Saturday, December 7, 2013

Nelson Mandela: A Giant Without an Heir. My experiences in S.Africa

Nelson Mandela:  A Giant Without an Heir

When I was a young attorney for a Fortune 500 company I was told I needed to go to South Africa and to get a visa. It was around 1980 and Apartheid was the rule – a white minority controlled the government and was brutally suppressing the majority black population. I didn’t want to go and supported sanctions against the country.

Fortunately the trip never happened. Later, went to Nigeria as an entrepreneur, I tore the South Africa visa page out of my passport. In 1986, it would have gotten me in a lot of trouble in Nigeria. Luckily they never noticed the missing page. 

 Nelson Mandela
 Cape Town, S. Africa street
 Michael Fjetland, in front of "Blue Train"

I was fortunate enough to see South Africa in the late 90’s a couple of years after Nelson Mandela had become its first black President in 1994 – just four years after being released from 27 years in prison. I found a fascinating country of contrasts. I rode the famous “Blue Train” from Cape Town on the southern tip of the continent to Johannesburg. We passed what looked like gravel piles – which were tailings from numerous gold mines.

It is a beautiful country, which I describe (along with Nigeria etc.) in my photo illustrated ebook “Better Times Ahead April Fool”  Some of the whites I met were quite open to having Mandela as President. I found others to be quite the opposite. In fact, I remember taking a picture of a Shell gas station a couple blocks away. Then I drove my rental car a couple of blocks and stopped at a stop sign. A white couple drove up next to me and demanded to know “why I had taken their photo.”  I had no idea any people were in the picture since I was so far away. They even got my license plate number and later that night called my room to harass me.

My purpose in South Africa was to interview people who wanted to immigrate to the U.S. After meeting them, I decided that we had enough bigots in the U.S. and I was not interested in adding any more. I wrote off the trip and didn’t sign up any clients.  The one client I did have from South Africa, a white couple, ended up defrauding my bank out of a huge sum of money, so it confirmed what I thought. I did meet some young whites in South Africa who were not racists, but they seemed to me the minority.

We lost a giant when Mr. Mandela died. After 27 years in prison he could have easily been vindictive. He could have called for violence against a brutally racist regime. But like Martin Luther King, he rose above the base instincts and called for “reconciliation” in which both sides offered apologies and amends for their past acts of violence against each other.  Mandela could have served for life but left office after a single 5-year term.

The world, and South Africa, has no one like him as a political heir. “AFRICA is failing to set its own terms for tackling security challenges and economic development on the continent, with a lack of adequate leadership evident in its response to both Libya and Mali,” said former South African president Thabo Mbeki.

China has passed the U.S. as South Africa’s biggest trading partner. Major challenges remain in a country where English is commonly spoken. It is unfortunate that there isn’t another Mandela to carry on – the new leaders like current President Zuma have been spending billions on themselves, building huge estates and giving jobs to those who are loyal party members. Mandela would never have allowed such a thing.

I hope for the best for this amazing country now that its version of our George Washington is gone. Nelson Mandela was a giant Redwood. His departure leaves a huge void in a vital country that accounts for 80% of the industrial might of the continent of Africa. We can only pray that his legacy has planted a seed so that another wise, humble giant will rise to take his place.

Michael Fjetland
Global American Values
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Fjetland for U.S. Senate

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