Perspective plays a strong part in Nelson Mandela’s legacy. Join Pin Africa as we close the Mandela series with what the great man left behind.

Nelson Mandela’s centenary is an opportunity to reflect on his global legacy.

Even after death, Nelson Mandela is still considered a global icon. He remains famous for a number of reasons, like his long imprisonment – most notably on Robben Island; his achievement as South Africa’s first black president; and for gaining voting rights for black South Africans.

For some, it is Mandela’s radical stance in his earlier life that resonates most. The decisions to burn his passbook and co-found uMkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the ANC, will always be synonymous with his desire to take the fight to the apartheid government.

Another notable indicator of his radical stance is the fact that it was only in 2008 that the ANC was de-listed by the US as a terrorist organization, and Mandela taken off the US terrorism watch-list, because of his connection with the party.

For others, Mandela’s legacy was his ability to forge a successful political life after prison, fighting not only for the rights of black South Africans but also others around the world.

He is known for playing an instrumental role in bridging the gap between Africans and African-Americans. Civil rights leaders like Jesse Jackson often compared his efforts to that of Martin Luthor King Jr.

In South Africa, Mandela’s legacy is more complicated. Undeniably, he played an instrumental role in implementing democracy for all and ending apartheid in the country. However, his impactful term as President inadvertently made it difficult for ANC leaders like Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma to live up to his legacy.

Mandela also faced criticism for not doing enough for South Africa’s HIV/AIDS epidemic while in office. He admitted that the taboo surrounding the subject made him reluctant.

Most of his engagement with the epidemic happened after leaving office, however.

While his image at home is less clear, global celebrations of Mandela’s centenary, like the 2018 exhibition at London’s Southbank Centre and Barack Obama honouring him with his first major public speech since leaving the White House suggest that, internationally, Mandela remains an icon.

Nelson Mandela was one of the few people that could ‘…speak for the huge populations in the developing world who are ignored by the superpowers, while [retaining] his moral authority in the West.’

His legacy will continue to live on.


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