CHAPTER TWO – ALWTF
Mandela tells of a lesson he learned as a young boy that was later to stand him in good stead as a statesman.
While attempting to mount an unruly donkey, the animal bolted into a nearby thorn-bush and unseated young Nelson. He recalls the embarrassment he felt in front of his friends. African people have a highly developed sense of dignity, and that donkey had been responsible for Nelson’s loss of dignity before his peers.
He recounts that his shame that day taught him not to ever unnecessarily humiliate another person, and that it was possible to defeat an opponent without dishonouring him. Mandela remained true to this conviction.
Perhaps the greatest example of this was during the negotiation process with President FW de Klerk. Mandela’s release was a victory for the ANC, and yet he was careful not to put down his opponent, but rather to acknowledge de Klerk’s positive contribution in his freedom speech:
“Mr de Klerk has gone further than any other Nationalist President before him in taking real steps to normalise the situation…It must be added that Mr de Klerk himself is a man of integrity who is acutely aware of the dangers of a public figure not honouring his undertakings…”
Four years later, when victory was complete and the ANC had won the general election that would see their roles reversed, with Mandela becoming president of the republic, he acknowledged the cheers of the crowds by raising FW de Klerks hand in a combined victory salute.
If it were not for the graciousness of Nelson Mandela in victory, the peaceful transition to a new democracy in South Africa might have taken a longer, more troubled path. The white minority felt safe with a man for whom victory was not an opportunity to humiliate another.
How do you feel about Mandela the diplomatic statesman? Was he perhaps too respectful of his opponents? Should he have driven home the ANC victory more aggressively? What other great statesmen in world history could he be likened or compared to?