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Submit or Fight: How Nelson Mandela’s Legacy Continues to Shape African Politics



by Adam Carlson

There are few individuals in our world who demand our respect and our compassion more than former South African President Nelson Mandela. I confess with all my admiration that he is one of the most astute political leaders of the 20th century that I have studied, and certainly one of the most moral in actions as well as words. With his fragile health he may leave the world he helped shape behind, but I want to take this opportunity to express that he has given us more than is generous of his wisdom and inspiration. I look to his writings religiously for guidance, strategically and ethically, in my hope of shaping a freer, more just world someday and I would like to extend the same opportunity to you.

Part of the obligation I feel to share his contribution is so that it may help give others the same sense of purpose he had while fighting for the cause he dedicated his entire life to –the freedom of South Africans. Historically South Africa’s plight was the symbol of White apartheid injustices and colonial oppression throughout all of Africa. And, though such racial injustices no longer carry ideological influence in our century, other injustices between various groups on hardly imaginable scales do, unfortunately, exist today. And as we work to solve these problems in the future, I think Nelson Mandela has a lot to teach us.

Mandela had a potent mixture of both qualities of good statesmanship. One is an obsessive sense of purpose and duty towards his people. He was so imbued with this quality that when he had to address the Supreme Court of South Africa for charges of sabotage against the South African Union his courage carried his words as he explained the methodical skill he summoned to restore freedom for his country.



It is striking how relevant South Africa’s situation was to certain events today. South Sudan, the world’s newest country and a child of the African continent, has endured an incredible struggle for its own economic and political independence just as South Africa experienced half a century earlier. But in Sudan the warring groups were not White and non-White, and the South Sudanese were enduring more atrocious forms of violence from the Sudanese Government, which were so intense that the United Nations classified the violence on the scale of “genocide.” Their very real victory was won in part due to its attention to one of the principles Nelson Mandela used himself while a part of the African National Congress.

South Sudan can attribute to Mandela it is that in a country where the legitimate means of protest have been outlawed or rendered ineffective, illegitimate means are justified and useful so long as they remain necessary to secure freedom from oppression. In their struggle South Sudan formed their own guerilla force called the Sudan People’s Liberation Army to defend their freedoms, eventually earning their independence in 2011. And when Nelson toured Africa and Europe hoping to secure the support and military training he needed from leaders in neighboring countries he had no trouble making friends. I assert it was the nobility of his cause that broke down all barriers between people’s of countries with vastly different histories and cultures. Sudan followed his example, training troops in Ethiopia, one of Mandela’ visits as well, because they fought for the same end.

I have no doubt that Mandela has earned the glory he deserves in the history of our world. And I think his example will inspire many more leaders to stand up for the freedom and dignity of themselves and their peoples in the future.


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