Nelson Mandela’s “Lethally Effective Political Cocktail of Charm, Respect, Integrity, Pragmatism and Hard-Nosed Sense”

Below, an excerpt from “Nelson Mandela’s Legacy.”  The author, John Carlin, is a senior international writer for El Pais, and  the author of Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation, the basis for the film Invictus directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.  The article appeared in the December 7 issue of the The Cairo Review of Global Affairs

This is far and away the best piece that I have read about Mandela. (Hat tip to Clifton Leaf for calling attention to it on Twitter. I urge everyone to read it

“Mandela had the same effect on practically everyone he met. Take the case of General Constand Viljoen, who in 1993, with the path set for multiracial elections a year later, was anointed leader of South Africa’s far right, charged with heading “the white freedom struggle.” Viljoen, who had been head of the South African Defence Force between 1980 and 1985, travelled the country organizing what he called armed resistance units, others called terrorist cells. Mandela reached out to him through intermediaries and the two men met in secret at his home. Viljoen, with whom I have talked about this encounter, was almost instantly disarmed. Expecting a monster, having conditioned himself to regard Mandela as a fearsome Communist with little regard for human life, Viljoen was dumbstruck by Mandela’s big, warm smile, by his courteous attentiveness to detail (‘Do you take sugar in your tea, General?’), by his keen knowledge of the history of white South Africa and his sensitivity to the apprehensions and fears white South Africans were feeling at that time. When the two men began discussing matters of substance, Mandela put it to him that, yes, he could go to war and, yes, his people were more skilled in the military arts than black South Africans; but against that, if it came to race war, black South Africa had the numbers, as well as the guaranteed support of practically the entire international community. There could be no winners, Mandela said. The general did not disagree.

“That first meeting led to another, then another. Viljoen succumbed to Mandela’s lethally effective political cocktail of charm, respect, integrity, pragmatism and hard-nosed sense. He called off the planned ‘armed struggle’ and, to the amazement of the South African political world, he agreed to take part in the all-race elections of April 1994, thereby giving his blessing to the political transformation Mandela had engineered, agreeing to the peaceful hand over of power from the white minority to the totality of the population. Viljoen won a parliamentary seat in representation of his freshly formed rightwing Freedom Front and I remember watching him on the day the new, all race parliament was inaugurated. Mandela was the last to enter the chamber and, as he walked in, Viljoen’s eyes settled on his new black president. His face wore an expression that could only be described, I thought at the time, as adoration. I asked him when we talked some years later whether I had been right in that description and he said I had been. The retired general also reminded me that before taking his seat on that inaugural parliamentary occasion Mandela had broken protocol by crossing the floor to shake hands with him. What had Mandela said to him? ‘He said, “I am very happy to see you here, general’.” And what did the general reply? ‘I said nothing. I am a military man and he was my president. I shook his hand and I stood to attention.’”

A Note to HealthBeat readers:

Carlin points out that “The big truth about Mandela is that  . . . he achieved the historically rare feat of uniting a fiercely divided country.”

This led me to reflect: Might someone emerge who possesses the character, generous vision, and hard-nosed pragmatism needed to unite the deeply polarized nation that we live in today?

Lord knows, during his first term, President Obama struggled to find common ground with Republicans. But he did not persuade them. I have argued that conservatives are simply too angry—and too scared by the changes they see coming– to listen to reason. Yet surely the South African Defence was just as angry, and just as scared.

But Barack Obama’s first term began when he was just 47. Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa when he was 76. No one could expect the younger man to possess the older man’s wisdom. Twenty-seven years in jail had given Nelson Mandela a great deal of time to think; his spirit and his resolve were forged in that purgatory. Mandela’s  life experience had put him in a unique position to shape history.

Obama also left his mark on our society. Obamacare will change health care in America, and given the strength of the opposition, it is a miracle that the legislation survived.

If Obama had been older and wiser, could he have brought this nation together back in 2008?

I would say “No. ”Mandela enjoyed a critical advantage: “Both he and General Viljoen knew that “if it came to [a] race war, black South Africa had the numbers . . .”

Even today, hard-liners in the Republican Party do not realize that the majority of Americans reject their far-right creed.  Not yet. They still think that they represent the majority—that they are the majority, that this is their country– and for that reason they are not ready to yield an inch.



9 thoughts on “Nelson Mandela’s “Lethally Effective Political Cocktail of Charm, Respect, Integrity, Pragmatism and Hard-Nosed Sense”

  1. Maggie:
    Are you really equating Republicans to the supporters of apartheid? Really?

    Do you really think that President Obama is, or could ever be, the man that President Mandela was?

    Please come over to my house for tea or coffee or a glass of wine, you set the date. I live with Ruth my wife of our six children and of 43 years, now disabled from a stroke. We can discuss some of the realities of politics, opposition, pragmatism, conservatism and life. I probably will not win you over as Mandela might, I am not that good, but I think you will see things more faceted afterwards.

    • Charles–

      No, I did not mean to equate Republicans to the supporters of apartheid.

      First, I was pretty careful to refer to “far-right Republicans”– the Tea Party folks.

      And no I don’t think that Obama–or anyone I know of –could be the man that Mandela was.
      People like Mandela come along every 100 years or so.

      I just don’t blame Obama for not being able to do what Mandela did in South Africa.
      Mandela was sui generis.

      And I do think that given his age and his lack of experience in Washington, it is remarkable that Obama and
      his supporters managed to finally pass health reform legislation. I also give enormous credit to Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, and a host of Senate staffers.
      staffers in Congress

  2. Maggie:

    I personally take umbrage that you think “Tea Party folks” are racist and bigots. Either you live in an entirely different world than I, or you don’t know “Tea Party folk” which I consider myself to be one.

    “The Tea Party Movement is an all-inclusive American grassroots movement with the belief that everyone is created equal and deserves an equal opportunity to thrive in these United States where they may “pursue life, liberty and happiness” as stated in the Declaration of Independence and guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.” See for the rest of the “Tea Party Platform”.

    If after reading the Tea Party platform if you still think we are bigots and racists then so be it. But be informed. You are entitled to think we are extreme. You are entitled to think our focus is narrow, that debt and bankruptcy of the country is fine; that the Constitution needs extensive change (for my desired changes see the “The Liberty Amendments” by Mark Levine); that Democrats are the party that will lead us to a glorious 1000 year Reich. But please be informed and not make up things that simply are not true or make comparisons that are laughable on their face. You are better than that, and your readers deserve better.

    The PPACA should have never passed. It was not intended to pass in the form it did. It was a Senate preliminary bill, everyone knew that it required a lot more work. Future events have shown that. As we go forward more and more flaws are going to become very apparent. I sat down and read the whole bill, unlike Nancy Pelosi and other representatives. I wept and cursed at the stupidity, naiveté, contradictions, generalities, paternalism and shear partisanship contained in the bill. The only reason it passed in the current format is that Scott Brown was elected to Senate. That is the only reason because any change, any change whatsoever and the bill was dead. It would have never cleared the Senate again and would not today. The Democrats took advantage of a unique point in legislative history and forced their partisan agenda down the throats of an unsuspecting public. Not one person in a million knew exactly what was in that bill totally. Not one person in 100,000 knows today.

    Beyond all that the PPACA is not a reform. It is a total overhaul of the American Health Care System. I truly fear it is going to lead to a single payer system for that is its intent as we all understand. It could not come out and say so or it would not have passed under any circumstance conceivable. So the Democrats created a roadmap to failure that would end up where they wanted with single payer system, with the government in charge of all health care decisions. Not an outcome I favor. Though I suspect you do. Be very careful what you wish for.
    For you see, I understand that my wife would be dead under a British type system. She was too old when she had her stroke at the age of 66, 7 ½ years ago. A single payer system that rations care, as they all do, would not have taken the extraordinary efforts her Doctors took to keep her alive.


    • Charles–

      In Focus Groups, where Tea Party members are alone with other Tea Party members, they say things that they don’t put in their public platform.
      What was said in these focus groups reveals that race is very much alive as an issue among Tea Party members.

      Your lack of knowledge regarding healthcare in the U.S. (a single-payer country) explains why you fear Obamacare. You have swallowed the tea-party

      I am glad that your wife is alive–and I hope that her quality of life is high.

      As this 2010 report reveals, in the U.S. if she were uninsured the chances that she would have survived would be significantly lower:

      “• At-risk adults without insurance have higher rates
      of stroke and greater risk of death than at-risk
      adults with insurance.16
      • Adult stroke victims without insurance are more
      likely to have neurological impairment and longer
      hospitals stays, and are at greater risk of dying,
      than adult stroke victims with insurance.17

      In the UK everyone–rich or poor–is insured.

      The goal of the Affordable Care Act is to make sure that in the U.S. everyone has access to the same high level of care–not just those who are wealthy enough to have
      good insurance.

  3. Maggie:

    I take a jaundiced view everything that Carville is associated with. Particularly when he is currying the party faithful, but of the Tea Party he says:

    “Tea Party. Big government, Obama, the loss of liberty, and decline of responsibility are central to the Tea Party worldview. Obama’s America is an unmitigated evil
    based on big government, regulations, and dependency. They are not focused on social issues at all. They like the Tea Party because it is getting “back to basics” and believe it has the potential to reshape the GOP.”

    We Tea Party folk are not social issue people. We don’t fear homosexuality as do the Evangelicals

    Further the only racial mention was mild and deliberately, with no proof, suggestive:

    “And while few explicitly talk about Obama in racial terms, the base supporters are very conscious
    of being white in a country with growing minorities.”

    I suspect we are all very conscious of being in a country of growing minorities, as were are parents after world war II, I well remember resentment in Iowa (of all places) against Asians as a child. Grandparents of the growing Irish. Our Great Grand Parents of the Chinese influx As our Great Great grand parents of the Italian influx to New York. I am sure my ancestors in pre revolutionary Delaware were suspect of immigrants then to. The various waves of migrations have upset our ancestors since the 1600’s. But what the Tea Party knows is that any group who wants to be assimilated will be. We know that American is a place or equal opportunity but not necessarily equal outcome. Even today the Blacks in Dallas don’t like the encroachment of the Barrio on what they consider their home turf in southern Dallas. But it is happening none the less.

    If you think there are bigots in the Republican Party there are in the Democratic party. Try Al Sharpton, Jessie Jackson, Reverend Jeremiah Wright and their ilk. I don’t know of any prominent Republican Clergy taking the pulpit and excoriating Blacks, Jews, Hispanics, or other minorities except of course White men (who are a minority). It is easy to cast stones but watch out for your own windows.

    Maggie I don’t “fear” much of anything. I understand single payer systems well. I understand that Medicare is a semi single payer system. They just have not imposed the formal service rationing program yet (but there are things they won’t pay for which is rationing). But fewer and fewer doctors accept Medicare because it pays so poorly. Single Payer System without an unlimited budget require rationing. We as a society cannot afford an unlimited medical care budget for everyone. Since rationing cannot, in a single payer system, be done by price; it is done by fiat.

    My wife was covered by insurance. Insurance she and I had paid into our entire working life. Supplemental Insurance that I purchase out of my pocket as well. But had she been insured under the British system she would have died, period. No ifs ands or buts. No single payer system for me run by the equivalent of the IRS.

    I also suspect that the overall quality of health care in a British Type system is less overall than in the American system. True they will be higher highs and lower lows, but on average?
    Her quality of life is good, not great but good. She reads and watches TV. Goes to movies and shops occasionally. We get out with friends once or twice a month. I took her a few months ago to a family reunion in Missouri. It was a lot or work but we made it. Thank you for your concern. And she is still alive.

    Regards and thanks for a chance to set this down in type.


    • Charles–

      “Minorities” are on their way to becoming ‘the majority.”

      Why would they want to be “assimilated” into a white minority?

      I suspect that over time, there will be more and more intermarriages, and we will become a
      multi-racial society. (My daughter’s husband is Latino. This is the future)

      • Maggie:

        My father said 50 years ago we would become a light brown people in 100 years. He was wrong on the time frame but of course it is happening. Love is color blind! So are most Tea party members. Probably some democrats and liberals (I guess) are color blind as well but not all by any means.

        Assimilation in this country is not in to a white minority. It is into Americanism.

        “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
        The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

        For 400 years people have come to this country and most have jumped into the melting pot. Or been thrown in. It is not the society the Pilgrims wanted. Is it not the society the original settlers of this country from Asia 16,000 years ago envisioned. It is not what the British Royal Family envisioned under George III. It is not what Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about. It is not the Jeffersonian republic that was envisioned. It is an ever changing mix. But what has made this country great and is adopted by most groups is the common believe in the rights of the individual to be free. To have “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” along with other “Natural” and “God Given” rights that no government should be allowed to take away.

        The US in some ways and by some studies is still the freest country in the world. (Not by all but look at the caveats in the studies and make your own decisions, they cannot be accepted on face value). Every step we take as a nation away from that freedom makes us weaker. Most people who immigrate to this country, and stay, do it for the freedoms this country offers. Rights guaranteed by our constitution.

        The congress and the courts have dealt us blows to that freedom in the last 80 years and even more so the last 25 years that we will probably not recover from. Every preeminent culture falls in time. Read Gibbons “Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire” and see the similarities to now.

        When the government is your primary support and not yourself and your efforts and your family this country will be in real trouble.

        And back to Obamacare. This is socialized medicine. Those that can pay for it do and then pay for those who can’t or won’t pay for it. It might as well be a single payer but at least the real achievers in this society and still get better care rather than dumbing down care for everyone. This is an example of equal outcome and not equal opportunity. When equal outcome is the norm: the best, the brightest, the hardest working the most creative will go somewhere else where they are appreciated for their skills and achievements.

        Please also note that a record number of people are renouncing their citizenship as Americans. This does not augur well for our future.



        • Charles–

          Good for your father!

          But I’ve never seen a mixed couple in any photograph of Tea Party protesters

          Not one.

          My son lives in the South where there are many Tea Partiers, and he is politically active (as a liberal)

          He goes door to door campaigning. Some very angry people slam the door in his face and use the N word when
          referring to Obama. He has never met a mixed-race couple who is opposed to Obama.

          So I would love some photos of mixed-race Tea Partiers . . .