In my work on revolutions, I have come around to the view that leaders DO matter; both for the success of revolutionary movements and for shaping the state and society afterwards.
Nelson Mandela was an exceptional, exemplary revolutionary leader. Willing to do whatever was necessary, from suffering lengthy imprisonment to working with ideological opponents, but sticking fast to his deepest principles of a seeking a multi-racial South Africa with fairness and justice for all, he shaped both the anti-apartheid movement and the ANC-led state that followed it.
It is said Mandela is BOTH the George Washington (founding father) and Abraham Lincoln (uniter and leader for racial justice) of his country; I believe that is true. His passing marks the loss of a great leader, we can only hope that his inspiration and values live on.
At present, South Africa is struggling — struggling with an ANC that has grown corrupt and self-seeking while it enjoyed the power of a virtually one-party state; struggling with unemployment and weak job and education opportunities for its young people; and struggling with basic issues of crime, infrastructure, and international trade.
Still, South Africa is a young country, one of the most beautiful in the world, and rich in resources and human capital. Its future is bright IF it can move toward more inclusive, pluralist, and transparent government; limit corruption; and invest in its younger generation. That is a lot of “IFs”; but if the ANC truly reveres Mandela and follows his values of sacrifice and justice, it can be done.