NELSON MANDELA Was an Enigma [...]; Nelson Mandela Lived Up to His Own Carefully Crafted Myth and Gave the World a Model of Leadership We Must Not Abandon, Writes South African Specialist Carl Death of Aberystwyth University

Article excerpt

Byline: Carl Death

NELSON MANDELA was an enigma. This might sound strange - we are all familiar with his face, his voice, his life and his struggle. But disentangling the man from the myth is not easy. They are not the same. Much of what we know about him is the result of carefully crafted public relations releases. It is well-known that the ANC decided to use Mandela to personify the struggle whilst he was in prison, and from that point on he represented something bigger than one man imprisoned for trying to free his people. But it is also too simplistic to say that the myth hid who Mandela really was. Mandela was well-aware of the importance of being who people believed he was, of acting the part that had been written for him. And an individual of less personal courage, integrity, single-mindedness and humanity would have never managed to live up to the myth. Mandela the man was no saint.

Madiba was an aristocrat, from the Thembu dynasty in the Transkei, and he often behaved like a royal. He could be patronising, high-handed, reserved. For much of his life - at least until his retirement from public life in 2004 - he was unable to play the part of a loving father and husband to his own or his family's satisfaction. Although his first political loyalty was to the ANC, he also had a tendency to make decisions without consultation, and could be bitterly unforgiving if others didn't support him. Mandela himself was well aware of his limits. "I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying," he repeatedly warned. The loss of Mandela the man is a moment of sadness, although we must regard his 94 years as a blessing in a country where the average life expectancy is barely 52 years, and given his 27 years in prison, many of them in almost intolerably harsh conditions. Many will mourn him deeply, but there is no reason why the inspiration - the myth - must be lost. Indeed, in an age where politicians are regarded with cynicism, the public-service, pragmatism, principles and character of Mandela are needed more than ever.

Mandela's challenge was to overcome apartheid in South Africa, and then to try to reconcile a bitterly divided nation. This was no small task - for much of his life the first part seemed impossible. When this part was achieved, the second task loomed even larger. His autobiography (part of the carefully constructed Mandela myth) ended with the following famous statement: "I have walked that long road to freedom. …