De mortuis nihil nisi bonum is a good rule to follow, especially when the dead person is a stranger in land one has never visited. I am perfectly happy to believe all the nice things said about Mr. Mandela's character by his friends, colleagues, and admirers. Nonetheless, it is not clear to me that a "Great Leader" is to be judged either by the color of his skin or by the content of his character. What people should expect from an Augustus or Edward I or Duke of Wellington is results.
Let us even suppose Mandela was a great man. Napoleon, Hitler, and Stalin were also "great men" in the Time Magazine sense that they made a great noise and affected the lives of a great many people. That the the effects were largely negative in Napoleon's case and entirely so in the case of Hitler and Stalin should give adulators a moment of pause.
Are Black South Africans better off than they were in the bad old days? (Forget about South African whites: Most of them, if they could get visas, have fled the country.) It would not seem so. The South African economy is in ruins, the rule of law has so broken down that Johannesburg is recording murder rates several times the rate in Mexico City, and young black professionals are leaving in droves. Interviewed even on NPR, they explain there is no future for them in South Africa.
When I mentioned these unpleasant facts to my kind wife, she wondered if the problems are the fault of Mandela or of his unworthy successors. My answer is that a man who spent his life in South Africa should have know what to expect. The reality of Zuma is far more common than the legend of Mandela.
The best I can say of Mr. Mandela is that he was the Lafayette or Kerensky of the South African revolution, a self-serving but well-intended fool who could not see what horror he was inflicting on his country.
Thomas Fleming is the former editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of The Politics of Human Nature, Montenegro: The Divided Land, and The Morality of Everyday Life, named Editors' Choice in philosophy by Booklist in 2005. He is the coauthor of The Conservative Movement and the editor of Immigration and the American Identity. He holds a Ph.D. in classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before joining the Rockford Institute, he taught classics at the University of Miami of Ohio, served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, and was headmaster at the Archibald Rutledge Academy. He has been published in, among others, The Spectator (London), Independent on Sunday (London), Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, National Review, Classical Journal, Telos, and Modern Age. He and his wife, Gail, have four children and four grandchildren.