This week the world lost a rare, genuine hero of national reconciliation and racial progress, Nelson Mandela. A leader of Mandela’s character, courage and nobility comes along maybe once in a century; the 21st century has yet to see one.

Comparisons of Mandela and Obama are probably inevitable, especially when promoted by our reigning narcissist, Obama himself.

Yes, Barack Obama can be compared to Nelson Mandela – the same way a midget is compared to a giant, a zircon to a diamond, or a street-corner hustler to an astronaut. No matter how hard the mainstream media try to paint a different picture, Obama will forever remain a little speck lost in Mandela’s long shadow.

On the other hand, in one way Obama does remind me of Mandela, but not the Mandela whose legacy will be celebrated universally. Obama does remind me of Winnie Mandela, the scandalous, self-serving, demagogic second wife whom Nelson Mandela divorced because she was such an embarrassment.

We can only wish that America could divorce Obama as easily as Mandela divorced his agitator-wife, but Obama’s crimes are more insidious and his support network more forgiving than Winnie Mandela’s. She and her bodyguards were convicted of kidnapping and assault, and her tenure in the South African Parliament was marked by controversy and arrests for financial manipulations.

Nelson Mandela rejected the low road traveled by his wife and so many African megalomaniacs. After his release from 27 years imprisonment for his anti-apartheid activities, a release facilitated by Ronald Reagan and other world leaders, he turned his back on the Marxist dogma of his early career and chose the high road of racial reconciliation, national unity and economic progress.

Mandela was not corrupted by the trappings of power, by the love of popular adulation or the lure of riches. His nation needed a George Washington, not an Adolf Hitler, and he filled the role beautifully. Mandela served only one five-year term as president of South Africa before turning over leadership to a new generation.

Mandela’s death leaves South Africa at a crossroads, and many observers fear his successors will now feel free to depart from the path on which Mandela set the nation. Since the era of European colonialism ended in the 1960s, other nations in sub-Saharan Africa have lived through a half-century of violence and criminal plundering by generals and politicians.

Will South Africa’s new leaders continue to follow the roadmap provided by their hero Mandela, or will they emulate the Mobutus and Mugabes of the continent by indulging an orgy of racial recriminations and militarization as a means of plundering a nation’s wealth?

The United States’ constitutional traditions used to provide a model for emerging nations to follow in contrast to dictatorships and military dynasties. As Barack Obama heads off to Nelson Mandela’s funeral, we can only hope South Africa’s leaders look to America’s past achievements for guidance and inspiration, and not our present condition as a nation spiraling downward into the despotism our ancestors fought so nobly to avoid.

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