Commentary

Mandela held no grudges

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By Paul Wanaye

Posted  Friday, December 13  2013 at  02:00

In Summary

The vigil even eclipsed an earlier visit by President Obama, who paid homage to Mandela but decided not to intrude on the privacy of a dying man he considered his hero.

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Mandela had long declared that he wanted a quiet exit, but the time he spent in a Pretoria hospital in recent months was a clamour of quarreling family, hungry news media, spotlight-seeking politicians and a national outpouring of affection and loss.

The vigil even eclipsed an earlier visit by President Obama, who paid homage to Mandela but decided not to intrude on the privacy of a dying man he considered his hero.

Mandela’s quest for freedom took him from the court of tribal royalty to the liberation underground to a prison rock quarry to the presidential suite of Africa’s richest country.

And then, when his first term of office was up, unlike so many of the successful revolutionaries he regarded as kindred spirits, he declined a second term and cheerfully handed over power to an elected successor, the country still gnawed by crime, poverty, corruption and disease but a democracy, respected in the world and remarkably at peace.

Mandela was sworn in as south Africa’s president on May 10, 1994, and accepted office with a speech that focused on shared patriotism, summoning south Africans’ communal exhilaration in their land and their common relief at being freed from the world’s disapproval “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world,” he declared.

The question most often asked about Mandela was how, after whites had systematically humiliated his people, tortured and murdered many of his friends, and cast him into prison for 27 years, he could be so evidently free of spite.
The government he formed when he finally won the chance was an improbable fusion of races and beliefs, including many of his former oppressors.

When he became president, he invited one of his white wardens to the inauguration. Mr. Mandela overcame a personal mistrust bordering on loathing to share both power and a Nobel Peace Prize with the white president who preceded him, F. W. de Klerk.
When the question was put to Mr Mandela in an interview for this obituary in 2007 — after such barbarous torment, how do you keep hatred in check? — his answer was almost dismissive: Hating clouds the mind. It gets in the way of strategy. Leaders cannot afford to hate.