Wednesday, December 11, 2013
The Diplomad is a retired Foreign Service officer who worked all over the world and had opportunities to meet the movers and shakers who made their countries what they are. Here is his take on Nelson Mandela and the country he left behind.
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."