Sir Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was a world-class leader. His leadership style a rarity. He was the ultimate leader of his time. History will reverend him for years to come. He was awesome and graceful as he grew into a statesman. It will take a very long time to fully understand the Mandela dynamic and impact. His grasp on justice, equality and parity overwhelms. He was willing to die for his belief in freedom.
After being jailed for five years doing hard labor, he said, “If I had my time over I would do the same again, so would any man who dares call himself a man.” He inspired, he demonstrated, he fought, but most of all he led. He fought for his country, for his people, for what was right for his nation, and he changed the world. He ended apartheid in South Africa, but he changed the world and became iconic in doing so.
He was born of royalty and was a lawyer by academic training. He was the first in his family to attend school. He moved to Johannesburg where he joined the ANC to become a founding member of its Youth League. He was militant, sometimes classified as a “terrorist.” In 1962 he was convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the government and sentenced to life imprisonment where he served 27 years. His first wife, Winnie Mandela, was his protest hell raising partner and kept his name, his cause and his politic alive. She traveled the world fundraising, speaking at forums, holding meetings with political and movement types to keep the cause moving and his name alive. She was successful.
He was released from prison on February 11, 1990 to a world stage, he walked out of jail, hand in hand with his wife Winnie. Black America set clocks for early morning wake up and were spellbound as we watched the release before going to work or school that morning. A country cried and South Africans jumped for joy as the warrior gave his first speech as a free man to his people as he announced, unapologetically, a new South Africa that would be what he called “race free.”
He opened negotiations with President F. W. deKlerk to abolish apartheid and established multiracial election in 1994. He ran for President of South Africa as the country conducted its first multiracial democratic elections. People stood in line for hours to vote. Mandela cast his very first vote for himself.
He was victorious and a masterful politician. American government and press did not always treat Mandela warmly or nicely. The mainstream press’ big question was, what did Mandela look like, since he had not been seen for nearly 30 decades? Time and Newsweek Magazine had imaginary cover images.
He came out of jail, after 27 years, like he had been on vacation. He was an older man, who was very much contemporary and obviously well bred and read. He suppressed his anger. Many of the pundits say he wasn’t angry. Rubbish. How can you be sentenced to 27 years of hard labor, abusive treatment, locked up, denied your family and not be angry? Behind close doors he was discontent but never in public. He grew better not bitter. He was patient. He realized he could not complete his purpose of peace and create a race free society as an angry man. So negatives were suppressed and never displayed, publically. He was media savvy.
Mandela toured three American cities in 1993. New York gave him a parade reserved for sports winners hosted by Mayor David Dinkins. That tour included Chicago. The Reverend Jesse Jackson was his coordinating host. I was on the team to welcome him at PUSH during his three-day visit. People were in droves on 50th and Drexel dressed in African garb. Rev. Jackson and the PUSH family welcomed him victoriously. He spoke and the crowd was silent, listening to every deliberate word and then we roared.
I had the opportunity to coordinate a private party at the lovely home of Attorney Bob Bennett in Kenwood. It was yet another fundraiser for a few to meet and talk to Mandela up close and personal. It was a select group. I had my fifteen minutes with him. He was absolutely regal. He loved people. There were never too many. As you spoke to him or he to you, he was captivating. It was as though you were speaking to a King with a common touch. He was reserved yet friendly.
I presented him with my book, “A Lasting Impression” on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I gave him copies of N’DIGO. Right there on the spot, he began to go through the book and read N’DIGO. After a short review, he asked, me if I could produce N’DIGO in South Africa. He said we could use this in our country. I was stunned and my mind became racy. He was eloquent. He gave me a contact name for follow up. I visited with the Chicago Tribune powers, to discuss the possibility and explore the opportunity. I was told not to do it, because the state of press in South Africa was very different from the states and the concept of “freedom of the press” was not the case there. I agreed. I was struck and stuck, however, on Mandela’s idea.
He asked me another question. Why did Black people dress up in African garb as they visited him? He said, do they note that I am in a navy blue suit, ready for business meetings. I laughed. He said, before I travel to Europe or America, I call up Mr. Valentino and order six navy blue suits. He said, American Blacks don’t always understand Africa. He told me one of the qualities of South Africa slightly known was its good wine. But he said the negative image of the country tainted the wine image, unlike the Parisians. He said one day South Africa would be the romantic city. Meanwhile, he said, I recommend to you South Africa wine.
Mandela was eloquent. His command of the language was beautiful, poetry in motion. He clearly was a word master and thought about his address. He understood the sound bite. He was a black man, who embraced his heritage and shared it. He spoke on why inequalities were wrong. He took the negatives of his country and skillfully turned them around. He over-came adversity.
His legacy is rich. He received the highest honors in the world to include the Nobel Peace Prize. He was friends with the high and mighty and never lost sight of the common man that he fought for. He loved children, always encouraging education. His manner was quite serious, yet he appreciated wit and a good joke. He smiled and laughed a lot. He was patient to take a picture with just you and him.
He loved America. He encouraged Black Americans to visit and even come live in South Africa. He loved Justice. He loved his people. He admitted his wrong. He learned from his mistakes. He was a master strategist. He wrote wonderful books and there are many biographies to discuss the details of his life. He told his story in his own words. My favorite book is “Conversation with Myself” that is notes and letters he wrote in jail. He taught us many lessons.
He was an incredible interview. He was interviewed with Nightline’s Ted Kobel on February 11, l990 in a brilliant moment of TV. His leadership will be studied for decades to come. The leaders of the world will bow to him as he is laid to rest. He serves as an example for kings and presidents and popes in power and to come. He lived a hell of 95 years.
VIVA MANDELA !