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Marking Mandela

Now is probably not a good time to look for a dispassionate review of Nelson Mandela’s life. There is a lot being said about him following his passing this week and, as is often the case after the death of an international figure, the air is full of panegyrics. However, while this sometimes seems a mere formality, I think the words of praise are on a fairly good foundation in this case. Nelson Mandela surely is one of the most significant people in recent history and, even during his lifetime, he was that rarest of beasts, a deeply respected politician.

How did he achieve this? He was a man of deep convictions, willing to suffer for them and willing to be locked away. It was perceived that he was also a man of integrity; he was on the world stage but the impression was that he wasn’t merely playing to the crowd but would have held firm even if “Free Nelson Mandela” hadn’t become such a stock phrase that I can remember seeing it on the tenements of places like South London in the 1980s. Many politicians like to claim integrity but less seek the other badge that Mandela wore: magnanimity. Prisoner became President but he forgave his enemies.

We could certainly do with more political leaders drawn from that kind of mould.

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