Mandela believed in the decolonisation of international affairs, especially by ensuring the conclusion to the unfinished decolonisation of Palestine, Western Sahara and so forth. For this, he was willing to reason with Israel and the west over their positions, which he thought perpetuated rather than ended the occupation of these territories. He would publicly condemn them but still speak to them in private to show that he would not sacrifice the principle in a desperate search for a pragmatic solution. He and his government were therefore what could be called critical pragmatists.

Siphamandla Zondi
Date published on SAFPI: 
Thursday, 19 December, 2013
Publication date of source: 
Thursday, 19 December, 2013
Source organisation: 

Global Mandela: A complexity

Series title: 
SAFPI Brief 56

With the world's leaders having come to South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s memorial and funeral, and with the eyes of the peoples of the world focused on us this last week, it is time to reflect on the meaning of Nelson Mandela as a world statesman.

The common narrative of a nice Mandela who is everything to everyone with only one single motif to his life story and agenda - forgiveness and reconciliation - is replicated in the dominant narrative on foreign policy during the Mandela era. The message is that the Mandea era was conciliatory, rather than contradictory, and that it placed human rights, rather than ideology, at the centre, and so forth.

The narrative castigates what is assumed to be a uniquely Mbeki posture - ideologically incongruent with western imperial designs - by projecting Mandela as a "good native".

[But] In this sense, the fundamentals of Mandela's foreign policy have not changed. This is because Mandela did not pursue a foreign policy of his own, but rather one which was shaped by the thinking of the ANC and refined by the government he led. To the extent that it has not fundamentally changed, but that each leader after him has simply brought their personality into it, is evidence of a continuity of purpose and paradigm.

Mandela’s persona as a global figure and foreign policy actor should not be over-simplified. He was not just an idealist committed to values and norms of a better world, but he was more. He was not just a realist that was aware of power dynamics that shape the world system, but he was more. He did not just understand the importance of identity and ideas in shaping international relations, but considered many other factors in foreign policy decision-making also important. Mandela was progressive, committed to values of fairness, justice, balanced and deliberation, believing fully in the humanist view of life. Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu.

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