Teaching The Lessons Of Mandela08:32
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South African National Congress President Nelson Mandela arrives for his first election rally, March 15, 1994, for the April 27 general elections. (Walter Dhladhla/AFP/Getty Images)
South African National Congress President Nelson Mandela arrives for his first election rally, March 15, 1994, for the April 27 general elections. (Walter Dhladhla/AFP/Getty Images)

World leaders gathered today at a stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, to remember the work and life of Nelson Mandela. How will his legacy be taught?

Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson speaks with professor Aran MacKinnon of Georgia College & State University, about teaching South African history and the lessons students can learn from Mandela.

Interview Highlights: Aran MacKinnon

On the disagreement over Mandela’s legacy

“It’s interesting. I think part of it is a good reason for me to stay in my work to help people get a greater sense of the true history behind the story. I do affirm that Mandela is a great hero. I think he is one of the modern age’s most compelling heroes. The struggle that he engaged in, the quest for justice and equity, the desire for reconciliation are all values I think we can affirm. I think, also, it speaks to the question of, maybe, some misunderstandings and misapprehension about how people outside of the West understand questions such as communism or the struggle and the desire to turn to violence in a case where they have no other alternatives. I would certainly affirm that Mandela is more on the side of the Gandhi’s than the tyrants."

On what his students think about Mandela taking up arms

“I think some feel that they’re surprised that they weren’t more engaged in violent activities. I think that they’re those who feel like it was a capitulation. One of the questions I put to the students is, you know we have to remember that Mandela represents a younger generation within the action movement of the ANC [African National Congress], that as a member of the Youth League, he represented a desire to move the equation forward faster than the older generation had and I think students connect with that and they see the boiling rage and the anger. And it’s not hard to give them a sense of the degree of exploitation and violence that was done to Africans in South Africa that would trigger these elements. But of course it’s bookended by the wonderful end of the story, which is the political transformation of the country, Mandela being elected as president, and perhaps that is seen as a kind of means to an end.”

On what should be learned from Mandela’s life

“At the most fundamental level, I think it’s this wonderful convergence of an individual who professed himself and carried himself historically as just a human being—a very deeply, connected person who cared about others, but put the issues of injustice and inequality before everything else. And he maintained a quiet, persistent dignity with that all through the 27 years of incarceration. And I think he’s heroic for having done so, and I hope that people will remember that legacy—his putting other people before himself when questions of inequality and injustice came ahead.”

Guest

This segment aired on December 10, 2013.

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