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Nelson Mandela RIP

As was inevitable, Nelson Mandela has died, aged 95.

I was fortunate enough to briefly met him when he visited New Zealand in the 1990s. It was the typical two second greet and meet, but he had almost an aura about him that I have not encountered before or since. Former Governor-General Cath Tizard summed it up well:

He put his arm around my shoulders as we walked back to the terminal – and thereafter called me Cathy. What a lovely man he was. He quite enchanted everyone he met with his natural manner and simple charm. I was more in awe of him than of any of the queens, kings and presidents I had ever met.

Mandela had a special role in the world, for three reasons, I would say. One was his incredible personal humility and charm. The other two were his role as the leader of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and the other was his role as the first democratically elected President of South Africa.

His role in the anti-apartheid struggle was controversial. While the struggle was noble, the tactics changed from civil disobedience to armed struggle. Reasonable people can disagree on whether it is legitimate to resort to violence, if you are not allowed to vote on the basis of your race, and there is no prospect of change. For my 2c, I don’t think resorting to violence was the right decision, but I may have thought differently if I was a black in South Africa in the 1950s and 1960s.

He spent 27 years in prison. Upon his release he was elected President of South Africa in their first democratic elections. And his remarkable legacy is that he preached peace and reconciliation, not revenge. Let me tell you that if my political enemies kept me in jail for 27 years, then the last thing on my mind coming out would be peace and reconciliation. I would have a very long list of names I wanted utu on.

Of course post-apartheid South Africa is far from ideal. It has many challenges, partly because so much of its population were kept out of decent education and jobs for generations. But if any other person bar Mandela had become their first President, I think it would be far far worse. He was elected at the age of 75, and in an act of unification made F W De Klerk his Deputy President.

Acts that greatly unified the country included reaching out to the widow of apartheid founder Hendrik Verwoerd with forgiveness and reconciliation, and also urging black South Africans to get behind the previously despised Springboks.

Mandela is not a saint, but he was a symbol, and he played the major role in eventually peacefully ending apartheid, that made the world a better place.

Political commentator David Farrar posts at Kiwiblog.

Comments and questions

Well written, I hope his legacy of reconciliation and equality will endure and his memory will be honoured by his fellow countrymen embracing those with a different point of view let alone of a different race, RIP

You're talking about Africa - where beauty and brutality has existed eons long before Adam was ever even invented. Not much chance of that ever happening. Stand by for more rivers of tears and blood...

Unfortunately his successors are not of the same calibre and corruption and violence are becoming entrenched.

I believe the current President has had to repay government funds he used to renovate his own properties. I am sure it was all an unfortunate misunderstanding but inauspicious to say the least.

I first went on business to South Africa in 1994 - 6 months after Nelson Mandela was elected President. Everyone I met had a spring in their step and once they discovered I was a NZer, some went to extraordinary lengths to show their gratitude (all races) for what NZ had contributed to the struggle for freedom.

One memorable incident in Cape Town occurred when I got on a train without a ticket. When the guard asked for my ticket, I told him I didn't have one. He looked at me sternly and ask where I was from. When I told him I was from NZ a big smile appeared on his face and he walked on by. He refused to take my fare. I felt incredibly safe everywhere I went.

Ten years later, the atmosphere had changed greatly. Hope and gladness had given way to disappointment and discouragement among many black and colored people. In recent time the situation has only got worse.

Be that as it may, none of this will tarnish the legacy of President Mandela. His eternal achievement is that it has he who gave South Africa and the World a glimpse of what is possible when the human spirit overcomes adversity. Rest in peace Madiba

Mandela certainly had the gift of charisma. But his legacy is very mixed. He walked out on the wife (with four children) children who had worked to put him through university.

Amnesty International would not support him because he advocated violence - including bombing supermarkets targeting women and children when he founded ANC - the spear of the nation.

For the same reason the South African government, desperate to release him, was unable to.

He thoroughly enjoyed going back to the island where he was imprisoned for photographers to record this...he certainly did not mind being attributed with a saintly personality - and he married the murderous Winnie Mandela.

The Western press has deified a very calculating individual ... putting one's arm around someone's shoulder and smarming is easily done. But his reputation in South Africa has been far less than what the Western press credits him with - and anti-apartheid South Africans were disappointed at the lack of substance in his speech-making after his release.

It's been said that fluency is the most dangerous gift of all - combine that with charisma and the mainstream media will always be bowled over like ninepins.

South Africa has continued along an utterly racist path, but this time the injustices are rained down on ordinary Black people by their own wealthy and corrupt Black hierarchy.

We heard very little from Mandela about this - but he certainly didn't mind posing with Western celebrities.

When the euphoria fades, Mandela's legacy will be more calmly and accurately evaluated

A country steeped in poverty, injustice and brutality produced a leader of peace and reconciliation like Mandela.

Around the same time, a rich country enjoying the rule of law produced a cynical and divisive economically incompetent politician who used sports for his own political gains and called Mandela a terrorist. That politician was Muldoon.

Fascinating, isn't it?