Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Nelson Mandela.
The Archbishop writes about his friend in the Washington Post:
The truth is that the 27 years Madiba spent in the belly of the apartheid beast deepened his compassion and capacity to empathize with others. On top of the lessons about leadership and culture to which he was exposed growing up, and his developing a voice for young people in anti-apartheid politics, prison seemed to add an understanding of the human condition.
Like a most precious diamond honed deep beneath the surface of the earth, the Madiba who emerged from prison in January 1990 was virtually flawless.
Instead of calling for his pound of flesh, he proclaimed the message of forgiveness and reconciliation, inspiring others by his example to extraordinary acts of nobility of spirit.
He embodied what he proclaimed — he walked the talk. He invited his former jailer to attend his presidential inauguration as a VIP guest, and he invited the man who led the state’s case against him at the Rivonia Trial, calling for the imposition of the death penalty, to lunch at the presidency.
He visited the widow of the high priest of apartheid, Betsy Verwoerd, in the white Afrikaner-only enclave of Orania. He had a unique flair for spectacular, hugely symbolic acts of human greatness that would be gauche carried out by most others. Who will forget the electrifying moment in the 1995 rugby World Cup final when he stepped out on the Ellis Park pitch with captain Francois Pienaar’s No 6 on the Springbok jersey he was wearing? It was a gesture that did more for nation building and reconciliation than any number of preacher’s sermons or politician’s speeches.
Although Mandela kept the details of his religious affiliation private, he was known as a man of faith who turned to clergy and religious leaders for help and guidance frequently:
Then, just as progress was being made, another problem arose, and the talks stalled again. This time, the proposed Truth and Reconciliation Commission, aimed at dealing with apartheid-era human rights violations, was the stumbling block.
The National Party government wanted the same blanket amnesty given the ANC — with a guarantee of a general amnesty written into the interim constitution. Neither then-President F.W. de Klerk nor Mandela were ready to back down. The day was saved by the clergy.
The Franciscan archbishop of Durban, Wilfrid Napier, later to be cardinal, remembers there was a genuine fear that violence would erupt once again.
“We were afraid that if the holdup was not sorted out quickly, the fighting and the killing would start all over,” Napier recalled. “So we approached de Klerk and Mandela and told them we knew they were having difficulty. Could we meet privately?”
The men agreed. After an afternoon with the churchmen, consensus was reached. De Klerk and Mandela decided to appear on television within 24 hours to tell the country how the problem would be solved. The nation could breathe again.
Details about the planned memorials and funeral are still unfolding. Learn more here.