By Steve Crabtree
Nelson Mandela’s passing on Thursday marks the end of a life that symbolized the potential for peace and progress in sub-Saharan Africa. His humble yet resolute leadership in the years after apartheid ended had a transformational effect on South Africa. Throughout his presidency, Mandela urged reconciliation and helped all South Africans focus on the task of reinventing their country to reflect democratic ideals and equality of opportunity.
In 2010, Gallup asked South Africans whether their families were better off than they had been prior to the abolition of apartheid 16 years earlier. More than nine in 10 (91%) said they were. Almost as many (87%) agreed that race relations had improved in the country during that time.
Today, South Africa is politically stable, with the largest and most developed economy on the sub-continent. The country is by no means without its problems, including widespread joblessness, high crime rates, and ongoing economic inequality. However, even among the poorest South Africans, 90% said their families’ lives had improved since the apartheid era.
Mandela has long been venerated around the world for his courage and moral fortitude. Since 1946, Gallup has annually asked Americans to name the living man and woman they most admire. Mandela ranked among Americans’ top 10 most admired men 20 times; in 2012, he came in second only to sitting U.S. President Barack Obama.
One of Mandela’s enduring legacies will be his demonstration that a better life is possible for even the world’s most impoverished or politically repressed people, if they can find new ways to work together toward a brighter future. As the iconic leader famously quoted, “It is not where you start but how high you aim that matters for success.”