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Home » Perspectives » Americans consider Nelson Mandela’s most significant legacy » Mandela sensed the importance of bridging racial and ethnic divides

Mandela sensed the importance of bridging racial and ethnic divides

Kenneth Grundy Kenneth Grundy Marcus A. Hanna Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He performed extensive research in South Africa from 1969  to 2001. His commentary has appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Orlando Sentinel, Atlanta Constitution, and major dailies in Saint Louis, Baltimore, Detroit, Johannesburg, Nairobi, Houston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and many others.

Author of Confrontation and Accommodation in Southern Africa,  Soldiers without Politics: Blacks in the South African Defense ForcesThe Militarization of South African Politics and others.

What great fortune it was that peoples on the cusp of a racially motivated bloodbath should find a leader who instinctively sensed the importance of bridging racial and ethnic divides and approached it with a firm, yet calm disposition. Nelson Mandela was such a leader, and without him South Africa would probably have suffered the fate of so many new states that succumbed to their inexperience at modern government.
Mandela was not perfect.  His human failings – as a husband and father – are evident. I also wish he had been more assertive in leading the ANC and in guiding them in the choice of his successors.
But overshadowing this, he had the rare capacity to be a warm and caring politician.  He took all with whom he had dealings seriously, listening and responding with a sensitive touch.
And he could be tough. When P.W. Botha offered to release Mandela from prison in 1985 if Mandela agreed unconditionally to renounce violence, Mandela refused. His reply was direct: My people are in prison and prisoners are in no condition to negotiate contracts. If government were to renounce violence and unban the ANC, I might reconsider. Nevertheless, he secretly negotiated with a top cabinet member.  Today, Mandela’s legacy of good sense has influenced all segments of the population.
If the white government had been honest, they would have had to admit that the only thing worse than dealing with Nelson Mandela would be not having Nelson Mandela to deal with.

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