The Nelson Mandela of American mythology differs in a few key ways from Nelson Mandela the man, Tony Karon points out in a must-read essay.

First, Karon argues, Mandela was no pacifist. “He played a leading role,” Karon writes, “in setting up the ANC’s guerrilla wing, and traveled abroad to gather support, even undergoing guerrilla training himself in Algeria, from the commanders of the FLN who had recently ejected the French colonials.” Still, Mandela never pursued the path of violent conflict when diplomacy was an option.

Karon’s second corrective is this: though Mandela was “moral giant,” he was not uniquely responsible for holding South Africans back from igniting a racial war against the whites. There was no “Mandela miracle.” Instead, the reconciliation process was made possible by “the political culture of the ANC, which Mandela helped form, and which also formed him.” The South African success story “was never dependent on his own, or any other individual’s strength of character.”

Third, Karon points out, Mandela is often lumped together with black separatists Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey, but “there were thousands of whites in the broad liberation movement led by the ANC.”

Read Karon’s full essay here.

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