Nelson Mandela: A life lived for the heavens

Nelson Mandela statue
Nelson Mandela statue

LOS ANGELES, December 5, 2014 — Nelson Mandela was truly a giant. He achieved his stature through his love of justice. He understood that we are all just human beings, and that just laws treat nobody better than anybody else.

On the news of his death, the U.N. Security Council observed a minute of silence and the U.N. flag was flown at half mast. Leaders from all over the world quickly made impromptu speeches about what a great loss has occurred for the world.

Apartheid, Mandela, and Mandela’s fight for freedom divided American and world opinion at first, but by his death, the world was united in admiration for him. As President Obama said, “He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages.”

Before he was sentenced to prison in 1963, Mandela said, “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Indeed Mandela did fight and sacrifice for a world where all could be treated alike as human beings, and part of the price he paid for fighting was 27 years in jail.

He has his detractors. Some people branded Mandela a terrorist and a communist because of his ideals, and some of them have never forgiven him for standing with communists. In their eyes, a man who talks of equality, of just government and just laws, and who fights an oppressive government to achieve them, must be a terrorist. They believe that free markets are a good end in themselves, not caring whether markets support a slave state or a democracy. They hate anyone who isn’t a true believer in free-market fundamentalism. For them, Mandela’s stand with communists is a worse sin than apartheid itself.

There are others who will always hate any achievement by people not of their race. They keep a sense of racial entitlement, not understanding the world doesn’t exist just for them, but for all who live in it. Mandela challenged their natural order of things, another sin worse than apartheid.

His detractors on the left and among radicals in the ANC argued that Mandela should never have embraced or reconciled with whites. This was a betrayal of blacks, who deserved retribution against whites, not reconciliation with them. In their perspective, his adoration by whites now is because he sold out to them. Whites only admire him because they needed to keep their mines, their businesses and their property, and he let them. They say his willingness to reconcile with whites was a sellout, and continuing income inequalities in South Africa are the proof of that.

These groups forget that the ANC was supposedly created to promote equality and justice, not to take vengeance.

Mandela’s myth has grown beyond the ability of his detractors to diminish it. His sufferings and struggles achieved mythic scope because of what they are — the sacrifices of a giant.

Mandela will always be remembered as a man who fought for justice and freedom. Justice and freedom are linked to a sustainable economy. As Mandela said, “Money won’t create success, the freedom to make it will.”

That is not the voice of a communist. Freedom cannot exist without justice. Justice is equality before the law.

When the world truly honours Mandela, it will be with a flowering of justice. Our leaders will stand up for justice with the people, and we will embrace the principle of equality before the law. Anyone will be able to start a financial company, a bank or insurance company, because controlling access to money and finance conrols who participates in the economy. When our leaders honor Mandela, they will honor economic liberty. You cannot talk of honoring a man’s legacy while at the same time despising what freedom stands for.

South Africa does not live up to Mandela’s dream. It is a place where people get rich through connections, where the government rewards the well-connected with contracts and business licenses. The ruling party is the ANC, the party that Mandela led. The ANC should be promoting free people working in free markets. It does not.

Mandela left behind a legacy of patience; 27 years in jail would teach anybody patience. Patience is a virtue of free men. Lacking patience and faith, we turn away from justice and freedom. Short-term decision making exacerbates inequality and injustice.

Mandela died having defeated apartheid and the evils of institutionalized racism. Blacks in South Africa do not have to be goat herders and servants. They can aspire to anything and reach for it. Life is still hard, and equality of opportunity remains elusive, but the dream is no longer a fantasy.

There will always be tensions in the world; some people will always want to be among the elite, the elite will be well-connected, and the well-connected will steal. If inequality before the law is no longer predicated on race, it will be predicated on political connections, status and wealth. Oppression and injustice will never disappear entirely. But as long as there are men like Nelson Mandela, neither will the dream of justice or the fight for true equality.

South Africans mourn Mandela while the world appreciates his greatness; take time to look in the sky, beyond the Phoenix constellation in the south, you will see a new constellation, this one for Mandela holding his fist, defying evil.

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