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Here is a great post from a user on Quora about Nelson Mandela. It is about a law that was to come into effect with a major flaw that nobody saw and how the late Mandela handled the situation – legally of course. Mandela had to bring an application against himself in the South African Constitutional Court. A unique case where the plaintiff and defendant were one and the same!
Quite an interesting read.
The title of the post was: What Was Nelson Mandela’s Greatest Mistake?
Talk about accepting responsibility as a leader. Talk about putting people’s needs before your reputation. Talk about the heart of a leader, you will find a perfect example here.
A large chunk of the post is hereby quoted verbatim without any form of edit.
BY AJ Venter
Lived in South Africa all my life, in three different cities.
The following may well be the incident he himself would have considered his greatest mistake, yet I would also consider what happened next to be a series of events that showed his commitment to the rule of law, taking responsibility and doing the right thing more than any other.
November 1994. The ANC parliament has been ruling the country for just a few months. That month they passed the new healthcare law which the president, Nelson Mandela, duly signed. Unfortunately, there was a major flaw in the law. A badly worded passage meant that when the law took effect in January every public (and many private) hospitals in the country would be forced to close as it set a requirement that was impossible to meet. One of those simple errors anybody could make – but in this case, many people were to blame. The ANC government for not catching the error, the opposition parties in parliament who likewise failed to spot it, the public who didn’t see it even during the gazette and comment period and finally the president who signed the law without seeing it.
The problem was discovered in early December. Parliament was now closed for the Christmas holidays and could not repeal or amend the law. The president could not either – his veto right ends at the moment he signs a law, he cannot retroactively veto it.
This was a huge problem – the law would take effect before parliament could fix it, hospitals would be forced to close – it was a looming healthcare disaster. And Mandela certainly felt responsible for letting it happen and considered it a grave mistake on his own part.
That, however, was when he did one of the most impressive things any president has ever done. It was recorded in the annals as “Mandela VS. Mandela”. The president brought an urgent application to the constitutional court, against himself. The South African constitution declares access to healthcare to be a citizen’s right. The law would impede that right, and so Mandela argued that it must be declared unconstitutional.
It was a rather unique case before the court since the plaintiff and the defendant were both the same person. He sure made the case for the plaintiff, but he didn’t make any case for the defence.
The court duly struck the law down and it would not go into effect, restoring the previous law and giving time for parliament to return from recess and pass a new, fixed, healthcare law.
In so doing Nelson Mandela accepted a constitutional court judgement against his presidency rather than let people suffer due to a bureaucratic bungle. He had made a terrible mistake in signing that law, but he took responsibility for it and fixed it in the only legal way- even if it meant he would be a president who had a court judgement against him.”