among African leaders, Nelson Mandela is one of few
statesmen to have achieved almost universal respect around
the world and across the political spectrum.
role in fighting apartheid, his imprisonment on Robben
Island - where he came to symbolize the struggle of
oppressed people around the world - and his ability to
steer South Africa through the crisis of its rebirth have
earned him the international reputation of benevolent
negotiator and quintessential peacemaker.
Imprisoned for 27 years for his opposition to apartheid,
Mandela came out of prison in 1990 expressing no
bitterness towards his tormentors. Instead, he championed
reconciliation among South Africa's polarized races,
espousing the principles of nation-building and
Mandela was one of the few leaders capable of inspiring
confidence both inside and outside the country. Few others
would have managed to unite the disparate warring parties
and steer South Africa from what seemed to be the brink of
some, Mandela has a near-omnipotent power at the
negotiating table, carrying with him an indubitable moral
authority and gentle but firm sense of fairness. In
1993, he was awarded the
Nobel Peace Prize, which he shared with former South
African president FW de Klerk.
"Everyone wanted to have a photo opportunity with him: the
Spice Girls, Princess Di, various heads of state and
miscellaneous politicians ... the list is endless."
(Desmond Tutu in his foreword to Mandela: a Life in
South Africa's first democratically elected President in
1994, Mandela tackled the challenge of uniting both
the country's racial groupings and a fragmented public
service whose delivery mandate was skewed in favor of the
significant milestone of the his presidency was the
exemplary constitution-making process, which delivered a
document that is the envy of the democratic world.
Mandela is equally
known for taking a strong stand against the giant world
powers - especially in defense of Africa. As President, he
was unrestrained in embracing the ANC's former allies,
such as Libya's Muammar Gadaffi and Palestinian Liberation
Organization leader Yasser Arafat, in spite of criticism
from the United States.
position has also made for fluid relationships with both
Russia and China, former communist allies of the ANC.
handing over the reigns of the presidency to Thabo Mbeki
in 1999 - Mbeki had been groomed for the job since 1994 -
Mandela has played a key role as middleman in crisis-hit
particular, he sealed a peace deal with the warring
factions in Burundi, after replacing Tanzania's Julius
Nyerere - an African leader of similar status - as chief
was also called upon to hammer out a peace agreement in
the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Mbeki took
over his role in that war-ravaged country, which in 2006
held its first presidential elections in over 40 decades.
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