Clem Sunter

Unfinished business

2013-12-13 10:27

Clem Sunter

Great leaders always leave unfinished business in the nations they lead, because nations never stop being work in progress. Lincoln, Gandhi, Churchill and Deng all had their moment in making enormous contributions to the nations they led; and the sorrow felt in South Africa and around the world over the death of Nelson Mandela shows that he too belongs to this illustrious group.

When I saw Nelson Mandela in prison, a month before his release, to discuss the future, I remember he quoted the words of Deng to me: "I don't care if a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice." In other words, he was interested in knowing what worked and what didn't work in the arena of international politics and economics. Although he made a statement from prison about a week later that he was fully committed to the principles of the Freedom Charter, I could see that he was flexible on the tactics to fulfil those principles. He was not wedded to any particular "ism" as long as the result was a prosperous and united South Africa in which everybody participated in political and economic terms.

His legacy without a doubt was to achieve, along with many other prominent South Africans at the time, a political miracle. We have a constitution of which we can be proud and a thoroughly modern democracy which may yet deliver some interesting results in 2014. What we have not yet attained is a level of economic freedom for our citizens which goes hand in hand with the political freedom we now possess. We have one of the highest Gini coefficients, measuring income inequality, in the world and we have a highly consolidated and exclusive economy with little space for a new generation of entrepreneurs. Yes, we have made strides in reducing absolute poverty with welfare grants and providing housing, electricity and other infrastructural requirements to a multitude of poor communities. However, we do not have a free and fair economy by any stretch of the imagination.

I do not blame Nelson Mandela at all for this state of affairs as you can only do so much in one term as president. As I watch the replays of his life and am reminded of the many extraordinary things that he said, I can only thank God that we had such an exceptional leader during the difficult days of transition. He laid the foundation for a great nation with his charm, humour and above all his spirit of reconciliation.

Now we have work to do as there are still more mice to catch! I can see him smiling down from heaven and nodding his head in agreement.

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