tribute George Bizos

On parallels between Madiba and Socrates:

Both were democrats. But while Socrates was silent on the position of the oppressed in Athens, the slaves, Madiba was part of the oppressed and decided to do something about it.

Both were convicted of "crimes" against the state that carried the death penalty.

Socrates', who respected the laws of the state, contended that he had not broken those laws. He did not expect to be charged, let alone sentenced to death, for what he was doing.

Madiba had no respect for the laws of the state. He said the state that passed the laws was not legitimate. He accepted that he may have transgressed the laws, but contended that he had done nothing morally wrong.

Their "apologias", their justifications before the court, left both men vulnerable to charges of arrogance. Socrates' arrogance led to his death. Unlike Socrates, Madiba had lawyers who told him: "Don't make the mistake that Socrates made". He was persuaded to soften the challenging tone of his statement from the dock by inserting the words, "if needs be" in relation to "I am prepared to die".


On his ability to see the bigger picture, to be persuaded and to take advice:

He grew from an African nationalist stance, which was exclusive, to an inclusive stance.

People like Yusuf Dadoo, Bram Fischer and the whites who took part in the defiance campaign of the early 1950s brought home to him that African exclusivity was not well founded and would be counterproductive to bringing about a solution.

He mellowed from the mid-1950s on and respected people in the Communist Party, in the churches, humanists ... he established the standard that it doesn't matter what your personal beliefs are, or your political or philosophical background. "Are you with us for the liberation of the majority?" This is what guided his actions, writings and behaviour from then on.

By the time he went to Robben Island he'd decided that Afrikaners had an important role to play in South Africa's future, and that a partnership with them was necessary. One of his first concerns in prison was to become proficient in Afrikaans. He insisted on speaking Afrikaans to the warders. A senior official told him to stop because his pronunciation was terrible. He was careful to stop young people from using racist remarks.

He was prepared to compromise if he felt it necessary to progress. For revolutionaries this is an anathema.

At Codesa, when it looked as if there'd be no deal, it was Madiba who called in Joe Slovo, the epitome of the revolutionary, to write an article on whether the time had not come to introduce the sunset clauses. It was Madiba's idea that compromise was necessary. This brought about the settlement without losing sight of what the end game would be.

Before he became president he was invited to Davos, where some of the G8 leaders told him that sticking to the economic policies of the Freedom Charter - nationalising the mines and big business - would undermine the progress of South Africa. He went back and told the ANC that South Africa could not afford to be isolated. That if it wanted to prosper it could not afford to rely on theories of the past.

There has always been this pragmatism in him. What I call this is leadership.

During negotiations, he allowed the Nats to believe their own propaganda that the ANC would not get more than 50 percent and they, with the IFP and others, would take the other 50 percent.

At one point FW De Klerk said to him: "Mr Mandela, when you join my government after the election you'll realise how little power a president really has."

Madiba didn't contradict him. He went public and said: "Don't take it for granted that we will win this election."

On being a man of principle:

There was an appeal for Mandela to stay on as president for a second term. He said he'd given his word and wanted to set an example.

"I want to lead by example." This is what he has done. He has led by example.

Madiba knows his limitations.

An article in the European issue of Time magazine said that he knew nothing about economics. When I told him, he said: "George, why do you say that as if you did not believe it'?"

He knows his limitations. He knows he is human.