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Reactions to Nelson Mandela’s death

Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid icon and former South African president, died December 6. He was 95.

TIMELINE: The life of Nelson Mandela

LIVE REACTION: Remembering Mandela

PHOTOS: An extraordinary life

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Mandela's most famous speech

On April 20, 1964, Mandela stood on the dock of a Pretoria courtroom and gave what Max Fisher calls “the defining speech of the anti-Apartheid movement.”

Mandela spent 29 minutes delivering this speech, which was given less than two months before he was sentenced to life in prison.

“We believe that South Africa belongs to all the people who live in it, and not to one group, be it black or white,” he said during the address. He went on to recount his story and passionately argue for his beliefs, for peace and for equality.

Read the speech here and listen to it here.

Mark Berman
December 5, 9:06 pm
  • Mark Berman December 5, 9:06 pm

"He insisted on the rule of law"

Mandela was a lawyer, and lawyerly in his manner. Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow for Africa Policy Studies John Campbell examines Mandela’s legacy in terms of South African governance and political freedom in a thoughtful Web post. Campbell writes:

He insisted on the rule of law. Apartheid may have been a crime against humanity, but there was no extralegal ‘revolutionary justice.’ Instead there was a Truth and Reconciliation Commission under the presidency of Archbishop Desmond Tutu that offered amnesty in return for confession to liberation fighters and members of the apartheid security services. Mandela assiduously observed the new constitution that enshrined the strongest protection of individual and minority rights anywhere in the world. Alone among African states, South Africa permits gay marriage, though much of the population remains homophobic.

Steven Mufson
December 5, 9:04 pm
  • Steven Mufson December 5, 9:04 pm

Mandela's first TV interview

Mandela gave his first-ever television interview in May 1961. During the interview, Mandela told the reporter that what he and others were seeking was simple: “political independence.”

Watch the video here:

[via Open Culture]

Mark Berman
December 5, 8:51 pm
  • Mark Berman December 5, 8:51 pm

Free, but still unequal


Mandela took over a South African economy deeply divided and unequal. And while “black empowerment” policies at South African companies have created a new black business elite and spread some of the wealth, the country’s economy still is plagued with problems.

The IMF put out a report on South Africa’s economy on Oct. 1. It said:

South Africa has posted major achievements since the transition to majority rule in 1994. Per capita GDP has increased by 40 percent in inflation-adjusted terms. The poverty rate has dropped by 10 percentage points. Schools and hospitals have been built in previously underserved areas, and government-financed houses have been made available to many in need. Social transfers now reach more than half of all households.

But here’s the bad news:

Still, in recent years, growth has been lower than in peer emerging markets and commodity exporters. Since 2009, South Africa’s growth has averaged 3 percent compared to 5 percent for emerging markets and 4 percent for commodity exporters

At these growth rates, the economy creates jobs, but not enough for the growing labor force and those currently without work. Unemployment remains stubbornly above 20 percent, or more than 30 percent when including those who have given up looking for a job. Youth unemployment is even higher at more than 50 percent.

While inequality along racial lines has decreased, income distribution in South Africa remains globally among the most unequal. At the lower end of the wage distribution, households’ purchasing power has stagnated over the last two decades.


Steven Mufson
December 5, 8:40 pm
  • Steven Mufson December 5, 8:40 pm

News breaks during Mandela movie premiere

News of Mandela’s death broke during the London premiere of “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” a new film about his life. His two youngest daughters were at the premiere at this time, the Associated Press reports:

His two youngest daughters, who were at the premiere, were told of their father’s death during the screening “and immediately left the cinema,” a statement from the Nelson Mandela Foundation said.

But they asked that the film continue screening before an audience that included Prince William and Kate. The film’s producer announced the news of his death to the crowd after the movie ended and asked for a moment of silence.

In a statement, Prince William said Mandela’s death was “extremely sad and tragic news,” adding “we were just reminded of what an extraordinary and inspiring man Nelson Mandela was.”

Mark Berman
December 5, 8:35 pm
  • Mark Berman December 5, 8:35 pm

Video: Dancing in front of Mandela's home

South Africans gathered outside the home of Nelson Mandela to celebrate his life through dance. (Associated Press)

Nicki DeMarco
December 5, 8:26 pm
  • Nicki DeMarco December 5, 8:26 pm

The power to make a deal stick

People sometimes ask: How did negotiations for the end of apartheid come about?

A leading Afrikaner businessman told me in 1987 that he had been trying to convince leaders of the white National Party that if they doubted their ability to keep power, they should negotiate an end to apartheid as early as possible before their position eroded. By that time, the rate of no-shows for military duty was rising. There was a modest but steady stream of capital flight. Millions of blacks were disregarding pass laws and residency restrictions, and were building self-governing structures and associations in the townships where the government’s control was waning.

The other reason: Mandela. The businessman said that there was no other black South African leader with the stature and authority to make an agreement stick. Even though there were other senior black ANC leaders in jail and in exile, Mandela was on a different plane, he said.

Steven Mufson
December 5, 8:25 pm
  • Steven Mufson December 5, 8:25 pm

Mandela and the art of resignation

Mandela was as much the father of his country as any of America’s founding fathers. Like George Washington, Mandela knew that the most important step was often a step away from power. His imprisonment was involuntary, but after being released from prison he at first deferred to ANC president-in-exile Oliver Tambo; that won him even more authority. And after a single five-year term as president, Mandela stepped down. Even when his successor Thabo Mbeki diverged from what Mandela might have done, on dealing with the AIDS crisis for example, Mandela was restrained. Garry Wills once wrote of George Washington that he turned resignation into “an act of pedagogical theater” and called America’s first president “a virtuoso of resignations.” So was Mandela.

Such people have been very rare in post-colonial Africa, whose first decades had been marred by coups, crooks, dictators and a few revolutionary-era figures who hung on long after demonstrating their inability to govern. I wrote about some of these figures during the 1980s. Some were corrupt like Mobutu Sese Seko, who stashed well over $1 billion in Switzerland and France. Others, like any number of Nigerian military leaders, preferred London for their money. There were independence-era leaders who were dogmatic. Then there was the perhaps less corrupt but simply inept Kenneth Kaunda, still surrounded by books on Marxism in his office when I met him in 1985. Many of these leaders established one-party states.

But Mandela understood the importance of political pluralism. He did not arrest his critics. He fully grasped the importance of governing – and not governing.

Steven Mufson
December 5, 8:16 pm
  • Steven Mufson December 5, 8:16 pm

"The season of violence is over"

My friend Vivienne Walt, Paris-based contributor to Time magazine, shared some more recollections of covering Mandela’s release. He had spent most of his prison time on Robben Island, but he had been transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town:

“Everyone talks about crowding around TV sets on Feb. 11, 1991, but for those of us who were outside the Pollsmoor prison gates it all seemed a little homespun, and even circus-like. Mandela – the most famous man on the planet – was driven away with no outriders or security, in a small car, that actually got lost on the long, chaotic drive to Cape Town City Hall. The choice of the mayor’s balcony for his first speech was crazy — there were literally TV cameramen about to topple over in the crush, trying to get a picture. His words were drowned out in the din.

“And actually the most historic words weren’t uttered that night. They were uttered nine days before in parliament — by President F.W. de Klerk. ‘The season of violence is over,’ he said. After that moment, South Africa would never be the same again. Mandela walking out of jail was a heart-stopping moment. But it was just one of many. There were exiled leaders like ANC President Oliver Tambo flying home. People were screaming through the streets, waving ANC flags that no one had seen for decades.”

Steven Mufson
December 5, 8:01 pm
  • Steven Mufson December 5, 8:01 pm

Obama orders flags flown at half-staff

President Obama has ordered flags lowered at half-staff from Thursday night through sunset on Monday, according to a White House news release issued a few minutes ago.

Mark Berman
December 5, 7:57 pm
  • Mark Berman December 5, 7:57 pm
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