Nelson Mandela

Moderated by Rick Badie

Today’s guest writers reflect on Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid icon. A former secretary of Health and Human Services and president of the Morehouse School of Medicine implores the United States to continue efforts to strengthen health care in developing countries. An Emory University official writes about a Mandela mentor. Finally, Newt Gingrich defends Mandela against conservative critics.

Mandela’s vision inspires

By Louis W. Sullivan

The passing of President Nelson Mandela has caused many to pause and reflect on the ways he influenced us and others in the United States to work with our friends in South Africa to contribute to a brighter future for that beautiful country.

In 1985, I was invited to join with Herb and Joy Kaiser in Washington, D.C. to form a non-profit organization with members from the United States and South Africa to provide scholarships for black students in that country who were studying to become physicians, nurses, dentists and other health professionals. Herb had retired from a career in the U.S. State Department as a Foreign Service officer and had been posted in South Africa in the 1960s and ’70s.

There, he and Joy learned about the lack of health care for black South Africans and a severe shortage of black doctors and other health personnel. This was because of a lack of educational opportunities under that nation’s brutal apartheid system.

In the 1980s, because of ongoing domestic protests and mounting international pressures, South African blacks were admitted in small numbers to higher educational institutions in South Africa, but they received little scholarship support. The annual cost of attending medical school in the early 1980s averaged approximately $5,000; the annual income for South African black families was less than $500.

The organization we formed, Medical Education for South African Blacks (MESAB), was made up of Americans and South Africans. We solicited donations in the United States and South Africa and forwarded the proceeds to our MESAB colleagues for scholarship distribution.

In March 2000, at MESAB’s annual scholarship dinner in New York, the honoree was Nelson Mandela. Because of his role at that time in helping to negotiate a peace treaty to end the conflict between Rwanda and Burundi, Mandela could not attend. He was represented by South Africa’s first lady, Zanele Mbeki. In Mandela’s statement, delivered by Mbeki, he thanked MESAB for its efforts, which he said had already resulted in “the transformation of the health care system with several thousand trained black health care workers.”

By the conclusion of MESAB’s activities in 2007, more than 10,000 physicians, nurses and other health professionals had received scholarship support for training and were providing health services in that nation.

Because of the critical importance of health for individuals and populations, the United States should continue and expand public and private efforts to strengthen health systems and increase the number of trained health professionals in developing countries.

As we honor the life of Mandela, we will remember the significant impact his life and vision have had on South Africa and the world. He will be missed. His vision inspires us to continue our efforts.

Louis W. Sullivan, former secretary of Health and Human Services and former president of the Morehouse College School of Medicine, is chairman of The Sullivan Alliance.

Hope, imagination, faith have let South Africans move forward

By Robert Franklin

Last July, my wife and I arrived in Pretoria at the site where Nelson Mandela was hospitalized, where thousands were camped out fearing, waiting, singing, praying, imagining what would occur after Mandela passed into eternity.

Ironically, we were escorted by a guide who had previously served as a member of Mandela’s security force. I was deeply moved to hear this middle-aged white Afrikaner talk about how much his community had grown to respect and admire this man who had been considered a danger to their way of life.

His words left me speechless: “We grew to realize that this man would be our savior too. He was every South African’s bridge to the future. We needed that bridge to go forward.” The words are another example of how special is the modern nation of South Africa that is built on a hope and moral imagination.

The community that nurtured Mandela was the foundation of that hope and sparked the beginning of that imagination. We should all know the name of John Dube, Mandela’s mentor and a founder of the African National Congress in 1912. Dube was a blend between Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, and the radical Christian preacher and Georgia-based African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Henry McNeal Turner.

Dube founded a school in 1900 called the Ohlange Institute (originally the Zulu Christian Industrial School) located near the bustling city of Durban. He modeled the school after Tuskegee Institute, founded by Booker T. Washington in 1880. Like Washington, Dube recognized the importance of teaching vocational skills that would support self-reliance among black people who were often devalued for lacking the ability and the means to provide for themselves.

But like DuBois, Dube was committed to the liberal arts education of the mind and the cultivation of leaders who would agitate respectfully for freedom. He did not urge accommodation to racism and the evolving evil of apartheid. He was also a spiritual man who trusted that God was on the side of the oppressed in history.

We also visited the Ohlange High School and saw the place where Mandela chose to cast his first vote in a democratic election in April 1994. Mandela observed that before casting his vote, he thought about all of the leaders who sacrificed their lives so that he could be in that voting booth. He said that when he entered to vote he was not alone, they were with him. Then, following his vote he walked the 50 yards to the gravesite of Dube and pausing before it said, “Mr. President, I am here to report that South Africa is now free.”

Most fascinating is the fact that Dube and his school are literally just up the road from Mahatma Gandhi’s compound, where that leader spent 20 years.  Gandhi, a Hindu, and Dube, a Christian, were working out their strategies and tactics in proximity and in mutual admiration and awareness of the other. This example of two communities learning, struggling for justice and helping to build a better nation is inspiring for us today.

Robert Franklin, former president of Morehouse College, is senior adviser to the provost on community and diversity at Emory University.

What would you have done?

By Newt Gingrich

I was surprised by the hostility and vehemence of some who reacted to me saying a kind word about a unique historic figure.

So let me say to those conservatives who don’t want to honor President Nelson Mandela, what would you have done?

Mandela was faced with a vicious apartheid regime that eliminated all rights for blacks and gave them no hope for the future. This was a regime which used secret police, prisons and military force to crush all efforts at seeking freedom by blacks.

What would you have done faced with that crushing government?

What would you do here in America if you had that kind of oppression?

Some of the people who are most opposed to oppression from Washington attack Mandela when he was opposed to oppression in his own country.

After years of preaching non-violence, using the political system, making his case as a defendant in court, Mandela resorted to violence against a government that was ruthless and violent in its suppression of free speech. As Americans we celebrate the farmers at Lexington and Concord who used force to oppose British tyranny. We praise George Washington for spending eight years in the field fighting the British Army’s dictatorial assault on our freedom. Thomas Jefferson wrote and the Continental Congress adopted that “all men are created equal, and they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Doesn’t this apply to Nelson Mandela and his people?

Some conservatives say, ah, but he was a communist.

Actually Mandela was raised in a Methodist school, was a devout Christian, turned to communism in desperation only after South Africa was taken over by an extraordinarily racist government determined to eliminate all rights for blacks.

I would ask of his critics: where were some of these conservatives as allies against tyranny? Where were the masses of conservatives opposing apartheid?

Finally, if you had been imprisoned for 27 years, 18 of them in a cell eight-foot-by-seven-foot, how do you think you would have emerged? Would you have been angry? Would you have been bitter?

Nelson Mandela emerged from 27 years in prison as an astonishingly wise, patient, and compassionate person.

He called for reconciliation among the races. He invited his prison guard to sit in the front row at his inauguration as president. In effect he said to the entire country, “If I can forgive the man who imprisoned me, surely you can forgive your neighbors.”

Far from behaving like a communist, President Mandela reassured businesses that they could invest in South Africa and grow in South Africa. He had learned that jobs come from job creators.

Before you criticize him, ask yourself, what would you have done in his circumstances?

Newt Gingrich is a politician, historian, author and political consultant.

3 comments Add your comment


December 12th, 2013
1:54 pm

I guess Newt must not have gotten the memo that to the tea party types rights and freedom are only things that priveldged white males are entitled to assert–everyone else should happily accept their place.


December 12th, 2013
1:31 pm

Over the last few days I’ve heard basically two descriptions of Nelson Mandela that he was either a saint or a violent radical. I suspect, like a lot of things, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Anyway, it does seem that the later part of his life was one of reconciliation and I suspect that is what he should be remembered for.


December 12th, 2013
12:24 pm

Newt is actually making sense re: the Mandela matter. Good for him. The other two essays…slow news day, I guess.