The world is short of thinkers; those who influence the world with their ideas and philosophy. Mahatma Gandhi gave the world an idea, something that several leaders of the world followed. His path of non-violence was adopted by two of the most influential anti-racism leaders – Martin Luther King, Jr, who changed race relations in the United States, and Nelson Mandela, who quietly bore a prison sentence for 27 years, and then came out and changed South Africa and the world.
Mandela’s influence in maintaining peace and harmony in a charged atmosphere in South Africa can only be contrasted by what happened in neighbouring Zimbabwe, where violence and race-related attacks on the white community increased since the country got its independence in 1980.
The primary tool to segregate white Zimbabweans was land distribution. The official rhetoric also included calling them traitors. And although
circumstances have improved vastly in the last decade and a half, the country’s economic decline has never kept it in sound health.
On the other hand, Mandela’s presidency coincided with the investigations into apartheid by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1995, but the commission did a fine job of restoring race relations, and therefore, peace in the country.
If South Africa is seen as a faulty, yet progressive, democracy, it is largely due to the efforts of Mandela and his statesmanlike leadership.
Despite the ordeal of an imprisonment that lasted nearly three decades, Mandela never allowed the experience to cloud his outlook towards the white community. According to media reports, in order to avoid “victor’s justice”, no side was exempt from appearing before the commission.
The panel heard reports and claims of human rights violations and considered amnesty applications from all sides, from the apartheid state to the liberation forces, including the African National Congress.
This gave Mandela’s countrymen a sense of justice and, equally importantly, a sense of belonging. This is the greatest gift any leader can give his people. This is also perhaps the iconic leader’s biggest legacy, and it is something that the world today would do well to learn from.