By Mick Krever, CNN
In his first interview since Nelson Mandela’s death, Cyril Ramaphosa – the late president’s closest confidant during the negotiations that brought an end to apartheid – said that the man known by his clan name of Madiba was “nearly everything to many South Africans.”
“He's been a father of the nation, the builder of the South African new nation,” he said. “And he has been a mentor, a comrade, a friend, a reconciler.”
Ramaphosa is now deputy leader of the African National Congress. It is no secret that he was Mandela’s preferred successor when he left office in 1999, and Ramaphosa may yet become president of South Africa one day.
When Mandela was still in prison, during the 27 years that he would eventually serve, the future president decided to reach out unilaterally to the apartheid government.
“Whilst he was in prison, he saw the conflict rising and rising on an annual basis between the oppressor and the oppressed,” Ramaphosa said.
The only way the cycle could be ended, Mandela decided, was through negotiations with the hated regime.
“And he reached out to them. He reached out to [South African President] P.W. Botha without even discussing it with his other colleagues in prison” or the exiled ANC leadership.
“And for some reason, he knew that they would trust him so much that they would know he would not be selling out or going out on a whim of his own.”
Botha was succeeded by F.W. de Klerk, who seemed more open to talks, but they were by no means a walk in the park.
“They were quite tough, and anybody who has negotiated with Nelson Mandela or against Nelson Mandela – I would have felt a great pity for them,” Ramaphosa said.
“Whatever he negotiated he made sure that he stuck to principle and he won the argument. But at the same time, he always gave an allowance to his counterparty to go away from the negotiating table having obtained some measure of victory or something that he can sell to his side.”
“So he was a negotiator par excellence.”
Ramaphosa was lead negotiator for the ANC, and says that there was so much violence at the time it was “a miracle” that a deal was reached.
“Nelson Mandela just stayed the course and said the victory for all our people – even those who will have departed – would be to bring an end to the nightmare of apartheid.”
And it really was a nightmare.
The regime’s will was “enforced through the jackboot, through removals, as they embarked on their social engineering,” he said.
“They moved people from where they had been born, where they had grown up, and moved them to the dusty, arid parts of the country.”
Ramaphosa and his family, too, were forcibly moved out of Johannesburg.
“Trucks would just arrive in the morning and just load up everything that you possessed, destroyed the houses, and you were just moved,” he said. “Because they were making way for white people to live peacefully without being disturbed by the presence of black people in a particular area.”
“Black people in South Africa knew no rights…They lost their property, they lost their dignity, and they also lost their lives.”
Mandela was able to overcome that reality and forgive “not only his jailers, but also his oppressors.”
He has taught all of South Africa to be “a forgiving nation” and “walk along the path of reconciliation.”
“This is the moment when as we put him to rest, all of us as South Africans, will be saying, ‘Let us reconcile, let us transform our country to properly build it into the South Africa of Nelson Mandela's dreams.’”