LEGACY is an important thing, to anyone. What will you be remembered for? Too many heroes of the struggle against apartheid who gave their all for it, and were admired, became corrupt and immoral when the struggle was over. Former president Jacob Zuma, who was head of intelligence of the ANC, went on to become the epitome of corrupt government, leading to the country being robbed of billions of rands. The shine he and his ilk had during Nelson Mandela’s days is long gone, replaced by a myriad sleazy politicians driving fancy cars and stashing away their ill-gotten millions in foreign bank accounts.
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to come to trial, after being indicted last week. Politically, his opponents will dance for joy at the fact that his legacy will forever be “Israeli prime minister indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.” It is a tragedy, since he and his family contributed hugely to Israel for its founding and after. He personally did this from his younger days, such as serving in an elite army unit, providing a sense of security to the country amidst its multiple enemies, and being its highly articulate spokesperson on the international stage. To this day, thousands of Israelis still believe in him totally and call him the king of Israel.
History is a harsh judge. It casts an exacting light on powerful people for whom their power has become addictive and has led them to believe they can do anything without accountability. A student of history who logs on to Wikipedia 50 years from now for information on Netanyahu, will probably find him described as the longest serving Israeli prime minister, but see him deemed, a sentence or two later, as the first Israeli prime minister indicted for serious misdemeanours while he was in office. Whatever the outcome of the legal proceedings, which will dominate Israeli politics for years to come, he cannot remove this stain from his record.
Numerous powerful people and historical figures who have been discovered to have done something abhorrent will be remembered by history only for that act, not their greater deeds. When the former president of Israel, Moshe Katzav’s name is mentioned, it is not his term as president that comes to mind, but his abuse of women, and the fact that he was sent to jail.
Sidney Frankel, a billionaire stockbroker in South Africa supported homes for underprivileged orphans for many years, gave money to worthy causes, and was universally respected and admired, until it was discovered that he had been sexually molesting these same orphans. Now, whenever this man’s name crops up, all you can think of is these sexual crimes against vulnerable children. Think of former South African police chief Jackie Selebi, who goes down in history as a beneficiary of drug trafficking. Think of highly respected South African artist Zwelethu Mthetwa who murdered a prostitute in 2013, and will be remember for that, alone. What do you remember about world famous athlete Oscar Pistorius?
Legacies can move in the other direction, too. The famed German Oskar Schindler who saved 1 200 Jews from certain death at the hands of the Nazis by employing them in his own factories, was previously himself a card-carrying member of the Nazi party. Today his legacy is one of a selfless, courageous man. There are still Jews today who can trace their family to the people he saved.
Sadly, Netanyahu seems to have travelled a well-trodden path from the heights of glory to an ignominious end without ever being willing to let go. His legacy will not be his courage in battle, or his diplomatic talents but his arrogance, his wheeling and dealing and his corruption. Had he let go, it might have been different.