Nelson Mandela should be remembered for avoiding nuclear war, UNT historian says

Wednesday, December 11, 2013 - 10:10

Former South African president Nelson Mandela, who died last week, will long be remembered as one of the greatest world leaders, but he may be overlooked for pulling a racially fractured South Africa back from the brink of nuclear war, according to University of North Texas professor of history Constance Hilliard.

Hilliard, who teaches a course on modern Africa, is the editor of The Intellectual Traditions of Pre-Colonial Africa. She notes that during the 1970s, the ruling apartheid regime in South Africa had devised a highly secret, nuclear arms program, "in hopes of holding back the tide of African majority rule." By the 1980s, after a nuclear test had been conducted in the Indian Ocean, "international observers estimated that the apartheid regime had developed a deterrence arsenal of gun-type fission weapons," she says.

As leader of the anti-apartheid African National Congress, Hilliard says, Mandela forgave his enemies, who had imprisoned him for 27 years before growing international pressure against the apartheid regime led to his release in February 1990. Mandela's forgiveness, Hilliard says, led to the South African government ending its nuclear program in 1991, "no longer seeing a threat to the survival of South Africans of European origin."

Three years later, Mandela became his nation's president, having won the first multi-racial democratic election ever held in South Africa, Hilliard says. Mandela's "Truth and Reconciliation Commission," which he launched in June 1995 with Bishop Desmond Tutu "became a model for governments attempting to resolve long-standing conflicts," she says.

Mandela should also be remembered as the founder of the military wing of the African National Congress and ANC's youth league, she says. Even after he was imprisoned in 1962 for allegedly conspiring to overthrow the white-ruled government, he had become so forceful and charismatic that during the almost three decades he was incarcerated, his name "remained a symbol of the resistance to racial discrimination and rallying cry for freedom among South Africa's African majority."

"Nelson Mandela's life has been an inspiration to the people of the world," she says.

Hilliard may be reached at 940-497-4776.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108

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