The death of Nelson Mandela provokes reflection on his admittedly mixed philosophy and legacy.
To be honest, I don't really know much of the details at all. Did he associate with communists? Yes, obviously. Was he a communist? Maybe, or maybe it depends on how you define "communist."
Did he support armed resistance to the oppression he faced? Yes. Did this make him a terrorist? Maybe, but then weren't the founders of Israel also terrorists? Isn't EVERYONE who will use violence, and disagrees with a regime, a terrorist by regime standards?
Was Mandela a good President of South Africa? In the end, I think he was, if for no other reason than in preserving peace between blacks and whites in an uncertain time.
But did crime increase during and after his Presidency? I hear it did. Could it have been better under any other President? I strongly doubt it. Ultimately, there's a choice to be made in South Africa, to become more like the West in its laws and government, or become more like Zimbabwe. I really have no stake in the outcome, but I do have my preference, which I don't think I have the right to impose on them.
What I wonder is, if you didn't become a communist under Apartheid, what would have you become?
I ask because Communism, as it manifested itself, wasn't just or mainly about ideology. It's about structure and organization.
I was reminded of this when realizing that Vo Nguyen Giap, perhaps the most successful general of the 20th century, was just two degrees of separation from me; I met his biographer, Cecil Curry who was a good friend of my dad. (Both Giap and Curry have passed away; Giap just two months ago at 102.) I haven't yet read the entire biography, but got the sense that Giap's motive wasn't to impose Marxism as it was to liberate the Vietnamese from foreign domination.
I could imagine Mandela with the same motive. My understanding of Apartheid was that it was far, far worse than the Jim Crow laws of the American South, with which it's so often associated. If the fellow travelers with whom one would throw off the tyranny are communists,and there aren't any other allies siding with you, wouldn't you become a communist? Not knowing what you know, now, in the Internet Age and 40 years of knowledge not accessible to Mandela, but rather, what would you have done if you were oppressed?
In that context, maybe the party structure of the communists made sense as an organizational mechanism for revolution. I'm not saying it's moral or right, but those who lionize ANY statesman from the United States and/or West in general must admit they used immoral means to achieve their goals.
In all, I'd suppose that, all things considered, Mandela was neither a saint nor a devil, but considering the circumstances, probably better than most statesmen.