We visited the Apartheid museum twice. It told the story of the battle against Apartheidwe were touring only 13 years after the practice of radical discrimination based on skin color was formally dismantled. Apartheid in South Africa ended five years after the Berlin Wall fell in Germany. It was raw, real time history less than 15 years after it occurred.
Visiting that museum helped awaken me to the reality that blacks and whites alike dealt with in South Africa for decades.
The death of Mandela, at 95, last week, brought back that memory. Although his cause was always rightequality without consideration of skin color or ethnicityhis actions often were those of a violent revolutionary. He met fire with fire, in contrast to leaders such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi. Prior to be imprisoned on Robben Island for 27 years, his cause was righteous, but his tactics were not.
What separated Mandela from so many other leadersin African and elsewhereis that he emerged from his imprisonment with the wisdom and the grace to put aside revenge and instead focus on what was right for his country moving forward.
He served just one termstepping aside when he likely could have been elected as many times as he desiredand spent that time deliberately working to bring the country together. He embraced the all-white national rugby team (played out in the movie, Invictus) and wore their jersey to the championship gamesymbolizing that people can move beyond skin color.
His later life and actions demonstrated that he was willing to put aside emotions and be true statesman concerned first and foremost with the welfare of his country.
That contrasts sharply with neighboring Zimbabwe where Robert Mugabe has ruled since the end of colonial times. He confiscated farms owned by whites, flat out stole elections in the last two cycles, and has ruled imperiously since the early 1990s. In that time, his country has been transformed from the breadbasket of Southern Africa that exported food to a country that cannot feed itself.
Such is the difference leadership makes.