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Nelson Mandela’s Mixed Legacy: The Anti-Apartheid Leader Who Opposed Actual Freedom

The uncritical praise heaped upon the late Nelson Mandela leads one to consider: What actually is a leader?

Source By Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science (Nelson Mandela, 2000  Uploaded by Fæ) [see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons


Leaders are sometimes victims. Mandela was certainly a victim. He was unjustly imprisoned for two decades by an authoritarian, racist government. Nobody reasonable will dispute that. However, isn’t a leader more than a victim? Isn’t a leader someone who persists, and even suffers, in defense of rationally true ideas? Successful leaders are not merely martyrs. They actually stand for something, something that works and makes any victimization or suffering they endured worthwhile.

We know what Mandela was against, and he was right to be against it.

But what was he for? Throughout his imprisonment and leadership role in later years, Mandela was a Marxist, and later a democratic socialist. To be a democratic socialist, by definition, means to favor force over freedom and individual rights. Democratic socialists believe in the rule of the majority. Superficially this seems right, but the majority can be wrong—deadly wrong. Majorities of fifty-one percent can enslave minorities.

Mandela’s biggest enemy was not racism, but collectivism. Collectivism is the view that the group is more important than the individual, and that government force may be initiated to impose this belief. Racist whites who persecuted Mandela and imprisoned him all those years were collectivists. Unfortunately, Mandela’s own political ideology, at least at the time of his imprisonment, was equally collectivist. For example, he favored nationalization of private industry and redistribution of wealth by government authorities, using political standards. He might not have been a white racist, but by advocating the Marxist force of government, he was (in his ideology) just as much a collectivist as his persecutors.

To be a true hero and leader, Mandela would have inspired South Africa—and the rest of the world—to rise to the standard of individual rights.

Individual rights make racist governments impossible. But they also make collectivist systems such as Communism and democratic socialism impossible. Individual rights leave everyone free to pursue his or her interests (excluding initiating force or fraud), and as a result the standard of living rises for everyone, since economic and scientific geniuses are left free to pursue their interests.

What if Mandela had come out of prison and stood for free markets as well as free minds? Now that would have been real—and rare—heroism. Ironically, Soviet-style Communism collapsed the very same year that Mandela was released from prison and the racist white government in South Africa collapsed. It was a good era to stand for freedom. But freedom lacked a base, which is why South Africa today, like former Soviet Russia, isn’t a whole lot better off economically than it was during the eras of blatant dictatorship.

Mandela, like South Africa and much of the world, crashed head-on into the fact that being against dictatorship and racism is not the same as being for freedom, individual rights and the rational economic liberty that enables those values to breathe and live.

Mandela will be lauded as “the father of South Africa” and the “champion of democracy.” But democracy isn’t the complete, or main, answer. Democracy is worse than worthless without individual freedom, private property, and separation of government from both intellectual and economic matters.

In his later years, Mandela perhaps backed away from some of his Marxism. He never pushed for economic liberalization in South Africa, though he stopped short of imposing a Communist dictatorship. But he never embraced freedom, either. It’s no accident that Mandela befriended dictators such as  Fidel Castro and Muammar Gaddafi. At heart, he probably always remained a collectivist. Perhaps his virtue consisted of possibly feeling conflicted about it, something you’d never find with a Castro or any other brutal collectivist.

If we’re really honest about it, Mandela stayed out of controversial territory and basked in his status as the hero who emerged from the bad guys’ prison and lived to tell the tale. His heroic years peaked during his time in prison. Real leadership and heroism consist of more than surviving disaster. You have to stand for something good, right and true—something provable by your actions. Mandela is not it.

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  • Anonymous

    I wonder if Mandela will be looked upon so fondly in the future, if the same sort of economic liberalisation that occurred in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe then happens in South Africa.

    The current political leadership is very unpopular, as noted by the boos they received at the ceremony today. They are generally perceived as having failed to improve the lot of the ordinary man. The ANC leaders still swan around in expensive cars wearing flash suits, just as Robert Mugabe does. They appear divorced from the real world and real problems.

    Crime is still rampant and there’s little hope that it will improve. South Africa is still very dependent on core industries that are still under the control of the same companies that were running them 50 years ago. Except now they pay lip service to new bosses in Pretoria.

    The Police are still as violent as they were in Soweto, as evidenced by the Marikana miners strike last year. HIV infects over 10% of the entire population, only topped by Lesotho with 23.6%.

    You have all the ingredients of dissatisfaction that would result in the same ‘liberalisation’ that Mugabe has authorised across the border. The Boers genuinely fear that now Mandiba is dead, they will be massacred. The only reason they didn’t do it since the ANC took power was that Mandela prevented them. He would have been ashamed of them if they did. That didn’t stop some though. White farmer massacres have increased since the ANC took office.

    The question now is how long before the current leadership quietly authorises the slaughter of the Boers, to encourage their exodus. Leaving their wealth behind, so it can be appropriated by the ANC leaders. How long before Mandela’s legacy is a dirty word?

  • Steven Smith

    Since Mandela prevented the ANC from slaughtering the Boers, isn’t that to his credit? He was a stabilizing influence on a lawless country, so why condemn the man. To me, he deserves to be honored.

  • Anonymous

    Don’t misunderstand me, I do consider Mandela’s peaceful transition of Government as one of his accomplishments. Just as Gandhi will be remembered for India’s independence.

    But even Gandhi made his mistakes and the separation of India and Pakistan has created an even bigger problem than existed under the British Administration. The fact that these two countries have been to war and could even start a local nuclear conflict, tarnishes Gandhi’s achievement.

    Mandela resigned early on and the people that replaced him simply do not measure up to him. The greatest worry is that Mandela could not overcome the core problem of South Africa, that the masses live in poverty, are paid poorly, have great expectations, but little chance of achieving them unless they commit crime. They are a mob that can be influenced by the wrong personality/dictator to commit great evil and that evil has already started. Boer farmers are being killed, it’s just that the western nations choose not to make it news, because there is no rush to emigrate yet, no exodus yet, but I fear there will be.

    Whilst I respect Mandela’s humility and forgiveness, I also worry that he allowed a successor who denied the problem or HIV or even the method of transmission. What sort of men did Mandela pass his legacy onto?

  • ThePrussian

    Maybe, just maybe, the fact that Mandela explicitly repudiated racialism, and never compromised his stance on that, and did take on those of his supporters who championed that kind of thing for the sake of healing a deeply harmed country – apparently none of that counts as taking a “stand for something good, right and true”.

    Incidentally, he did liberalize the economy. Or, what – you think abolishing a set of racist laws that restricted where people could and could not buy property, where they could and could not find work, whom they could and could not hire – do you think that’s, maybe, an economic liberalization?

    Leaving aside the matter of his questionable friendships – to which I will get to – this boils down to a whine that Mandela wasn’t a 100% consistent advocate of capitalism. Well, guess what? If the case for capitalism was so easy and obvious it would not have taken geniuses like Ayn Rand and von Mises to make it.

    Yes, Mandela was friends with Castro and Arafat. And Margaret Thatcher was friends with Pinochet and defended the Taliban. And Ayn Rand admired Hinkman in her youth. We should celebrate the goodness and the greatness in their lives and try to fix that which they could not, not jeer from our comfort at those who actually did something to improve our world.

  • ThePrussian

    Well, I agree that the ANC has squandered that great legacy, and it breaks my heart to see it happen. But I still honour the man for his heroism and achievement.

  • Adolph Schumer

    Was his acts of terrorism part of the good also? Singing songs to kill whites? Maybe we can let Manson out of jail and he can cure cancer so we can worship him too.

  • Steven Smith

    I agree with Robert in his Tracinski Letter:

    The Unsung Legacy of Nelson Mandela by Robert Tracinski December 10, 2013

    “The story of Mr. Mandela’s evolving economic view is eye-opening: It happened in January 1992 during a trip to Davos, Switzerland, for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. Mr. Mandela was persuaded to support an economic framework for South Africa based on capitalism and globalization after a series of conversations with other world leaders…He also makes a very important observation about the political consequences of Mandela’s decision not to loot the country’s white majority.
    By leaving independent economic forces in place, Mandela provided a brake on the power of the ruling African National Congress, helping South Africa avoid the fate of Zimbabwe.
    That is Mandela’s true enduring legacy. He leaves behind a lot of problems, and it is possible that his less worthy successors will still wreck the country. But he also left behind a surprising legacy of freedom that goes beyond the dismantling of Apartheid and may give South Africa the political and economic means to survive and prosper.

    If only that aspect of Mandela’s legacy were more widely recognized and celebrated.”

  • mkkevitt

    Great, up to now, at least. But, how can that aspect of Mandela’s legacy be more widely recognized and celebrated in a LASTING way when built only on pragmatism, vice a fitting comprehensive philosophical program? Has anything more than Mandela’s personal influence while still alive made it last even this long?

    With him gone, culture will revert to principle. I say, revert, because it will be collectivist-statist principle, not individualism. Why? In short, unlimited majority rule. Everybody’s geared to that, come what may without limit. That gives a clear field to the most radical collectivists and bars individualism.

    Philosophical individualism, anywhere today, including in the U.S., takes lots of work, and LOTS more yet in S. Africa (it’s absolutely impossible to even try in Zimbabwe). What’s the prospect of any such work in S. Africa? In S. Africa, the work of collectivism has been about complete for a long time.

    The inevitable death of Mandela sets the stage for the final step to collectivism, given there’s been no change in the status quo from individualists. It’s awfully late for any individualists to get going there, now, if there are any. Mike Kevitt

  • Bryce Armstrong

    …or Che Guevara or Bill Ayers or STALIN! Its a time honored. tradition among “conservitives ” to point out all the atrocities committed by the left and then stand appalled at the complete moral bankruptcy of the people who still admire them. Nonetheless that doesn’t stop them from worshipping these PC icons themselves . I hope people start seeing liberal-tarians as the unrepentant hypocritical frauds they are. the next time someone hears their sanctimonious cowardly gay pacifist bs about not initiating violence I hope they remember this day.

  • mkkevitt

    There’s truth in your attitude toward ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberal-tarians’. But, even if you’re not a pacifist, it’s a good idea, morally and practically, to not initiate violence. When facing initiatory violence, it’s a good idea, morally and practically, to take effective response to stop that violence. If that means using violence, use it. It will be responsive (retaliatory) violence, not initiatory, provided it’s used only against whoever initiated violence. Therefore, it’ll be moral.

    ‘Conservatives’ and ‘liberal-tarians’ really should ‘repent’ of being hypocrites, that is, they should take sides on the issues of violence and quit waffling about those issues. Mike Kevitt

  • Bryce Armstrong

    No truer words…

  • DogmaelJones1

    Mandela never repudiated his communism, never repudiated his racism, looked the other way when the ANC launched its genocide against whites (and not just of Afrikaners, but whites of British and European descent, it didn’t matter), never repudiated his ex-wife, Winnie, who murdered other blacks who opposed her, never criticized other black tyrants on the African continent, and just basked in the limelight of a phony icon of reconciliation. One of the first things he did upon release from prison was join the ANC in the “Kill the Boer” song. He oversaw the creation of a corrupt, black-run kleptocracy that robbed blacks as thoroughly as it did whites. He was friends with Yasir Arafat, Omar Quaddafi, and other killers. No, Mandela never stopped the ANC from slaughtering whites of any stripe. This is just news that never was reported by an idolizing Western press. He helped to cultivate a virulent racism and looting culture that will continue to impoverish the country, turning it into another Zimbabwe. His much vaunted “peaceful transition” was more like Marshall Petain “peacefully” transferring France into a Nazi-occupied country. People, get a clue.

  • writeby

    Hear, hear.

  • DogmaelJones1

    I can hear the whining now: “Oh, but he was a prisoner of that baddie government.” Well, all the while he was in prison, he never renounced terrorism, either. In fact, from prison he was directing terrorist acts. And, so what if he spent time in prison? So did Lenin. So did Hitler. Would anyone idolize them because they were “prisoners of conscience”? I’m really surprised and disappointed that so many Objectivists have bought into the whole liberal/left iconography surrounding Mandela.