Photo by AP
Imagine for a second that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not assassinated in 1968 but was instead jailed by the federal government for treason.
With the United States coming apart at the seams with open racial conflict between the races, a crumbling economy, and stiff international economic sanctions at play, imagine that Dr. King won release from prison 27 years later.
It would be 1995, and the United States turned to King, a recently released prisoner in fair health, to help reverse America’s path toward the brink of self-destruction.
Implausible, right? Could never happen.
But it did in South Africa.
Nelson Mandela walked from a jail cell to lead a country from ruination in a story that, upon reflection, seems too remarkable to be true. Mandela combined the heroism and selflessness of King, the leadership skills of George Washington, and the ability to unite a nation of Abraham Lincoln.
Reporting the story of South Africa’s first shaky steps to freedom and watching a genuine hero assume leadership leaves me shaking my head in disbelief to this day.
When I spent a month in South Africa reporting on Mandela’s election for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, I, like many of my colleagues, was swept up with the hopes that Mandela could weave his fractured country into a united nation.
But few of us would have bet a nickel that the grand experiment would prove successful.
For years, agents of the South African government and their buddies in the Ronald Reagan White House were putting out word that Mandela had lost it mentally and that bitterness over his years of imprisonment had caused the old man to snap.
It was only the weight of international sanctions and desperation on the part of the White apartheid government that forced White leaders to partner with Mandela and actually allow him to lead, we were told by sources.
But a strange thing happened on Mandela’s walk to freedom: he carried his country along for the ride.
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