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Nelson Mandela emerged from 27 years in apartheid jails in 1990 pledging to seize South Africa’s mines and banks. Four years later, his government slashed spending and courted foreign investors, paving the way for the longest period of growth in the country’s history.

The former president, who died Thursday at the age of 95, was instrumental in getting the African National Congress, which led the fight against apartheid and has ruled ever since, to embrace an open economy. “Only a Mandela could have realigned the ANC’s economic policy from the mindset of the 1950s, with the development state, with socialism, with nationalization, to the world of the 1990s and beyond,” said Robert Schrire, a politics professor at the University of Cape Town. “He recognized that for the poor to prosper, the rich had to feel they had a future in the country.”

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