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Ending 2013: Mandela’s example taken note of worldwide …

  • December 20th, 2013
  • Posted by EU Australia

Nelson_Mandela-2008_(edit)RESIZEThe death of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, on 5.12.13, brought a thoughtful and respectful response worldwide, in keeping with the well-recognised character of the man.

The former anti-apartheid campaigner who served 27 of his 95 years as a political prisoner, provided moral leadership during the country’s transition from enforced racial segregation, and minority rule, to a system of democratic government.

Released from gaol in 1990 he became the President of his party, and dominant political force of the country, the African National Congress (ANC); and in an open vote he became President of South Africa, 1994-99 – the first black person in that office.

He had negotiated the transition with the last Afrikaner Head of State, FW de Klerk, who had brought him out of incarceration; and in 1993 to honour the spirit of their achievement, the two were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The memory of Mandela, honoured among his people with the familiar name of Madiba, generated extraordinary scenes of  celebration during the obsequies after his death. A long-expected passing was sorrowfully noted, a brilliant and noble life was to be recalled with some joy.

Nelson Mandela, a lively man with an unusual public personality, indelibly marked by his firmness, reasonableness and forbearance, had suffered personal distress and much vilification in his early political life. A frank admission that he could justify taking up arms for freedom had brought a heavy price; those looking to criticise declared they saw a terrorist in his walk – the surmise hardly borne out by the eventual turn of events.

During ten days of mourning, thousands gathered at the FMB Stadium in Johannesburg.

The crowds included a parade of Heads of Government and Heads of State, among them some of the more cynical, useless and insensitive political beings to be seen on the planet; who perhaps took some heed of the homilies they would receive there.

Obama_Madiba_MemorialThe outstanding figure, President Barack Obama of the United States, declared: “He made me want to be a better man.”

Mr Obama balanced his own gesture of reconciliation, going out of his way to shake the hand of Raoul Castro, communist President of Cuba, with his comment that all government leaders needed to “tolerate dissent from among their own people.”

After lying in state for two days, Mr Mandela’s body was laid to rest in his home district in the Eastern Cape, during a second ceremony on 15.12.13.

FOOTNOTE

Events reported in the news take their place as a rough draft, or footnote of the process of history, writes Lee Duffield.

Lee Duffield ResizedA short advisory note from the Dutch Foreign Ministry in 1990 said the South African President FW de Klerk, and his Foreign Minister Roelof “Pik” Botha, would be attending regular and strictly bilateral talks with the Netherlands government at The Hague. There would be a media conference but, it was made clear, no story for outsiders.

Nevertheless, working from Brussels for Australian radio, I knew Nelson Mandela had been released and was visiting Australia; no question but to go to The Hague.

True to format the meeting with journalists was being conducted in Dutch, few outside media were there, but a moment came when it was possible to made a bid: “Australian media” was enough to obtain the fixed and alert attention of the two South African politicians, reacting much like Australian politicians, little doubt about what was closest to the forefront of their minds.

“Would Mr De Klerk consider serving under a black President of South Africa?”  He said he would, if the person was freely elected under a fully democratic system. It was very good for the news in Australia, but apparently also the first public utterance of such an idea; friends and colleagues in South Africa said later it was picked up by the local media and created a hullabaloo.

As history will record, Mr de Klerk did serve under a black President, for two years as Deputy President to Nelson Mandela.

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