I was living in Tanzania when South Africa elected Nelson Mandela as its first post-apartheid president. Mandela meant a lot to the Tanzanians who saw him win not through bullets and bombs but through promises of peace. I can almost here the ululations from the village we lived near at the time as his inauguration was broadcast on shortwave.
Mandela wasn’t perfect, nor was he a saint. He started his career in the ANC as a believer in violent uprising. During his presidency he turned a blind eye to other African nations such as Zimbabwe who suffered much more under home-grown dictators than they ever did under colonial rule. After he left the office he remained overly critical of the United States, Europe and Israel in their fight against Islamic extremism while ignoring the very real threats these nations faced. I even penned a letter to him in 2002 after he publicly questioned Osama Bin Laden’s role in the 9-11 Attacks. Christopher Hitchens himself took Mandela to task for his support of Saddam Hussein.
But imperfect though he was, he did lead a people during a very crucial time in their history. Had he not been there it is difficult to imagine South Africa making it through a transition to majority rule without tens of thousands dying. At a time when South Africa didn’t have one, he gave his nation a future promising peace and prosperity.
Martin Luther King jr said:
Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
South Africa has not made it to that promised land just yet, but it’s on its way thanks to Nelson Mandela.