Nelson Mandela died on Thursday.

I have been deliberately deliberative on writing about his death, in this post for the first time.

As so many rushed out with statements based on self-proclaimed expertise on Mandela’s life, I realized that I knew little of his life other than the big picture — A fight to end Apartheid and a famous lack of desire for revenge. Maybe that was enough to know.

What I’ve read the past couple of days confirms both the greatness of his accomplishments, yet also the mixed record of his life which does not justify simplification. Mandela embraced totalitarian communist and socialist regimes during his struggle against another form of unjust regime; he embraced the murderous thieving Yasser Arafat, yet also insisted on Israel’s right to exist in secure borders.

Here are just a few of the more informative pieces, among many dozens I’ve read:

This immediate post-release press conference seems to embody the conflicting aspects of his history and that of South Africa:

The rush to deify Mandela upon his death saw some real perversities of our political life come out in force. Obama made it all about Obama, while Chris Matthews and many others used it to bash Republicans.  Anti-Israelis used the death to reignite the false and disgraceful analogy of Apartheid to Zionism.  We will see more of that in the coming week, as some people just can’t help themselves.

My take-away from all this is that the big picture was enough.  The struggle against and victory over Apartheid was indeed a historic accomplishment.  The lack of desire for revenge and retribution was just as great.

What Mandela did not become was the best testimony to what he was.  He didn’t become Robert Mugabe, Fidel Castro, Pol Pot, or any number of megalomaniacs who used power to exact revenge and personal fortune.  He didn’t become a bitter person whose bitterness consumed him.  He didn’t become a racial demagogue.

Nelson Mandela never made it to the Saturday Night Card Game, unlike so many lesser pretenders who use race to divide us.

So tonight we honor Nelson Mandela’s accomplishments, what he was, and what he wasn’t.


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