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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

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.

"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.

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]

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.

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.”

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)

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.

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.

"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.”

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.

Jacob Zuma: Mandela died peacefully

South African President Jacob Zuma says anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela died peacefully, surrounded by friends and family. (Associated Press)

At the South African embassy in D.C.

Peter Boyce, 50, a political consultant in Washington, D.C., came to the South African Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue and tried to get officials to remove the fence that separates the crowd from the statue of Nelson Mandela.

“He is one of the few heroes I have in this world,” Boyce said. “What grabs me is he didn’t take anger with him when ruling South Africa. To do that as a man makes him more godlike. To swallow his anger, to swallow his pain, to swallow the injustices. Why? Because he was thinking of the whole world and saying yes it is possible to be free without violence, to come out sane and rational.”

Boyce clutched the fence. Behind the fence the statue glowed. Mourners had placed red bouquets of roses and candles.

“The barbed wire represents oppression, something this man fought against,” Boyce said. “Take down the fence just for tonight.”

What happens next to the ANC?

ANC activists hang flags on lamp post near the Vilakazi Street home of Nelson Mandela. (Getty Images)

ANC activists hang flags on lamp post near the Vilakazi Street home of Nelson Mandela. (Getty Images)

Mandela devoted his life not only to ending apartheid and promoting reconciliation, he also devoted attention to building the African National Congress, now nearly 102 years old. He served as president of its youth league, president of the ANC in the Transvaal region, deputy national president and ANC president. In the first post-apartheid elections, the ANC won 62.65 percent of the vote.

But even before Mandela’s death, the ANC began suffering from internal strains and it could fracture before the next elections.

In April 2012, the ANC expelled its youth league leader Julius Malema, who has formed a new party called the Economic Freedom Fighters. He hopes to tap the young and disenfranchised. An article in the South African publication Business Day notes that 20 percent of voters in 2014 could be young, first-time voters. Someone born the day Mandela was released would now be 22 years old.

The ANC will probably put forward its deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, a lawyer who was formidable head of the mineworkers union when I was in South Africa in the 1980s. After being passed over by Mandela for the spot of deputy president, he made a fortune in the business world before returning to the ANC. Now it isn’t clear whether people will rally behind him given the lucrative business deals he’s made and a position he held on the board of a company that owned a mine where strikers were killed in a confrontation with police.

Another party lining up support is the centrist Democratic Alliance, whose lineage goes back to the progressive white opposition party in the apartheid-era parliament. It is led by former journalist and anti-apartheid activist Helen Zille. As mayor of Cape Town, she tackled crime, drug abuse and unemployment.  She is premier of the Western Cape province.

Meanwhile Mamphela Ramphele, a prominent economist and former World Bank official, has founded a new party called Agang. (Mamphele bore two children with Steve Biko, the Black Consciousness Movement leader and physician who was tortured to death in police custody in 1977.) “The ruling African National Congress (ANC) appears formidable … but is like a rotten tree,” she said last month.  She’s building an organization, but her poll numbers are low for now.

A new Mandela movie on the big screen

Mandela is the subject of a movie that recently made its debut in the U.S.: “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” a biographical film starring Idris Elba.

The film traces Mandela’s life from his time as a young lawyer to his later years as a globally revered statesman. Elba talked about his happiness at hearing that Mandela liked his portrayal in the film, which broke a box office record in South Africa upon its release.

Watch the trailer here:

Desmond Tutu on Mandela's moral courage

Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning former archbishop of Cape Town, recalled Mandela in an essay for On Faith:

Like a most precious diamond honed deep beneath the surface of the earth, the Madiba who emerged from prison in January 1990 was virtually flawless.

Instead of calling for his pound of flesh, he proclaimed the message of forgiveness and reconciliation, inspiring others by his example to extraordinary acts of nobility of spirit.

He embodied what he proclaimed — he walked the talk. He invited his former jailer to attend his presidential inauguration as a VIP guest, and he invited the man who led the state’s case against him at the Rivonia Trial, calling for the imposition of the death penalty, to lunch at the presidency.

Head to On Faith to read the entire thing.

Photo of Obama visiting Mandela's cell

The White House tweeted this photo, which shows President Obama’s visit to Mandela’s jail cell earlier this year:

The scene outside Mandela's house

Erin Conway-Smith, a journalist in Johannesburg, posted this video showing the scene outside Mandela’s house:

Video: Obama's remarks on Nelson Mandela

“He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages,” President Obama said of former South African leader Nelson Mandela. Read a full transcript of Obama’s remarks here.

Remembering Mandela's release from prison

I contacted my old friend Vivienne Walt, a native of South Africa and now a Paris-based contributor to Time magazine. In 1991, she was the South Africa correspondent for New York’s Newsday. Tonight she remembered the day of Mandela’s release from prison:

“The morning after his release the entire press corps gathered in the garden of the Archdiocese resident in Cape Town, since Desmond Tutu was Archbishop at the time. Mandela and Winnie came down the garden steps like a couple about to be married. Mandela looked at the big boom mikes of the TV crews, and joked that he wasn’t quite sure what that was, but that it looked like it might be a weapon of some kind.

“He had been away for so, so long. He’d missed the entire women’s movement, for example — so when I interviewed him in his Soweto garden the next week — a tiny little patch of grass — a servant brought a glass of orange juice and sat it in front of me, and I ignored it. Finally, Mandela leaned over and said, ‘drink your orange juice my dear, it won’t spoil your pretty little figure.’ It stopped me dead in my tracks: No political figure who’d been around through the 1980s would dare say such a remark. But it was warm, and gentle, and funny.

“Some time later, I boarded a plane from Johannesburg to Cape Town at midnight, and found myself alone with Mandela and his bodyguard, whom I knew from his days in exile in Zambia. I persuaded the bodyguard to swap seats with me, and I had Mandela to myself, on the eve of the beginning of talks over a transition to democracy. He was by then tired — and perhaps overwhelmed by the press — and it was not much of an interview, despite the memorable circumstances.”

Obama expected to travel to South Africa

President Obama is expected to travel to South Africa to honor Mandela, my colleague Zachary A. Goldfarb reports.

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