Nelson Mandela

From Max Boot (Commentary):

[T]he largest part of the explanation for why South Africa is light years ahead of most African nations — why, for all its struggles with high unemployment, crime, corruption, and other woes, it is freer and more prosperous than most of its neighbors — is the character of Nelson Mandela. Had he turned out to be another Mugabe, there is every likelihood that South Africa would now be on the same road to ruin as Zimbabwe. But that did not happen because Mandela turned out to be, quite simply, a great man — someone who could spend 27 years in jail and emerge with no evident bitterness to make a deal with his jailers that allowed them to give up power peacefully and to avoid persecution.

Mandela knew that South Africa could not afford to nationalize the economy or to chase out the white and mixed-raced middle class. He knew that the price of revenge for the undoubted evils that apartheid had inflicted upon the majority of South Africans would be too high to pay–that the ultimate cost would be borne by ordinary black Africans. Therefore he governed inclusively and, most important of all, he voluntarily gave up power after one term when he could easily have proclaimed himself president for life….

His example should dispel any illusions, so popular in the historical profession, that history is made by impersonal forces. Mandela’s example is a ringing endorsement of what is derisively known as the “great man school of history” — the notion that influential individuals make a huge difference in how events turn out. He certainly made a difference, and for the better. He will go down as one of the giants of the second half of the twentieth century ….