How Mandela forever changed South Africa

December 6, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Crowd at Funeral of Anti-Apartheid Leader Peter Nchabeleng
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JUDY WOODRUFF:  Now, on the day after his death, what Nelson Mandela meant to the people of South Africa. 

Jeffrey Brown has that. 

JEFFREY BROWN:  And, tonight, we hear from three South Africans currently teaching in this country.

Penelope Andrews is president and dean of the Albany Law School.  Mzamo Mangaliso is a management professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  Charles Villa-Vicencio was the national research director in the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  He’s a visiting professor at Georgetown University. 

Penny Andrews, I want to start with you. 

And if I could, frame it personally first.  Tell us what Nelson Mandela meant to you growing up in South Africa.  How did you see him? 

PENELOPE ANDREWS, Albany Law School:  Well, for me growing up in South Africa, certainly, Nelson Mandela was a — in many ways a mythical figure. 

But he also became a symbol of what South Africa was to become.  And Mandela has always represented for me, as a lawyer, a profound commitment to the rule of law, to constitutionalism and the possibilities of law to change people’s lives. 

And I think he means that to me, as a lawyer, but also to the vast, large number of people who have looked at South Africa’s transition and seen what the constitution has been able to do, despite the limitations because of poverty and economic inequality that still persists in the country. 

JEFFREY BROWN:  Mzamo Mangaliso, let me ask you the same question, a kind of mythical figure, but also a man, a fighter, a politician. 

MZAMO MANGALISO, University of Massachusetts, Amherst:  Yes.

In fact, growing up in South Africa, I’m a product of miners and grew up in the townships of South Africa.  In a time when things were really dire, Mandela was a symbol of hope for us, even though we hardly ever saw him, because his images were banned from the country.  And when people spoke about him, they spoke in whispers when we grew up. 

But, you know, through all the dark period that we’re going through, we knew that there is a hope because there’s this man who stands for equity, justice, who speaks for South Africa as belonging to all who live in it.  And so that gave us the inspiration to keep, you know, toiling along, knowing that, at the end, we might be rewarded. 

JEFFREY BROWN:  Charles Villa-Vicencio, the politician, the leader, as we sit here now, where did he succeed?  Where didn’t he achieve all that people hoped for? 

CHARLES VILLA-VICENCIO, Georgetown University:  So many tributes have been paid to Mr. Mandela as a great leader, and that, he was. 

What is a great leader?  In my bock, a leader is someone who is always a step ahead of these people in order to lead, but all — never more than one step, if you like, always close enough, in order to understand his people and for his people to understand and feel him. 

And I think that is where Mr. Mandela must be analyzed.  He has led in an unbelievably remarkable way.  He is the father of our democracy.  We haven’t always followed as well as we should have. 

JEFFREY BROWN:  Well, that’s what I was wondering next, in your role on Truth and Reconciliation.  This has been a long process for your country. 

CHARLES VILLA-VICENCIO:  Mm-hmm.  Mm-hmm.   

JEFFREY BROWN:  Where has it picked up from him, and where has — where has it not? 

CHARLES VILLA-VICENCIO:  Look, I think the Truth and Reconciliation Commission appointed by Mr. Mandela made a huge contribution to the beginning of the process of us as South Africans learning to live together. 

And Mr. Mandela’s presidency epitomized where we were reaching for.  There were limitations.  There are limitations.  There were all sorts of recommendations made by the Truth Commission concerning socioeconomic rights, bridging of the gap between the rich and the poor. 

We have not followed up on that.  We got lazy.  We have fallen behind, as Mr. Mandela went ahead. 

JEFFREY BROWN:  Penny Andrews, pick up on some of that.  We heard it at the top of the program as well, just thinking about the country as it is today with continuing problems. 

PENELOPE ANDREWS:  I think that, unless the country addresses the question of poverty, all the benefits that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission made possible, I think, is likely to fail. 

So I think that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was very important because it allowed the country to harness bitterness and revenge, and instead center issues of forgiveness and reconciliation.  And I think that Nelson Mandela, the person of Nelson Mandela, his humility and his commitment to a really democratic South Africa, is — that will be lost if we don’t address that fundamental question about poverty. 

But I also want to say that Nelson Mandela, as a leader, his humility has been such an example.  And his ability to tolerate the viewpoints that are different from his, his ability to reach across the aisle, his ability to forgive others, I think, is such an important lesson for us. 

And I think South Africa really needs to take on board now the fact that he has died, but the values that he stood for shouldn’t die with him. 

JEFFREY BROWN:  Mzamo Mangaliso, same question to you, in terms of his — the leadership that he had and where South Africa is today. 

MZAMO MANGALISO:  Yes, I think that South Africa is fortunate, in having had a person of Nelson Mandela set the example of leadership. 

He left us with a template of leadership, what a leader should be, as Penny has just said, someone who combines humility on one hand, and a resolve, a very strong determination to follow through in some of the objectives and aims that he set himself for, such as restoring equity and justice in a South Africa that has been torn by racial prejudice all these years without a leader that unites people under one umbrella, so that each and every one of the citizens, whether they be colored, Indian, African, or white, can identify with this leader. 

And Mandela was that kind of person.  And what he we’re left with now is leadership that should now jump forward and imitate.  Even if they were just half as good as Mandela, they would be good enough, because he stood head and shoulders above any of the leaders we know. 

But, going back to South Africa, the question of poverty and disparity between the rich and the poor, that is something that needs to be addressed a little bit more squarely.  It’s homework that Mandela has left for subsequent leaders to follow up on.  And that’s the challenge that still remains, a vexing challenge to many of the South African leadership that we see today. 

And when we look around in the townships, we are seeing a lot of squalor still.  The housing shortage that was the backlog during the days of apartheid, that was promised to be delivered at the onset of democracy, that program has fallen far behind of the target. 

And it’s something that the leadership has to be aware of, because, without addressing that, there are really going to be problems in the South Africa of tomorrow.  But, luckily, the fact that we have that template in the person of Nelson Mandela, a lot of people are encouraged to look to each other and embrace each other and look at the humility displayed and look at the honesty and at the integrity that he was able to carry himself. 

JEFFREY BROWN:  Let me ask you — well, Charles Villa-Vicencio, you smiled when he referred to the — if the leaders of today are half as good as Nelson Mandela. 

The question, I guess, is whether what he started will be fulfilled.  And is it an open question at the moment? 

CHARLES VILLA-VICENCIO:  That is an open question. 

If we do not address the issue that we have all raised here this evening concerning poverty, it may be a case of a revolution delayed.  We have got to address that.  Unfortunately, the kind of leadership we have at the moment in government is not as strong as it should be. 

JEFFREY BROWN:  Do you have any question…

CHARLES VILLA-VICENCIO:  And that’s what we’re looking for. 

JEFFREY BROWN:  Do you have any question, though, that, across the board, the way he has…

PENELOPE ANDREWS:  And I think that…

JEFFREY BROWN:  Excuse me — the way he’s seen will continue to be as the father of…

 (CROSSTALK)

CHARLES VILLA-VICENCIO:  I think that will continue to be held up as the template, as the icon of who we ought to be. 

But it’s a huge ask, a huge ask, which we have got to respond to.  Otherwise…

 (CROSSTALK)

PENELOPE ANDREWS:  But I think that… 

JEFFREY BROWN:  OK, very briefly, Penny Andrews. 

PENELOPE ANDREWS:  Sorry.

I wanted to say that, sadly, that Nelson Mandela’s death now allows us to go back to that place in 1994 when South Africans committed themselves to democracy and justice and equality.  And so maybe his death really will — the leaders of South Africa have lagged behind and there are huge numbers of problems.  But maybe now we can go back to that place and go back to the idealism that was generated by the Mandela presidency right from the start. 

JEFFREY BROWN:  All right, Penny Andrews, Mzamo Mangaliso, Charles Villa-Vicencio, thank you, three, very much. 

CHARLES VILLA-VICENCIO:  Thank you very much.