Nelson Mandela is one of the great men of our time. Imprisoned for three decades, he took his people towards independence through negotiations on the basis of equality. He did so without rancour or bitterness, bringing the former rulers and their victims together using new common values and newly shared objectives.
In so doing, he contributed to the salvation of his country. He showed how democracy can work, even when there are vast ethnic and linguistic differences.
Mandela first came to my notice shortly after my initial visit to South Africa, over 40 years ago, when he was on trial. I remember reading, with great emotion, the speech with which he addressed the court and thinking it was one of the noble documents of our period.
I would like to quote a few sentences from it:
“We want equal political rights because, without them, our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy, but this fear cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the only solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for all.
“It is not true that the enfranchisement of all will result in racial domination. Political division based on colour is entirely artificial, and when it disappears, so will the domination of one colour group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs, it will not change that policy.”
Mandela more than kept his word.
I met Mandela on one of his early visits to America. He had a lunch in Pittsburgh and did me the honour of inviting me.
I was deeply moved by his explanation of the South African evolution to an audience that did not fully understand that, for Mandela, the issue had become reconciliation rather than sanctions. In several meetings since then, and observing Mandela before many audiences, I saw that he had transcended the South African framework and had become a figure of global impact who lifted up all of humanity.
Every great idea was a dream before it became a reality. Mandela’s dreams of his youth were translated into a symbol for all of humanity.