Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela: The Least Important Thing He Ever Did

Nelson Mandela has died at the end of his long life.  It is the most unimportant aspect of his story, that it now has a final chapter.

Mandela's death is the beginning of a transitional state, one in which he rises from an inspiring living figure to an inspiring historical one.  A peaceful struggler against South Africa's systemic racist apartheid government, Mandela managed to craft a mostly peaceful shift from the old racial injustices to a more-or-less equal government for all South Africans.  It still isn't perfect of course, but let's be real: he spent 30 years as a political prisoner incarcerated for his protests.  In that time, the apartheid government continued in its path and its philosophies gained more traction simply as the status quo.  Once status becomes quo, it's pretty hard to dislodge.

So now we have a Nelson Mandela who cannot screw up in the future.  Past misdoings may come to light, but past heroism may too.  His well-known and much respected public speaking, his unprecedented presidency of a formerly white-dominated South Africa, his unswerving exhortation for peaceful change all continue unabated into the future, a call for the betterment of both South Africa and mankind.  With a legacy like this that stands in his stead now that his body has died, what possible impact can his death have on the world?

None at all.  Barack Obama said "Nelson Mandela belongs to the ages now," but he was woefully late to the announcement.  Mandela has belonged to the ages for decades.  His influence will affect human society for decades.  The only difference his death makes is that whatever future changes come, Mandela himself won't be here to see them.

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