Out of Africa

Letter From South Africa

On February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela walked out of prison and entered the last remaining European colony in Africa: South Africa.

From all sides and nations, the hope was that the 72-year-old Mandela, convicted and imprisoned 27 years before for treason, would bring down the edifice of apartheid and build, in its place, the new Jerusalem. With his gracious, old-fashioned courtesies, mild manner, and tempered pronouncements, he appeared eminently qualified to meet those expectations.

In espousing liberty, equality, and fraternity over tyranny, discrimination, and retribution, Nelson Mandela was to negotiate a place for South Africa in the modern world. Resentment at the injustices of white domination was to be eschewed. All of South Africa's people—the "rainbow people," not a minority—were to be sovereign.

Mandela's story was irresistible to writers with a Manichaean outlook. One hagiography after another was delivered to a worldwide public starved for heroes. He was rapturously received everywhere in the Western hemisphere. He was awarded the Nobel Prize. Honorary doctorates fell on his shoulders like confetti; his name adorned streets, squares, and schools in every continent.

The skeptics were party poopers. Professor Donald Horowitz, a constitutional expert, was deemed unduly pessimistic when he judged democracy to be possible "but improbable in South Africa."...

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