Returning to South Africa after 22 years, my first reaction is to the reality of stunning, peaceful change. In 1993, I spent six weeks in South Africa. The government released Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990, after 27 years. Violence was tearing the nation apart and it was far from clear that the country would hold together.
But it did. Mandela, in his five years as president from 1994 to 1999, proved to be an amazingly wise leader. He rejected revenge, promoted reconciliation, and kept the economy growing. In spite of decades of vicious racist policies under apartheid and three centuries of oppression of blacks under British imperialism, Mandela led the country forward.
He asked Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu to chair the famous Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It offered amnesty to everyone who committed atrocities if they publicly acknowledged the evil they committed. Mandela’s dream for a multi-racial society offered the world a model of reconciliation after staggering injustice.
Today, the black majority now governs South Africa. The majority party, the African National Congress, endorses a multiracial society. A free press, a significant opposition party, and the relatively independent judiciary all signal that South Africa today is a democratic nation.
A black middle class has emerged. The government has improved education and health care for blacks—ending decades of discrimination. The government has built 1.5 million free homes for blacks, who under apartheid survived in segregated township shacks. My wife and I returned to Soweto (the black shantytown where we lived for a short time 22 years ago) and we saw a vastly transformed urban area with many improved homes.
That is the good ...1
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