Isenberg Professor Reflects on Mandela's Legacy and South Africa's Future

July 24, 2013

At the time of Nelson Mandela's release from prison in 1990, the liberation struggle in South Africa had reached a breaking point. The country would have been engulfed in rivers of blood had he not been freed, Isenberg management professor Mzamo Mangaliso told the Daily Hampshire Gazette on July 4. After his release, Mandela, who had been robbed of his most productive years, helped South Africa avoid future bloodshed by advocating peace and nonviolence, continued Mangaliso, who teaches corporate strategy and publishes extensively on South Africa. Mangaliso spoke to the Gazette as Mandela lay near death with a lung infection. Since then, Mandela, who turned 95 on July 18, has rallied. He is now in critical but stable condition.  


Accounting for 79% of South Africa's population, blacks could have overwhelmed South African whites, Mangaliso told Isenberg's news feed. But South Africa's first black president (1994) insisted on peaceful reconciliation, not revenge. That has allowed the country to develop as a true (albeit messy) democracy and to parlay its vast economic resources as Africa's most significant player in global markets. Still, Mangaliso is far from satisfied. "The wealth has yet to be equitably distributed," he insisted, noting that blacks, having been dispossessed of all but 13% of their land during apartheid, have yet to see much of that land returned. South Africa, he emphasized, needs to invest systematically in infrastructure, education, and training in its majority black communities. It must also create a business culture that minimizes patronage and builds entrepreneurship from the ground up. Brazil, he says, can offer some lessons and inspiration.


Mangaliso knows South Africa as a true insider. From 2006 to 2008, during a leave of absence from Isenberg, he served as President and CEO of the country's National Research Foundation, an organization that combines the sweep of our National Science Foundation and National Endowment for the Humanities. In his role, he oversaw grant-based support for academic research, coordinated a portfolio of large-scale research facilities, and fostered a program to accelerate the country's Ph.D. population.


Mangaliso grew up in apartheid South Africa, earning his bachelor's degree in chemistry and physics from the University of Fort Hare (which Mandela attended). After graduation, he joined the manufacturing/mining firm Barlow Road and then Unilever South Africa, where he worked in a laboratory and then in management among a pioneering coterie of young blacks. Through a program which sent South Africans to the U.S. for advanced education, he earned an MBA from Cornell University in 1984. Four years later, he earned his Ph.D. from Isenberg in strategic and organizational management.


"The transition to a democratic South Africa would have been far less successful without the cooperation and support of key white South Africans who shared the vision of reconciliation," Mangaliso observed. "I once had the pleasure of thanking F.W. de Klerk, the last apartheid-era president of South Africa, who at great personal risk negotiated the end to that horrific system. He was grateful for my thanks. That shared vision of white and black South Africans underscores the spirit of Mandela, which celebrates the diversity of cultures, while asking us to be color blind."