Mandela a model of putting natural virtue to service

By 
  • December 12, 2013

The death of Nelson Mandela has produced the most extravagant laudations, and his funeral rites have attracted a parade of the great and the good not seen since the funeral of Pope John Paul II, and which will not be seen again until the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. I made my own modest contribution in the National Post, praising Mandela for the virtue of magnanimity, that large-heartedness which enabled him to renounce vengeance first, and political power later.

From a Catholic point of view the life of Nelson Mandela is a less straightforward affair. Throughout his long life, he was rather unremarkable in following the political fashions of the times. In the 1950s when political violence in the name of liberation was widespread in Africa — think of the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya — Mandela was complicit in lethal violence. In the 1960s and 1970s, when Marxism was the preferred path for development by revolutionaries the world over, Mandela was a Marxist. In the 1980s, when one African country after another descended into fratricidal massacres, Mandela’s ANC made its own contribution to black-on-black violence, often with its signature “necklacing” — a tire filled with petrol, put around the neck of the man to be killed, and set alight. Finally, in the 1990s as president, Mandela did what all left-of-centre politicians did then, from Jean Chretien to Bill Clinton to Tony Blair — moved right on economic issues and aggressively left on the socially libertine agenda. Mandela signed into law Africa’s most expansive abortion licence, and embraced the gay rights agenda — South Africa was the first African country to establish same-sex marriage.

Yet in an otherwise rather conventional political life, Mandela did two heroic things that cannot be minimized, and for which a grateful nation, a grateful Africa and a grateful world pay him tribute. He renounced violent vengeance in favour of reconciliation as South Africa moved to a post-apartheid future, thereby sparing his country the bloodbath that many expected based on the brutal experience of almost every other African country. And after his first term as president, he voluntarily left office, another novelty in a continent of “presidents-for-life” who use political power for private gain.

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