Saturday, 8 December 2012

Abe Lincoln & Nelson Mandela: statesmen who did not forget to also be politicians...

 Photo: Me and My Baby, visiting Abraham Lincoln - Washington DC, June 2010
 Me and My Baby, visiting Abraham Lincoln - Washington DC, June 2010
I had to re-share this photo which Katindi and I took with Abe Lincoln when we visited him at his Memorial in the summer of 2010. My sister, brother and I have just come from watching the movie 'Lincoln' at the Hilltop Mall Theatre and it was just excellent!

The key lesson we learn from Lincoln's success in steering the 13th Amendment which abolished slavery through the House of Representatives in the wake of the Civil War is that a statesman must also not forget to be a politician. As Joe Klein points out in Time Magazine, the miracle of Abraham Lincoln the politician was that he pursued the high purpose of moving justice forward via the low arts of patronage and patronization. Klein adds, "Indeed, in a democracy, it is usually the only way great deeds are done."

This reminds me of that other man that I greatly admire, Nelson Mandela. A key lesson we learn from Mandela's own struggle for freedom is that one should have a core principle - everything else is tactics. According to Richard Stengel in a wonderful book I am currently reading, 'Nelson Mandela: Portrait of an extraordinary man', Mandela is a thorough-going pragmatist who was willing to compromise, change, adapt, and refine his strategy as long as it got him to the promised land of equal rights for all, regardless of race, class or gender. Almost any means justified that one noble end.

So, if Lincoln was willing to apply the low arts of patronage and patronization, and Mandela was willing to compromise, change and adapt his strategies, what is the difference from our own politicians who are currently making coalitions right, left and centre ahead of the elections?

The difference is that both Lincoln and Mandela did what they did in pursuit of a noble goal. Our politicians on the other hand will go to bed with the devil for the purpose only of capturing power and retaining status for themselves and their families, not for the greater good of social justice or the equal development of all our people. When it comes to the art of statesmanship and the science of politics, we have a long way to go.

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