COLUMN RIGHT : Heroism Is No Ticket to Infallibility : Freedom fighters are often ill-equipped for the tasks of political statesmanship.

<i> Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer in Washington. Former Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III is a distinguised fellow of the Heritage Institution. </i>

Nelson Mandela deserves ageless respect for his 27 years of imprisonment on behalf of the anti-apartheid cause in South Africa. It is appropriate that this charismatic and widely acclaimed leader be welcomed and applauded as he tours the United States.

Yet Americans should have good reason to be concerned about Mandela’s political judgment, the potential nature of his leadership and the advice that he is offering during his visit. Heroism does not confer infallibility. Nor should suffering for a noble cause obscure the wrongness of positions that are diametrically opposed to basic values held by the people of our country.

Mandela and his Marxist-oriented African National Congress have repeatedly supported and engaged in terrorism. Both before and since Mandela’s release from prison, his organization has compiled a brutal record of violence against both black and white civilians in South Africa.

Further, Mandela openly embraces notorious oppressors of human rights: Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat, Libyan dictator Moammar Kadafi and Cuban despot Fidel Castro. The reason for such embrace, Mandela tries to explain, is the long-standing support of the three for the ANC and its efforts to displace South Africa’s ruling white regime.


But that explanation is unsatisfactory. Expediency and the understandable need for support does not justify unholy alliance with those responsible for wanton murder and widespread violations of human rights.

Mandela’s gratuitous relationships with such enemies of peace and freedom naturally arouse fears among South Africa’s whites, coloreds, Indians and minority black tribes. Such alliances raise questions about whether Mandela’s professed desire for political justice is genuine and cause suspicions that make peaceful constitutional compromise with South Africa’s racial and tribal minorities more difficult.

Mandela’s infatuation with “one-person, one-vote” sloganeering and his lack of accommodation for minority concerns is also antagonistic to the cause of political liberty in South Africa. Unchecked majoritarianism is a formula for tyranny over minorities. As James Madison explained: “In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the former.”

The founders of our Constitution went to great lengths to hold majoritarianism in check and to protect the rights of minorities. Hungary’s newly revamped constitution offers special protections for Slovaks, Croats, Germans, Romanians, Serbs, Gypsies and Jews. Mandela’s seeming indifference to similar protections against oppressive majority rule under new electoral conditions in South Africa suggests either unschooled political beliefs or nefarious political designs.

Mandela’s economic philosophy and his commitment to Marxist ideology also raise concerns. His sympathy for nationalizing South Africa’s banks, mines and other industries in order to transfer wealth from the white minority to the black majority defies historical philosophical justification. Mandela cannot point to a single nationalization program in the entire African continent, including Egypt’s Suez Canal and Kadafi’s oil expropriations, that has set the framework for long-term prosperity. Indeed, such confiscation has typically yielded economic calamity, as illustrated by Mozambique.

Nations throughout Eastern Europe and South America are privatizing their economies en mass to escape the disastrous results of government control. Why is Mandela holding out against the lessons and tide of economic history? Is it because he wishes to reward ANC loyalists with lucrative positions in government corporations at the expense of the commonweal? Is it because he wishes to silence dissent to the ANC by making millions dependent on an ANC paymaster?

To raise questions of Mandela’s political acumen and intent is not to detract from his courage and accomplishments in assailing apartheid. It is rather to alert the United States and the world community that heroic freedom fighters are often ill-equipped for the tasks of political statesmanship when the fighting ceases.

John Brown displayed comparable courage and passion in fighting slavery in Kansas and at Harpers Ferry, yet was utterly unsuited for a role requiring political vision and magnanimity, a task that was ultimately accomplished by Abraham Lincoln. Mandela has yet to distinguish himself from John Brown.