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A Personal Portrait

by John Carlin

Pub Date: Dec. 10th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0062323934
Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Anecdotal, intimate remembrance of the South African leader by a journalist who grew to love him.

As the South African correspondent for the London Independent during the key years between the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990 and his election as president of South Africa in 1994, Carlin (Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation, 2008) offers a thoughtful tribute to this unparalleled leader within the frame of his leadership legacy. The author looks at the various tactics Mandela used to bring about a nearly miraculous transition from apartheid to all-inclusive democracy in South Africa. His 27-year imprisonment had softened the edges of the African National Congress leader, who had served as head of the group’s armed wing. He was condemned in his 1964 trial for taking up arms against the state; in prison at Robben Island and elsewhere, Mandela had turned his unimaginable suffering into a sense of duty, gravitas and forgiveness, even of his enemies. In prison, his natural graciousness won over even his white guards, and he began to study Afrikaans in an attempt to understand the Afrikaner and his history. Mandela’s ability to take the long view, as Carlin delineates, allowed him to see beyond calls for vengeance after violence broke out within black townships, instigated by the rival Inkatha group or after the assassination of ANC leader Chris Hani by a white man in 1993. Mandela’s magnanimity disarmed both blacks and whites, and his incredible stature as a much-needed peacemaker largely kept his estranged wife from being prosecuted for the violence and murderous actions she had encouraged in her bodyguards. Carlin zeroes in on Mandela’s dignified capacity to allow all people, despite their backgrounds, to change and evolve for the good.

A brief but moving look at the rare qualities of an effective, good-hearted leader.