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Nelson Mandela: breaking the shackles of revenge

“It was not he who sought glory, it was glory that sought him.”

Writing in O Globo, Fernando Henrique Cardoso reflects on what made Nelson Mandela a unique and inspiring leader.

The entire world mourns the death of Nelson Mandela. For us Brazilians his actions went beyond a call for the consolidation of an independent nation, representing the struggle for the liberation of human beings from the bonds of both of racism and revenge. His life was surrounded by an aura of grandeur, of decency and of humility. No one better defined the relationship between Mandela and his contemporaries than his compatriot Mamphela Ramphele: "It was not he who sought glory, it was glory that sought him."

I met with Mandela on several occasions. The first was in 1995, two years after he was elected President of South Africa and the last was in May 2010. Mandela formed a group, The Elders – former leaders willing to continue the struggle for peace and for decency in the world – and was generous enough to include me among the ten chosen leaders. He dined with us at our meeting in May 2010 in Johannesburg, even though he was already weakened by age and by the marks of so many years of struggle and suffering. He remained lucid and aware of the tragedies in the world, especially those happening in Africa.

His simplicity, and at the same time the personal magnetism that marked his presence, left strong impressions on those who came into contact with him. There are several ways for a leader to demonstrate their ability to guide and to command. Some exhibit energy and boldness. Others possess a certain demagogy and proximity to those being ruled. There are also those who use the intellectual and emotional persuasion of words in order to be heard. Mandela dispensed all of this: the presence of this slender, elegant, genteel man, with a voice varying from hoarse to strident, striking, made his gestures and his words almost saintly. Without the need for him to remind us, his every move brought to the audience's mind – whether one person or a crowd – the past of a fighter who did not flee the challenges of armed struggle, a lawyer who embraced the cause of the humiliated and the subjugated, the prisoner who held himself equal to others in the heavy toil of breaking stones, the politician who, although still not released, refused to compromise, but as soon as he had a free voice preached unequivocal reconciliation.

Such was the impression of being almost superhuman that Mandela left amongst those around him or that knew of his actions and words, that he himself was unnerved. In the last book that he published, Conversations with Myself (which I had the honour to receive from the hands of Graça Machel, with a dedication from the author, when she came to São Paulo last year to inaugurate the Centre that bears the name of someone who was her friend and my wife, Ruth Cardoso), Mandela warns of the errors that he made and rejects the pedestal on which almost all have placed him: "The trouble, of course, is that most successful men are prone to some form of vanity. There comes a stage in their lives when they consider it permissible to be egotistic and to brag to the public at large about their unique achievements." (p 6)

Contrary to this posture, Mandela leaves a different message. There is a stage in life in which every social reformer resorts to thunderous platforms as a way of apologising for ill-digested fragments of information that have accumulated in their mind, as if it were an attempt to "impress the crowds rather than to start a calm and simple exposition of principles and ideas whose universal truth is made evident by personal experience and deeper study." (p 45)

He adds, "I have been victim of the weakness of my own generation not once but a hundred times. I must be frank and tell you that when I look back at some of my early writings and speeches I am appalled by their pedantry, artificiality and lack of originality. The urge to impress and advertise is clearly noticeable." (p 45)

In his later years, he stated calmly: "I don’t want to incite the crowd. I want the crowd to understand what we are doing and I want to infuse a spirit of reconciliation to them." (p 326)

There is no need to add anything to record the greatness of someone who knew how to show his people and all of us the path to sincerity, brotherhood and the continuous struggle for equality with a simplicity that can only be praised. We mourn his death, we guard his testimony and his lessons.

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On the Web
#MyMandela leadership is practicing humility and inner strength
@unfoundation #MyMandela he showed us that even through adversity, anything is still possible
@TheElders #MyMandela means to me human values. We are paying him tribute today because we appreciate his humanity. Let us simply be humans.
All these tributes to Mandela making me tear up. What a man, what a legacy, what an inspiration and what a legend #MyMandela -
Tata was a phenomenal man of courage, love and wisdom! We will carry him in our hearts always #MyMandela
@TheElders Madiba shaped my thinking. By Uniting ppl & finding common purpose one can move the world to b a better place. #MyMandela
@theelders, Mandela means, peace and excellence to me #mymandela... Agoha Obed
@unfoundation #MyMandela He stood firm as a man against giants. He was the light of dawn after a decade of darkness.
@hecticnine9 #mymandela Left us with love....
President @BarackObama: "Like Martin Luther King, #Madiba gave a voice to the oppressed" #MandelaMemorial #RIPNelsonMandela #MyMandela
forgiveness, humility, progress, change, inspirational #MyMandela
#MyMandela is the one who granted me freedom of my dignity... I should fight for my dignity...
@TheElders #Nelson Mandela epitomises the values needed to make the world a peaceful and livable place. #MyMandela
@TheElders I am so grateful to have been privileged to walk this earth while he was in it #MyMandela
#MyMandela showed me what never giving up, no matter what, does to and for your spirit and what authentic forgiveness and courage are. PEACE
@TheElders he stood for integrity, compassion and peace #MyMandela
@TheElders peace & foregiveness #MyMandela
I have an education and speak a european language because he fought for equality #MyMandela
Energy in SA to keep alive Madiba's values is electric! @TheElders #mymandela
Time to re-read #MyMandela's books. Not to learn about him but to learn from him #leadership
The greatest gift he gave me was freedom to know all the amazing people in this land, across all divides. Thats leadership #MyMandela #tata
@TheElders #MyMandela Madiba means knowing what is worth fighting for, sacrificing for, to never give up, and grace in victory.
RT @TheElders: What does Nelson Mandela mean to you? Share your tributes with us using #MyMandela
Resilience n selflessness. He is also a good example of someone who lived out his purpose. #MyMandela
We all have a Mandela inside of us. It's up to us if we listen to it & act on it. Thank U Madiba for being a great example 2 me. #MyMandela
You're gone but not forgotten, God bless you, Sir, may He gives you the best place on His side #MyMandela
Nelson Mandela refused to hate, because the content of his character far exceeded that of oppressors in South Africa and America #MyMandela
"The most inspiring individual I have ever met" – Mary Robinson's personal tribute to Nelson Mandela http://t.co/4XMqhKMC… #MyMandela
@TheElders Tata Madiba was colour blind – he didn’t see colour, race, sex or belief – he saw a human being. #MyMandela
@TheElders #MyMandela A warrior of peace and love for mankind.
What does Nelson Mandela mean to you? Share your tributes with us using #MyMandela
RT @TheElders: What does Nelson Mandela mean to you? Share your tributes with us using #MyMandela
@TheElders #NelsonMandela encompasses everything that is good, in a world that is badly in need of goodness.. #MyMandela
RIP #NelsonMandela. We lost him in the physical realm but his legacy lives boundless in every form of existence. Home at Last #MYMANDELA.
@TheElders #MyMandela Enkosi 4 modeling value of education,how one can rise above any circumstance.Ur sacrifice has earned us opportunities.
My President♥. “Long walk to Freedom Ends for Tata - But It Continues for us.” #MyMandela.
@TheElders "Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage; Minds innocent and quiet take That for a hermitage" #MyMandela #Madiba
A very remarkable man, altruistic and a philanthropic. We should carry on where he left off or history will be harsh on us. #MyMandela
@TheElders "This man has done his duty to his country and to his people" #MyMandela
@TheElders @VirginUnite That even though it may seem impossible, people can make the world a better place #MyMandela Thankyou Nelson Mandela
@unfoundation #MyMandela to me stands for Forgiveness. For understanding that without forgiveness we cannot move forward towards justice.
@TheElders that each one shouldn't only dwell on what they're against but make known what they stand for. #MyMandela
@TheElders It’s now left for us to learn from the unique example #MyMandela set and preserve his legacy by living in peace with one another.
@TheElders Reconciliation beyond hatred. Patience and sacrifice. #MyMandela
RT @TheElders: What does Nelson Mandela mean to you? Share your tributes with us using #MyMandela
We are honoured to have experienced someone like #MyMandela... Peace & Love is what he lived for, Freedom & Equality is what he fought for.
He did his first freedom speech in Cape Town and he makes his only freedom exit in Pretoria. Even in death he is fair #MyMandela
#MyMandela means to me that I can use the 'first class' carriage on trains to work and home.
"Mandela's most important lesson was that he never sought power for the sake of power." @KofiAnnan http://t.co/FUIjyL3Y… #MyMandela
@VirginUnite @TheElders Words cannot describe my feelings as a South African towards him...perhaps the title 'Hero' comes close. #MyMandela
He was released at a difficult time of my life. Recalling tears I shed that day helped me come to terms with who I was @TheElders #MyMandela
#MyMandela I think his courage, confidence ,his understanding that each individual matters & his belief in the strength of a caring society.
#MyMandela-I was honored to shake hands with Tata. A moment I'll never forget. May ur warm and forgiving spirit live on in us all. RIP Tata.
@theelders As a black South African to me he was the epitome of peace,reconciliation,humility and humanity #MyMandela
#MyMandela. The passing of Nelson Mandela is a great loss. He started The Elders, which I've worked on for 6 years. Amazing man, legacy.
#MyMandela True leadership: selfless, visionary, compassionate, makes the impossible happen, trades short term for long term gain
I can't deal... what a great loss, what a great man, what an amazing human being. #MyMandela #RestInEternalPeace #RIPNelsonMandela
Beautiful tributes from all over the world. Search for #MyMandela Moving and fitting for this great man. #Respect
It doesn't feel real yet that Tata Madiba is gone home to God. He lived his well and will be missed. #MyMandela
@TheElders #mymandela...madiba made me proud to b African as a child..somehow, I just thought he'd always be around. Thank you Madiba

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