Mandela was the ultimate negotiator. His time on the Island, instead of turning him into a bitter, uncompromising enemy of the State, prepared him to woo them into releasing him on his terms. He said:
“In prison, my anger towards whites decreased, but my hatred for the system grew.”
It was this ability to reach out to, and connect with, the men behind the hated system of apartheid, that paved the way for the miracle of a new South Africa. He did this while still a prisoner on the mainland.
What were the qualities that made him irresistible, even to his enemies?
Mandela was a reasonable man. He was always careful to listen to and understand the opposing point of view. He knew that when people feel understood, they are more likely to understand your own, albeit opposing, viewpoint. For the first time the ANC and the government accepted each other’s bona fides.
“I told them whites were Africans as well.”
Mandela always surprised, and disarmed, his opponents with his easy, gracious manner. He was a people person. Because he genuinely enjoyed being with people, and engaging with them, he was able to set them at ease – the perfect platform to negotiate on.
“In every meeting with an adversary, make the precise impression you intended to.”
Despite repeated delays and setbacks from the side of the government in their talks together, Mandela never gave up. He never allowed disappointment or ego to get in the way of the possibility of peace.
“Majority rule and internal peace are two sides of the same coin.”
This was Mandela’s greatest strength in negotiating. He was sure of his final position of majority rule, and never wavered. He was also prepared to move ahead with talks without the approval of the ANC leadership in exile – a radical step at the time. He knew that the situation demanded his personal leadership, and he took on that responsibility with confidence and a sure sense of history.
“There are times when a leader must move out ahead of the flock, go off in a new direction, confident that he is leading his people the right way.”
Do you think that, without Mandela, negotiations with the South African government would have ever even begun – never mind succeeded – as they did?