How Nelson Mandela changed the world

Emily Hohler reports on how Nelson Mandela united a fractured country in the years following apartheid.

Nelson Mandela was regarded by many as a "modern Gandhi", says Alec Russell in the FT. Yet he "was the first to admit that he was no saint".

He championed the African National Congress's (ANC) adoption of the armed struggle' and neglected his family. His friend and fellow Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu was one of the first to question the "sanctification of Madiba'", because it risked "blinding people to the colossal problems facing South Africa".

And while Mandela was, of course, a "great humanitarian and moral authority", he was "first and foremost a brilliant politician". Reconciliation was not a miracle "emanating from the magnificence of his soul". He plotted the seduction of the Afrikaners in his cell as a "way to win power".

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He knew that South Africa could ill afford a "mass exodus of whites with their skills and capital", as had happened in neighbouring Mozambique.

The failure of most of Africa's post-independence movements has been caused by the corruption of the leaders and parties in power, but Mandela refused to allow power to "corrupt him either as a politician or a man", says William Gumede in The Independent.

Mandela believed that integrity was crucial and he understood that, because South Africa had emerged from "such a violent, authoritarian past", the new democratic political culture would have to be carefully nurtured.

He went out of his way to show respect for the principle of political opposition as a key part of democracy, appointing members of the defeated National Party, the party of apartheid, in his first Cabinet.

Sadly, South Africa today is the opposite of what he strived for, epitomised by the "murkiness" of Jacob Zuma, the current ANC and South African President (who was booed at Mandela's memorial service).

His successors have succumbed to "narrow tribalistic tendencies" and risk destroying his "radically inclusive legacy".

The "miserable life of the poor" remains much the same as under apartheid, adds Slavoj Zizek in The Guardian, and "the rise of political and civil rights is counterbalanced by the growing insecurity, violence and crime. The main change is that the old white ruling class is joined by the new black elite."

Mandela's role in ending apartheid and South Africa's largely peaceful transition to democracy is far from his only contribution to history, says Ben Macintyre in The Times.

He "carved out a unique place in the world's conscience", and he did so, in his own words, with a simple but universal idea: "A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination."

He is also the figure who, "more than any other, plotted the highway on which contemporary politicians now march", says Matthew D'Ancona in The Sunday Telegraph.

The division between left and right is less important now than "conflict resolution, the politics of ethnic and religious identity, the opportunities and risks of globalisation". He saw that the future, not just of South Africa, was pluralist.

"He represented the virtues of the long haul, of optimism of determination leavened by an open mind, of conviction matched by an extraordinary capacity for forgiveness. Such figures come along rarely in a century, let alone a generation."