Debates about Mandela

I have followed several debates about Mandela’s legacy since his death, I chaired one  such debates over at Africa on the Blog and even contributed to one over  at Business Fights Poverty.

The debates have polarised between those that believe Mandela was a common terrorist and those that see him as a hero that stood up to an unjust system in which the black majority were treated as subhuman by the white minority.

In between those opposing views are those that blame South Africa’s woes on Mandela and those that believe that Mandela did his best however that the odds were stacked against him and  that the global structure stood in his way.

It has become apparent  to me  that,  those that blame Mandela for South Africa’s current woes   are missing  a point that is articulated in this comment  over at The Guardian  


Good points well made.

I think the main difference now is that black South Africans can actually join the elite at all, and the playing field has been largely levelled. That just leaves the usual problems of wealth inequality which frankly, will take generations to resolve.

Mandela was instrumental in breaking down the barrier between black and white. The barrier between rich and poor is a different war to be fought.


The legacy of apartheid is most visible  within South Africa’s townships   and we can agree that  there is still a lot of work to do to improve life for many South Africans  .  In my opinion Mandela  started the country on  that journey, however it was not up to him  to complete that journey.  All South Africans  must carry on where Mandela left off and in particular  fight the war against poverty.

Yes Mandela could have adopted policies such as  the ones adopted by Idi Amin in Uganda of expelling Asians and Mugabe in Zimbabwe  seizing white owned farms but let us step back and examine  the outcomes  of those policies in the countries concerned. In my mind’s eye Mandela and his lot found a happier balance, imperfect as it was.

It is hard to say with any certainty  how things will pun out on the political scene in South Africa, but one thing is certain Mandela’s work on earth is done and I think we can agree that  for all his sins/faults, history will judge him kindly


  1. says

    I shold preface these remarks by saying I spend a month in SA looking at the hospitality industry every year.

    In my view the white community has wasted an opportunity to change the balance. The Boer farmers still practice racist policies (e.g one farmer I know of in the Western Cape has 3 levels of housing, and that for his black workers has no running water to the homes).

    One white entrepeneur told me the black BEE policies had led to most of his (post-apartheid) generation starting their own businesses as they had not been able to get employment against black preference. Family money has backed these people reinforcing the divide between rich white and poor black.

    Compounding the issue is the migrant population coming in to SA, e.g. 4.5 million refugees from Mugabe’s regim. Better educated, these are keeping unemployment levels high.ANC has not invested in education at all adequately

    There are many positive signs but the ANC needs to stamp on corruption and incompetence in national and local government – for instance Ida, have you ever been able to get any response from an SA tourist office?

  2. says

    Thanks for stopping by Patrick. SA has indeed made great strides but faces great threats too some of which run deep as this channel 4 documentary demonstrates

    I haven’t been back to South Africa for a few years now but during my last visit, I was shocked by the disparity between the rich and poor. As someone with an interest in social programmes, I was especially disappointed to note that many black people still live in poor quality housing in townships.

    As you quite rightly say unless corruption is stamped out, it will threaten progress and access to education for all is vitally important.
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    • says

      Volunteers helping build houses to replace township shacks are being dismayed by the profiteering. They rehouse shack dwellers who then sell their new houses and build a new shack further up the road putting tens of thousands of rand in their piggy banks.

      I met an accountant (blcack) who was living ina shanty in Cape Tow. I was shocked but he explained his wife and family were in Port Elizabeth. Kids went to private school and he lived in the shanty town because it was free…

      Not all of what you see is what it seems. White nephews worked for over two years after graduation for free until they were able to comply with the black preference rules at their employers.