How Nelson Mandela Came to Embrace Free Markets

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Note: The original title of this article: “Why the ‘left-leaning’ Nelson Mandela was such a champion of free marketsis weirdly naive, dishonest, or intentionally tempered and softened to the point of being comical.  Left-leaning? By that measure, should we reframe Fidel Castro as a “left-leaning” communist revolutionary? Or describe Pat Buchanan, Peggy Noonan, or George Will as “right-leaning” columnists?  That minor quibble aside, Jake Bright‘s essay is a timely and welcome addition to the ongoing review of Mandela’s remarkable leadership and paradoxical legacy. 

Jake Bright writes:  One often overlooked aspect of Nelson Mandela’s legacy is South Africa’s economy. Parallel to everything amazing the man is connected to—freeing the country from the shackles of apartheid, subordinating retribution in favor of peace and reconciliation, and unifying a volatile nation at risk of civil war—he laid the groundwork for South Africa as the continent’s economic powerhouse.

There are a lot of directions Mandela could have taken the country in those early post-apartheid days. At each juncture, he seemed to make the right call. When it came to the country’s economic policy, he chose free markets. Today, South Africa is Africa’s most powerful economy—though Nigeria may overtake it any day—and  in 2010 was added to the elite BRIC grouping of fastest-growing economies (Brazil India China Russia, now known as BRICS to include South Africa). It has Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest stock market capitalization, most heavily traded currency, highest sovereign credit rating, and highest purchased government bonds. South Africa also maintains Africa’s most modern business infrastructure and attracts the greatest foreign direct investment and number of global companies.

That Mandela would embrace the open-market path that led to this is somewhat remarkable given the African National Congress’s (ANC) and his own Marxist-communist leanings. In 1990, he lauded Fidel Castro’s Cuba as “a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people.”

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