This is not to say that Mandela was without importance or that he merited no praise. His greatest achievement by far, and an important one, was the avoidance of the interracial violence that had long been predicted as “inevitable” in South Africa and the only way things would ever change there.
But we should not exaggerate, either. The event that saved his historical reputation was not under his control. It was the downfall of the Soviet Union..
.. the Soviet Union had always supported the freedom struggle in South Africa ..
By then, of course, there was no possibility of South Africa following the Soviet path; by then Russia had neither the means nor the will to support or prop up yet another catastrophically failed state in Africa, this time on a scale far exceeding its previous efforts. Prominent leaders of the ANC whom I met had by then dropped all ideological pretensions of a Soviet hue and had gone over to sharp mohair suits and lizard-skin shoes.
The point about Nelson Mandela is that he was equally willing to go along with both the Stalinist and the lizard-skin-shoe school of economic thought. When Stalinism was the fashion, he was not opposed to it. Nor did he appear to mind much when the lizard-skin-shoe brigade became predominant. He was fortunate that, due to historical circumstances, the second prevailed and prevented him from passing into history as a failed socialist despot. He would have become the latter only after the conclusion of a hideous racial war, but having been head of a guerrilla organization, he had no very settled objection to political violence or to those who employed it.