I have never seen President Nelson Mandela as handsome as at some state banquet in Tuynhuys, wearing a black brocaded shirt, looking every inch the regal gentleman that he is. And it was those shirts that set a new fashion trend for politicians and that typified Mandela not only as an exceptional political leader and president, but also as a very modern president, despite his age. He not only upheld SA's very progressive Constitution, he also lived it. Live and let live depicts Mandela's reign. He was the epitome of reconciliation, tolerant of diversity, truly non-racial, fond of women and children, and respectful of all, no matter who and what they are. Who would have had tea with Betsie Verwoerd, the wife of the architect of apartheid, after his release from prison?
That he was SA's first president was a gift from God. While the New Constitution was the foundation for our new democracy, Mandela created the climate for this democracy to take root. I shall never forget our first meeting with Mandela, when he inaugurated SA's first Human Rights Commission, of which I was a member. Each of us had to introduce ourselves to him and when it came to my turn, he said: "And why are you so silent unlike your grandfather, Clements Kadalie, who turned the country upside down." It was not long before he referred to me as "that troublesome woman"! Mandela set the bar very high for those who would follow him and so often we compare Mandela to the rest of Africa's leaders because he is so exceptional and many of them so bad. But for his stature and exemplary style of leadership, Nelson Mandela should be compared to the world's best, the world's charismatic and exemplary leaders like Franklin D Roosevelt, John F Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Bill Clinton, Seretse Khama, Salvador Allende, Garfield Todd, and many others.
While the nation laments the fact that Mandela retired after one term, he set the example to those who want to cling to power regardless and sent out a very important message to political leaders, that they are not indispensable and should make room for and groom others. He turned a bad prison experience into a blessing. Maybe, ironically, prison saved him from the mess of liberation.