National Press Club

Life of Nelson Mandela is subject of Press Club program

November 27, 2012 | By Gil Klein |

Performers from the Taratibu Youth Association perform traditional South African Gumboot Dances

Performers from the Taratibu Youth Association perform traditional South African Gumboot Dances

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Nelson Mandela emerged from nearly 30 years in prison willing to make peace with his enemies in the white-controlled South African government, and that has made all of the difference in the history of his country, South African Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool told a Club gathering Nov. 26.
“The man had the greatest cause to be angry, but he transcended it,” Rasool said. “He turned his back on victimhood because he knew it would take hold of his emotions. He said the one thing they could not take away from him was his heart and soul. If he gave in to vengeance, he would have given away his heart and soul.”
And that, he said, should be a lesson for the world where extremists are creating turmoil that could be allayed by leaders who followed Mandela’s example of seeking reconciliation.
Rasool was speaking to an International Correspondents Committee program on “Life, Legacy and Values of Nelson Mandela.”
The evening featured excerpts from Mandela’s 1994 speech to the Club during his first visit to the United States as president of South Africa. On the screen in the ballroom where he addressed the Club 18 years before, Mandela spoke of “forgetting the past and working to unite a nation, to bring happiness to the people of South Africa, the people of our continent, and to humanity as a whole ... It is better to commit yourself to those things which are constructive, which help to put sunshine in the hearts of men and women.”
The lesson Mandela taught, Rashool said, was to build a middle ground that avoided the extremes. The need, he said, was to dissolve people’s uncertainties because “the more uncertain people are, the more dogmatic they become.” Too many people are willing to do anything to reach what they see as their moral objectives. But Mandela saw it differently: “When you proclaim moral ends, you must have moral means.”
Also speaking was former Ambassador Edward Perkins, who in 1986 was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as the first black ambassador to South Africa, signaling a shift in the administration’s policy toward the white South African government.
Charlene Smith, who has written two biographies of Mandela, gave her insights into the leader’s character as did Phillip van Niekerk, a South African journalist who covered the country’s transition from apartheid to democracy.