A great man who set a great example
The problem with Nelson Mandela is that there wasn't enough of him to go around. He stood alone as a leader who peacefully could shepherd his country away from colonialism and severe repression.
One need look only at the rest of Africa to understand the difference. In country after country, the departure of European powers unleashed brutal internecine violence, the settling of old scores that had been repressed under foreign rule. Even now, French troops are on the ground in the Central African Republic to quell such violence.
The United States had to intervene in the Balkans after the fall of communism had the same effect, and there is no answer to the ethnic, tribal and religious conflict that has much of the Mideast aflame after the Arab Spring.
Mr. Mandela's stature was such that when the white minority finally yielded to majority rule, he could have become a dictator. But he collaborated with his predecessor, F.W. deKlerk, with whom he eventually shared the Nobel Peace Prize, to make a mostly peaceful transition from apartheid to freedom. When given the chance, he put in practice the philosophy he had espoused during his treason trial in 1964: "I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities."
The transition has not been painless. South Africa still is afflicted by poverty, crime and corruption. But it is very much a robust democracy.
Mr. Mandela was not a saint. He was a pragmatist, a revolutionary who used whatever tools were at his disposal to topple an illegitimate regime. Those tools included armed insurrection and being, at one time, a communist.
But in the end, he was able to suppress hatred and bitterness. Several of his jailers attended his inauguration; he retained many professionals of the prior government. How could he do so? He later told The New York Times that hate clouds the mind and interferes with strategy; that true leaders cannot afford to hate.
Mr. Mandela could have ruled for life but he sealed his country's democratic path by relinquishing power after a single term. He lived to see that incredible transition from the evil of apartheid to democracy. The tragedy of his passing is the absence of leaders around the world to follow his example.