains out on whether South Africa can avoid the fate of Zimbabwe in the medium to long run. If I had to place a bet it would be that South Africa will not avoid that fate. Mandela's time in office, unfortunately, likely will prove a brief glorious moment of "what could have been but was not."

Nelson Mandela, RIP.

32 comments:

  1. Great article, so much better than the adulatory puff pieces going around. I found it infinitely more moving.

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    1. Indeed. Truthfulness is more moving than whitewash.

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  2. Great piece. I think this is fairest evaluation of Mandela I've read yet, today.

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  3. I third what Jellaghul and Phineas said, I would have seconded it only Phineas beat me to it.

    I too have always been ambivalent about Nelson Mandela however you have summed up his achievements and shortcomings very succinctly.

    I was intrigued to see your involvement with CSW. My wife was a delegate to CSW57 in March this year. Gave me the chance to play tourist in NY for just over a week and catch up with some American friends to solve the problems of the world over a frothy pint or five.

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  4. Yeah, this is a fantastic piece. It's too easy to be swayed to a particular side and lose objectivity. His flaws did not come close to overwhelming his virtues, but neither were they remotely negligible.

    - reader #1482

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  5. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

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  6. I know people who fled..and why? he was the evil conjoined twin.
    He did not care about law..but about justice...justice as in revenge.
    and the msn still shout.
    fuck him ..
    I would piss in his grave..
    funny...the power and the money...MONEY they now have..
    where did they get it?
    Follow it.
    leaperman

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  7. Dip, your piece is the sort of reasoned, fair-minded assessment I'd expect from a dedicated, patriotic member of the US Foreign Service.

    When I was teaching in Taiwan in the early 2000's, there were lots of "Sewth Efricans" running around as English teachers, business people, restauranteurs, etc. They weren't just white, but included a sizeable number of Colored, Asian, and even Bantu. Most seemed to be of the mind that the country was going downhill.

    I'm also of the mind that somewhere in South Africa, someone very dear to the heart of God was praying "God bless South Africa". Hence, Mandela's triumph came just as the Soviet Bloc was collapsing and nobody was really in any position to shore up a Leftist thugocracy. Had the Soviet Bloc remained powerful into the 1990's, I would hazard a guess that the Communist thug element in the ANC would have prevailed and Mandela probably would've gone along and post-Apartheid South Africa would've had a much worse history. Leaders don't always lead, but are very often carried along by the tide of events. Mandela got out of prison and moved towards power at a time when the socialist totalitarian model had reached its limits and was being challenged everywhere from China to Mecklenburg and Thuringia. He was probably savvy enough to realize that if he was going to get help for his country, it would have to come from those that his following hated; for the sponsors of justice-as-revenge on whom they hoped to count were no longer in a position to help them. Worse for the ANC, that Western moment meant that any "Third World" (a term that I hate, BTW) kleptocracy/greatleadership could easily be left high and dry by the world's donors. There's a lot of truth to the adage that when the Cold War ended, the world's aid junkies were the biggest losers.

    I've also been reading a century-old Chinese novel _Lao Can You Ji_ by Liu E (Travels of Lao Ts'an). In it, there's an observation that its the incorruptible officials that the people must fear, not the corrupt ones. One can get a handle in the corrupt officials, and they may not want their own higher-ups noticing to many things about their doings. The incorrupt ones, however, believe that their own integrity gives them license to bully the people. From my years in Mainland China (1992-94) and what I saw in other countries--plus the observations of the ANC in the posting above--I think Liu E's observation is still valid.

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    1. A very good point about the end of the USSR. I had made a note to include that, but, well, I am getting old and it slipped away. We, of course, will never know for sure but the collapse of the Soviet bloc, from where the ANC had received much of its support and inspiration, probably did contribute to the moderation we saw in Mandela when he came out of prison. He, at least, had the wisdom to see that the world had changed and that he needed to move on--something which many, including the reprehensible Winnie Mandela, did not.

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    2. Winnie and her shenanigans showed the limitations of Mandela's power. In many ways I think she's the true face of the ANC.

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    3. Theodore Dalrymple has made a similar point about incorruptible officials in England in his essay The Uses of Corruption.

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  8. Diplomad Sir.

    While I've never (well maybe never) made express why I admire you [yes dammit, though I'm hoping your ambivalence never again shows so plainly]

    Well dammit Diplomad Sir.

    You've (in my estimation) scaled at least an 8 - maybe an 8.5.

    I'm generally of the opinion (given Africa I think overall is a den of snakes - well to it's north for damn sure) ... I was wro .... wron ... wrong ... well dammit:

    I was wrong about you. Personally I mean. Not that that means much maybe to you. Does to me. I suppose my southern American background never much lent itself to admitting as much. I apologize ...

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    1. Ha! Thanks. 8 or 8.5, huh? Is that after throwing out the East German judge's score?

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  9. Your post was illuminating. First it showed you performing the most essential function of a FSO (assessment of foreign personalities, govs,etc in relation to the US). Second the distance from that reality that occurs among higher ranking (especially political appointees and policy makers) State officials. M. Reagan an excellent example of that with John Kerry nonpareil of course.
    The frustration of people like you must have been enormous. To be sure, though historically Democrats haven't had a monopoly on #2 lately they've taken it to levels not seen since the days of Luis XIV, Nero, and a little of Heliogalbalus thrown in on the side.

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  10. He was a true Statesman, warts and all. Too bad the ANC doesn't have any more like him..

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  11. By far the best analysis of the man and his time that has been penned since his death. Thank you.

    The juxtaposition of Mandela and Obama could not be more clear than in the creation of reconciliation committees. Can you imagine Obama or Holder doing such a thing?

    In all my time in Africa I never met Mandela either, but did meet some of his representatives in Tanzania. To a person they were thugs who were using their honorary diplomatic status in Dar es Salaam to line their pocket and find the bottom of a lot of Johnnie Walker bottles that other people were buying. (They were not quick to pick up the bar tab.)

    I, too, am conflicted about Mandela. He was anti-American to the core but let that go when in power himself. He was an idealist who allowed those near him incredible leeway and did not oppose their corrupting influence. (Reminiscent of Nyerere, whose inner circle were corrupt while he preached constantly against corruption and self-enrichment.) The less said about Winnie the better, but it says a lot about him that he did not kick her out despite her murderous history and marital infidelity.

    I guess the worst you could say about Mandela is that he did not pull a tighter rein on those around him and that he allowed his preconceived notions of the USA to color the reality of what we wanted for the African continent.

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    1. "I guess the worst you could say about Mandela is that he did not pull a tighter rein on those around him and that he allowed his preconceived notions of the USA to color the reality of what we wanted for the African continent."
      Yes.

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  12. This is the best Mandela opinion piece I have found. Confirms my own meta-level understanding of his life and actions. I met a white South African expat SANDAF Colonel at a sales conference in May of this year (not in the US). Spent 2 hours listening to this fortyish, articulate, accomplished and intelligent man after he promised me 5 minutes; and nary a dram was consumed. Fascinating encounter. SA is accelerating south on a very slippery slope. Max.

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  13. Plaudits, my friend. Kudos. Excellent.

    And yet, and yet. By their fruits shall ye know them. This great man lead the ANC into power. The result (as noted above) could have been much worse, but it is plenty bad. Is South Africa better off than before? Is the world?

    Just a side-effect note. If the Africaners had continued as the dominant tribe--every sub-Saharan country has a dominant tribe--the horrors might have been lesser--maybe not--but for sure the left-world's Emmanuel Goldstein would have continued to be South Africa. Instead, it is now Israel. Is this an improvement?

    Consider a domestic policy parallel: capital punishment.

    Capital punishment is too expensive because of the anti-capital-punishment movement--and, in the United States, the courts' "capital punishment is constitutionally different from other kinds" jurisprudence. (There is, I believe, similar stuff in other countries.) But if capital punishment is abolished, the same people spend the same energy on the *next* most severe penalty, until *it* is abolished. Iterate until all punishment is abolished--and society with it.

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  15. Hmmmm, I cannot go along with the current adulation that is prevalent. Diplomad's description is at least reasonably balanced.

    However, strip away the mythology of Mandela and what do we have? Another African socialist leader who was handed the most advanced country in Africa in good financial shape, with advanced cities and established farms and mines. During his tenure these fell into dilapidation, skilled white workers flooded out of the country, lawlessness was endemic and murder was commonplace. It sure sounds like Detroit on an African country size-scale. Since he stood down things are far worse, and yet the "great man" never once voiced dissent.

    I have no doubt he was a pleasant man and perhaps had a vision of racial harmony, if that was the case his tenure must be termed an abject failure, he was at best a willing dupe covering up the massive frauds and murderous actions of the ANC as they pillage the country.

    Comparisons to Obama are quite apt, superficially quite pleasant, but clueless and unwilling to work, indulging sports and musical fantasies as a means to distract attention.



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  16. My former employer had a small subsidy near Pretoria doing nuclear energy work (pebble beds). To visit, one was met at the airport by an armed body guard and transported to a gated, guard community where one stayed and worked.

    We need to remember that South Africa had nuclear weapons at one time and still has an operating nuclear power plant. Of course, the engineers and technicians who make this happen are no doubt largely white.

    Still, the continued degeneration of civilization in South Africa should be the cause of some international anxiety.

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  17. I never heard that he spoke out of the incredible cruelty inflicted on non communist blacks that tutu and his wife minnie tortured and killed.

    he did not speak out about the slow take over of businesses and farms and the killing of white farmers.

    he was a communist ...

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  18. As a diplomat in Africa in the seventies and eighties I was constantly struck by the intertwined nature of our own civil rights struggle with our African policy, and I tried to warn my colleagues to be aware of that nexus and to avoid it. Foreign relations should not be driven by morality, or at least not entirely -- leave that to the churches. But it was virtually impossible for us to avoid that as long as South Africa was led by a white government. And as long as liberals in their oikophobia were eager to raise that equivalency -- supported slyly by the USSR.

    I had hoped we would get beyond this after majority rule came to South Africa. That was before I saw how quickly liberals could transfer their devotion to Alinsky's rules to opposition to Israel.

    It is sad and terrible to realize how much liberals hate their own country.

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  20. Don't know if you've bumped into this guy or know about him, but he has an interesting take on Mandela.
    http://www.charlescrawford.biz/blog/south-africa-and-mandela

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  21. Some informed comments here that I greatly appreciate. Agreed this is the most objective and insightful report I've yet to read about Mandela. But he is the past, and his limited efforts to make South Africa a prosperous civil society might well end in mayhem and chaos. Maybe Christianity can save this sick continent. It appears to have tempered the radical Mandela.
    I'm curious, Tutu was lumped in with Winnie. Is he part of the problem or part of the solution?

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  22. This might be of interest to you. I am sure you are a member of Baen's bar.
    come peruse the discussion.

    http://bar.baen.com/index.php?t=msg&th=102937&prevloaded=1&&start=0

    leaperman

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  23. This is the best assessment I have read of this interesting and controversial political figure. It is a shame that so much of the media (here in Britain, at least) is in full on beatification mode, which both overstates and underestimates his achievement.

    Nelson Mandela, RIP

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  24. The world needs a Saint and Mandela must be the one. Well this post ist the best I have read abour this very complicated person.
    Thanks
    Roland-Gérard from Germany

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  25. There is some excellent comment here but unfortunately lots of deluded comment. Who was Nelson Mandela? He was a member of the Central Committee of the South African Communist Party (SACP), he formed and led the ANC's military wing and declared the 'Armed Struggle' against the white government. This was no less than a declaration of (civil) war. He was responsible for numerous attacks against and deaths of civilians of all races and when arrested he and his co-conspirators had a massive arsenal of hand grenades, explosives, ammunition, etc. He was tried in a court of law and found guilty of acts of terrorism and for this he was imprisoned. He was later offered his release if he renounced violence. This he did not do.

    During the civil war in South Africa approximately 22 000 people died, 8 000 at the hand of the South African security forces and the rest as a result of black on black violence - 12 000 of these were following Mandela's release from prison and the unbanning of the ANC and the SACP when his forces eliminated his political opposition, mainly those of the only viable alternative black political force, Inkatha Freedom Party. Mandela never apologised for the deaths he caused.

    He is lauded for preventing South Africa from turning into a killing field. This was a very unlikely event as there were a huge number of militarily trained white South Africans who would have responded to a call to arms. It was well know amongst the South African business community that Mandela received a very handsome payout from the Mining and Business SA to ensure that no violence occurred. Despite this he was very quick to adapt to accepting bribes such as that from the arms deal the ANC signed shortly after coming into power. Rumour has it that he had a apoplectic fit when he heard that De Klerk had dismantled the nuclear weapons.

    Mandela the myth was created in Moscow and ardently promoted by the Anti Apartheid Movement and the leftist media. Apartheid ended with the collapse of the USSR and the threat of Soviet expansionism in Africa. This allowed the National Party government to reassess the internal threat of communism to SA. Obviously they were wrong as the current government is not the ANC but a tripartite alliance between the ANC, the SACP and the Congress of South African Trade Unions; in reality just another African Marxist kleptocracy.

    He was a violent man and I ask you what has he actually done to earn all this adulation?

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  26. Mawm's dose of reality is so refreshing after all the adulation of Mandela we've had to endure.

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