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There are many terrific tributes being paid to Nelson Mandela on his birthday, and justifiably so. Mine is a simple one. I don’t know him, I’ve never met him, and sadly I only saw him once from a distance.Yet he has moved me in a way that no other leader in my lifetime has.
Leadership by example is underrated these days. Perhaps because leadership by soundbite is so much easier, or perhaps because a great vision carries so much political and personal risk. Of course, Nelson Mandela could deliver a great quote with the best of them. Anyone who has been to the wall of quotes at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg will know this. He also had a heightened sense of political risk in the way that I suspect only those who have come so close to a death sentence could.
Yet for a man to emerge from 27 years in prison with so much humanity and grace after suffering such injustice and inhumanity was truly remarkable. He was denied freedom for the bulk of his adult life and suffered the pain of being unable to be, by his standards, a true father and son. Not being allowed to bury his son, who died in a car crash, or his mother, compounded this pain. He also lost many of his closest friends, including Chris Hani, his potential successor, who was assassinated in 1993.
The example he has set through the truth and reconciliation process, through encouraging people to focus on a potentially bright future rather than a dark past, through the way he conducts himself and above all the way he treats people with respect, marks him out as a very special type of leader. A striking example of this was when, as President, he invited Percy Yutar to lunch. Yutar was the man who successfully prosecuted him, resulting in his long incarceration, and argued for the death penalty. When they met, Mandela famously treated him like a long lost friend.
Few people who have heard, read, seen or met Nelson Mandela have failed to be moved by his extraordinary presence. His life, so dominated by his “long walk to freedom”, has been remarkable in shaping him in a unique way. That a man could have emerged from so long in prison with his resilience, charm and charisma makes him one of the great leaders. His capacity to unite with a twinkle, to defuse with a smile and to galvanise with his logic is truly exceptional.
I wonder how many people have been inspired by his example and have then influenced others. For me, Mandela has been a solar power, a source of energy and inspiration and I feel sure that he will continue to move me and countless others until the day we expire.
Patrick Dunne, Editor Eric Akoto