COMMENTARY: I Remember Nelson Mandela

Cape Charles Wave

December 7, 2013

Rarely is anything printed in the Wave that does not relate directly to the Eastern Shore. But the passing of Nelson Mandela compels me to write about what he meant to me. I offer this commentary to those who may be interested, while recognizing that it is not for everyone.

Among the early accounts of Mandela’s death December 5 at age 95 was a striking quote from, of all people, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He said: “President Mandela’s life is the closest thing we have to proof of God.” I would call that an overstatement, but I agree with the sentiment that Mandela, at least within the group of people we label politicians, was heads and shoulders above all the others. Mandela was a modern statesman in a time when the word seems obsolete.

Somewhere in my old collection of VHS tapes I have the Sunday morning recording I made of Mandela’s release from prison February 11, 1990, after 27 years of confinement. At the time I was training for my upcoming assignment to South Africa as a political aide to the U.S. ambassador.

I arrived in South Africa in June, just four months after Mandela’s release from prison. The country was in a state of hypertension, with all races fearful that a civil war would shortly erupt. For more than a decade, the conventional wisdom had been that war was inevitable.

This was where Mandela showed his genius for toughness encased in humility. During the negotiations between his African National Congress and the white ruling government, his eloquence, humility, intellect, determination, and yes – sense of humor – eroded the white power structure’s long-held conviction that a black president would run their nation into the ground, just as they had seen happen in Zimbabwe and elsewhere. [Read more…]