Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, died today at 95.
Mr. 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 often asked “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 Mandala formed “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.
And as president, from 1994 to 1999, he devoted much energy to moderating the bitterness of his black electorate and to reassuring whites against their fears of vengeance.
The explanation for his absence of rancor, at least in part, is that Mr. Mandela was that rarity among revolutionaries and moral dissidents: a capable statesman, comfortable with compromise and impatient with the doctrinaire.
Bill Keller writes in the NYT, in an interview in 2007, for his obituary in the NY Times, when asked “after such barbarous torment, how do you keep hatred in check,” Mandala responded almost dismissively, “Hating clouds the mind. It gets in the way of strategy. Leaders cannot afford to hate.” Bill Keller is the former executive editor of the NY Times. He “covered the end of apartheid as Johannesburg bureau chief from April 1992 until May 1995.”
The Lede has a running “Global Reaction” thread here.
Nelson Mandala was inspiration to millions of people around the world. His grace and understanding were incomparable. The world has lost a great citizen.