John Campbell: South Africa After Mandela

Roundup: Talking About History

John Campbell, a former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, is a senior fellow for Africa policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. He served as political counselor at the U.S. embassy in Pretoria during the end of apartheid. He blogs at Africa in Transition.

Today is Nelson Mandela's 93rd birthday, and South Africa is throwing him a big party. Among other things, 12.5 million South African children will sing him "happy birthday" at exactly the same moment at 8:05 a.m.Mandela's birthday is a fitting occasion to celebrate, but also reflect both on his personal achievements and on the future of the country of which he is truly the father: a democratic and "nonracial" South Africa. Of course, he alone did not create the new South Africa: final apartheid-era State President F.W. de Klerk, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, trade union leader Cyril Ramaphosa, and former President Thabo Mbeki all immediately come to mind. But, absent Mandela's unifying leadership and vision, it is hard to imagine today's South Africa would have emerged, with its regular, credible elections, and a political culture bound by human rights and the rule of law.

Mandela's vision for his country, which reflects his great strength of character, is based on the inherent dignity of men and women of all races. His courage shares similarities with that of Abraham Lincoln during the American civil war. His inclusiveness toward the Afrikaners that jailed him for 27 years shows an extraordinary generosity of spirit that recalls Martin Luther King. And his dogged determination and high political skills remind us of Winston Churchill in Britain's finest hour. Perhaps above all, Mandela illustrates the crucial role of individual leadership in state-building. And, like Lincoln, Churchill, and King, Mandela has been remarkably successful in securing the support of his fellow citizens for his vision -- in Mandela's case, a "non-racial" democracy....

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