Nelson Mandela set standards which his successors have not been able to live up to

South Africa’s first post-apartheid leader went out of way to instill respect for democratic institutions

Share
Related Topics

The failure of most Africa’s post-independence movements has been caused by the moral corruption of the leaders and parties in power. So many leaders have seen themselves not only as above the law, but above the strictures of good, moral behaviour. Nelson Mandela, when he was president of South Africa’s governing African National Congress, was that rare leader who did not allow new-found state power to corrupt him either as a politician or a man.

Mandela believed that through exemplary individual leadership, he would set a new gold standard for African leadership. For Mandela, the moral integrity of a leader was crucial. And this was why he was so respected even by his opponents.

The current South African reality is the opposite of what Mandela strived for. It can be seen in the contrast between the moral authority of a Mandela and the murkiness of a Jacob Zuma, the current ANC and South African President.

Mandela’s conduct early in his political career was by no means exemplary. As one of the leaders of the ANC Youth League in the 1940s and early 1950s, Mandela used to regularly violently disrupt the meetings of opponents. In old age Mandela readily admitted that in his youth he was a bit of show-off, a womanizer, and often impetuous, prone to seek out the limelight.

Although the ANC fought a just war against the apartheid regime, it suffered many moral lapses during the long independence struggle, including sometimes unleashing terrible violence against its own members suspected of not toeing the line. Very soon after his release from 27 years in prison for his opposition to apartheid, Mandela publicly apologised for abuses at the ANC’s prison camps in the 1970s and the 1980s.

Mandela understood that because South Africa emerged from such a violent, authoritarian past it meant that a new democratic political culture after apartheid would have to be carefully nurtured. Furthermore, Mandela understood that since democracy and the new constitution were at the heart of South Africa’s new identity, undermining both could not but undermine the formation of a new South African-ness.

Mandela made a determined effort to inculcate respect for the new democratic constitution, institutions, laws and rules. Even during the 1960s, as a younger revolutionary, he had strong views on the kind of democracy he envisaged. He argued for a parliamentary system, a Bill of Rights, the doctrine of separation of powers, as well as the independence of its judiciary.

This is truly extraordinary as many African independence movements and their leaders viewed – and many still do - democracy in its narrowest sense, sometimes wrongly insisting that democracy means elections only. Others even argue that democracy is not African, is ‘foreign’ and ‘Western’.  On a number of occasions, as president of South Africa, Mandela deferred to the judiciary, to show that even as president, he was accountable to democratic institutions.

Mandela made a determined effort to establish a respect for South Africa’s democratic parliament as a symbol of the new democracy’s representative institutions. He also went out of his way to show respect for the parliamentary opposition, even if they may be insignificant, to inculcate a democratic culture.

When in 1994 he put together his first Cabinet as President of a democratic South Africa, Mandela went out of his way to include members of the defeated National Party, the party of apartheid, and of the ANC’s main black rival, the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party. Many ANC supporters strongly disagreed with this approach, wanting loyal party cadres to be appointed instead.

Last year the ANC celebrated its centenary - a time when anti-democratic leaders and groups appear to have a stranglehold on the party. Mandela’s racially inclusive legacy is in danger of being destroyed by narrow tribalistic tendencies. It is not way to treat his legacy.

William Gumede is the editor of No Easy Walk to Freedom, a collection of Nelson Mandela’s writings

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Time travel: Thomas Cook has been trading since 1841  

A horror show from Thomas Cook that tells you all you need to know about ethical consumerism

Janet Street-Porter
The London Symphony Orchestra, led by Valery Gergiev, performs a free open-air concert in Trafalgar Square  

Help! London has been conquered by Event Security and nobody is safe from its pointless screens

Howard Jacobson
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable