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Mandela’s closest confidant: He taught us to be ‘a forgiving nation’

December 6th, 2013
03:52 PM ET

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.’”


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soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. ashok

    There must be a moral underpinning to the universe, else how would something as evil as apartheid have ended ? Forgiveness and reconciliation are part of that moral impulse.

    December 6, 2013 at 4:09 pm | Reply
    • tenn

      Or could it perhaps be that the apartheid government, although discriminatory, was not quite the brutal demon that the world's media made it out to be? That it gave away its power because it really did not want the guilt of many deaths on its hands, the way Syria is going today, for example.

      December 6, 2013 at 6:03 pm | Reply
    • marty

      but, how do you forgive Hitler? or the people who operate the North Korean prison camps?

      December 6, 2013 at 8:44 pm | Reply
      • Kunal Shah

        People have to move on by forgiving one another no matter how bad things are, those who suffer live in the past, at some point we all come to terms with our situation and we learn to move on. There have been many Hitlers who have come and gone in the past. Our focus should rather be on ensuring that situations do not arise that lead to people like Hitler from developing, after all Hitler was a bi-product of all that was wrong with what Germany got at the end of world war 1, due to the unfairness at how Britain and France treated Germany, Hitler arose and promised Germany everything it was denied, the people voted him in and he carried out his agenda.

        Right now the middle east is in a similar condition and there too shall be one who shall arise promising to right the wrong done to them by the predecessors who shall then also be voted in just like Hitler was and he shall cause havoc in the name of revenge.

        December 6, 2013 at 9:27 pm |
    • John Smith

      Forgiveness is what we Americans preach but we never put into practice. After 9/11, we went out to murder all the Muslims in Afghanistan to show our anger. After that, we fabricated evidence to frame Saddam Hussien for having WMD. We murdered the Iraqis and stole their land and then left them in chaos and complete ruin.

      America is not a forgiving nation. America is also not a democratic but plutocratic nation.

      December 6, 2013 at 11:53 pm | Reply
    • Jim

      There can't be a moral underpinning to the universe. Else, how would something like apartheid have started?

      Ashok, you haven't thought it through, have you?

      December 7, 2013 at 5:26 am | Reply
  2. Kunal Shah

    It is indeed a great honor to see Prophet Owuor's image with Nelson Mandela, I sincerely hope that Mandela's legacy lives and that people remember what he taught and they keep it with them forever.

    December 6, 2013 at 7:48 pm | Reply
  3. Steph

    Forgive perhaps , but never forget!

    http://censorbugbear-reports.blogspot.com/2009/08/nobel-peace-laureate-nelson-mandelas.html

    December 7, 2013 at 1:13 am | Reply
  4. Roman Romano

    If the truth be told, it was the South African government who initiated negototiations. Anything else is pure myth and urban legend.

    December 7, 2013 at 2:08 am | Reply
  5. Asadullah khan

    About hundred years ago a prominent indian M K Gandhi passed through similar struggle as the great Nelson Mendella did against aparthied,i saw the movie Gandhi by Attenbrough one scene gave me a pleasent surprise–freedom of the press.the news said m k gandhi was assalted,i went thriugh a similar situation when i was greviously hurt.No news ppaper published it.

    December 7, 2013 at 5:50 am | Reply
  6. Duke Val

    I do understand the concerns of the world, but my major and most concern is the very culprits- the brits have to be sorely responsible for this action, bullies so to speak. You leave your land to someone else's and enforce your ways- hatred and violence, just because of skill colour??? Till date, the royal family has never apologised for the action of these colonial men!!!! Most parts of african way invaded and bullied to be subjected to them, why such acts? its still prevails till date!!! However, forgiveness is divine, we can only but forgive, but remorse is required from those colonial masters and whoever it was that sent then there to carry out such actions!!! God bless south africa, and long live africa and let the west go into nations to develop them without vested interests and the world will surely be a better place.

    December 9, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Reply

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