By Mick Krever, CNN
Nelson Mandela did not “create the culture” that ended apartheid, a fellow freedom fighter told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Friday, but he carried the cause to success than anyone else could have.
“People somehow make it sound that he was ‘Mister Nice Guy’ who brought us all together and got rid of hatred in our hearts and led our country to freedom,” Albie Sachs said. “It just wasn’t like that at all.”
“He was at the crest of a popular wave; something very deep in our society,” he said. “And he articulated more beautifully – with more exquisite dignity and precision and a mixture of great gravitas with lots of humor – something that we were all aching of, and ultimately we achieved in our new constitution.”
Sachs was in the 1960s one of the many white South Africans who not hated apartheid, but struggled against it, often at great cost.
He worked with Mandela in the 1960s, and then spent six painstaking years with Mandela drafting a constitution that would become the cornerstone of the new South Africa.
Mandela later appointed him to the Constitutional Court of South Africa.
“Like so many South Africans, we met through the struggle,” he said.
Sachs led “a group of four young white people to sit on benches marked ‘non-whites only’ in the general post office in Cape Town.”
He was himself a political prisoner, where he was subjected to torture, and he lost an arm and sight in one eye when he was the victim of a car bomb while in exile in Mozambique.
“The hardest moments for me, in fact, were interrogation, sleep deprivation, collapsing on the floor,” he said.
“The bomb was terrible; I lost an arm, but it was only an arm,” he said. “They tried to kill me and I survived, and I felt somehow immune.”
Years later, when Mandela approached the apartheid government about negotiating an end to white minority rule, Sachs was there.
“It wasn't just the wonderful Mandela meeting the wise [former President F.W.] de Klerk, sitting around the table and doing a deal,” he said. “We had breakdowns; we have roving mass action; there were massacres.”
But they never lost sight of the end goal: A South Africa where everyone could live together.
“We had to look into each other's eyes. We had to understand each other very well. And we finally, we got this very comprehensive constitution that's held up as a model to the world.”
Yes, South Africa has problems, he allowed, and no, the constitution alone is not solving those problems.
“But it's giving us a foundation for doing that,” he said. “The constitutional court is there; we have a very free press, a lively media; we have strong civil society, political parties that engaged with each other, elections that are free and fair.”
Those institutions live “beyond Mandela,” he said.
Now, as the world comes to grips with the reality that Mandela has died, South African solidarity is higher than ever.
It is bolstered, he said, by the “thousands and millions” for strove for freedom, of which he was “just part.”
“I think it's that solidarity that's expressing itself today, this evening in South Africa, where people are celebrating and dancing and singing when, in other parts of the world they might be with tears and dressed in black.”
“South Africans are expressing a sense of joy that we are in a country that produced Nelson Mandela, who's become a hero to the whole world.”