South Africa could have easily slipped into civil war or extreme violence when Mandela was freed. Instead, he managed to keep the polarized nation together. He sanctioned a new flag and a new government with black and white South Africans.
The country, because of his blueprint, and maybe even because of its common love of sports, has managed to remain one South Africa. But now with Mandela’s passing, there could still be feelings of uncertainty that could bubble to the surface.
He was an important presence in a country that still experiences snippets of racial violence. The onus is on the current government to stay on the path that was set forth. It already has a respected constitution, as well as a 20-year history of governing itself relatively well.
The loss of great presidents is a big deal for any country, but because those governments are older, there is less to worry regarding the institutional framework.
Mandela, in the early years, was practically alone in introducing some of the initiatives that are now common place. He was willing to stand up against hostility. Do they have a government that can do that now? Do most governments?
South Africans and the rest of the world will memorialize Mandela, but the best legacy is the one that endures: a peaceful and economically sound South Africa is the best memorial.
Former presidents are great for symbolism, but a country loses its first president only once. Perhaps this is what it was like to lose George Washington. Would the United States turn the presidency into a kingdom without Washington? We know the answer to that now.
To lose their democracy would be to dismantle Mandela’s dream, and that would not happen in front of him. But now he is gone, and now is the time to truly plant his work into the ground.
Marilinda Garcia: A Follow Up Story
In 2009, I wrote a column about an up-and-coming young legislator in New Hampshire named Marilinda Garcia. Since then, Garcia won another term in the New Hampshire legislature, finished her master’s degree at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and is now running for Congress.
First elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives at the age of 23, she is now Majority Whip and the Republican candidate for the state’s 2nd Congressional District seat.
Garcia will square off against incumbent Democrat Ann McLane Kuster in November, but the campaign is already getting attention nationally. Garcia is the type of mainstream Republican that her party needs.
Similar to Councilman Eric Ulrich here in Queens, these are the types of candidates that opposition parties and people want to defeat early before they go on to bigger things. There has already been a fake Marilinda Garcia page on Facebook, where offensive statements are attributed to her.
People from all political sides engage in this, unfortunately. But one thing is certain, this race in the small state of New Hampshire has bigger ramifications than just the concerns of those in New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District.
Garcia, as I said in 2009, has enormous potential to go further politically. She will bring intellect and energy to a party that is nationally wobbly.