Nelson Mandela will undoubtedly generate millions of tributes and I have nothing to add. He humbles me and I want to express some gratitude that such a man existed. The key thing more than his intelligence was that he dealt with hate and anger in a positive manner.
I first heard of him when he was in jail and the descriptions were mixed. Some people thought of him as a hero while others described him as a terrorist and a Communist. His court speech deals with that I think very appropriately. As I grew up it was common to hear about Communists behind all sorts of movements that sought freedom. In truth the Communists were opportunists offering an alternative rationale and doing what they could to undermine their opposition. Mandela pointed out in his speech that during World War II the Americans and Britons allied with the Soviet Union and were not accused of being Communists.
Those who side with the Western establishment managed to rationalize dealing with South Africa during the apartheid years, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher among them. Dick Cheney recently justified labeling Nelson Mandela a terrorist. Brian Mulroney, also a conservative broke with his colleagues and supported efforts to fight apartheid for which Canadians can take some pride.
Nelson was not above violence, but looked for another way. In prison he had opportunities to read, act in plays, and study.
After negotiations got him out of prison and he eventually became president he adopted an attitude that few in his place would. His former guards were given a place of honor for his inauguaration. South Africa is a tribal society also with significant numbers of Europeans, mixed, Indian Hindus and Muslims. To Nelson they are all South Africans.
Truth and Reconciliation was a unique solution to a common problem. It allowed a lot of people to vent their frustrations with an audience. A few other jurisdictions have adopted the model.
While president, Mandela asked to testify in court, was urged to use his power not to testify. He felt no one should be above the law.
After one term as elected president he stepped down. By itself this was a tremendous model for Africa where it is common for dictators to hang onto power for decades for their own enrichment. His popularity was such that he could have maintained power as long as he chose.
After stepping down he still worked for the betterment of South Africa. He played a small role in getting the World Cup to South Africa. Out of office and with a son who died of Aids he reversed himself and became an advocate fighting the disease.
For a gift card given to me several years ago I bought his autobiography. Well worth reading.
The world has lost a tremendous model. Let us hope the world has learned.