As former South African president Nelson Mandela is being remembered across the world for his peacemaking and his fight for justice, West Virginia University faculty look at where we are as a world after his passing.

Political science Professor Cyanne Loyle has examined atrocity up close, collecting stories of survivors and perpetrators in the Rwandan genocide, and she’s examined transitional justice in several African nations, including South Africa. Her latest work is compiling the first global database on transitional justice: detailing the actions people take after periods of injustice such as apartheid.

It was Mandela’s empathy and understanding of those on all sides of South Africa’s reconstruction that helped to move the country forward, she said.

“He worked very hard to understand the Afrikaner political position in the negotiation,” she said.

But it was his experience that made his message of reconciliation and a new beginning believable.

“After his time in prison, you really couldn’t have accused him of not getting it or not understanding what the repression was like,” Loyle said.

One of Mandela’s major steps following apartheid was to assist in the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate crimes committed throughout South Africa during apartheid.

What resulted was a report that showed South Africans, especially white South Africans, how widespread abuses were during apartheid.

Loyle sees one of Mandela’s most lasting peaceful actions to be his decision to retire and ensure that the country continued on without him though he had become an incredibly popular national and international symbol.

“He was very clear from the beginning that he was a proponent of peaceful transition of power,” she said.

In 1993, while Mandela was president, geography professor Brent McCusker was studying the issue of land reform throughout South Africa.

At the end of apartheid, the government pushed for a more even distribution of land, down from the 87 percent of land in the hands of 13 percent, all minority white residents. The goal was to redistribute 30 percent of the country’s productive land to the majority African population within five years. After five years, just 4 percent of land had been redistributed. Today, that goal is still unmet.

“Unfortunately it’s just an abject failure,” McCusker said. “You can’t sugar coat it.”

But the push to achieve equity in land ownership fell off as Mandela took a less active role in making policy, McCusker said.

“That wasn’t really his fault,” he said. “He did try in his first two to three years of office to get a more equitable distribution of land.”

In Mandela’s earlier activist years before going to prison, he created the youth wing of the African National Congress, which later pushed for more progressive and even radical ideas than the more conservative wing of the party, McCusker said.

But it may be the force of Mandela’s personality and his symbolic role that was most powerful.

“In terms of keeping the issues alive, we can’t underestimate his importance,” McCusker said. “He still is a very powerful image. If it hadn’t been for Nelson Mandela in office in 1994?land reform wouldn’t be on the table.”

Loyle said that Mandela’s impact went beyond his leadership of a nation. He became a great statesman delivering messages on the spread of HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa and on the economic development of the region.

“Mandela championed equality for all people across color, across class, across political party,” Loyle said. “He’s one of my personal heroes.”

To contact Cyanne Loyle, call her at 240-676-1827 or email her at

To contact Brent McCusker, call him at 304-293-4025 or email him at



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