Sunday, February 25, 2018
Opinion

Blumner: Mandela's greatness and humility

When I'm at a dinner party and someone asks the group to name the most impressive person they have ever met, I have a ready answer: Nelson Mandela. No one else comes close, not even President Barack Obama, who is pretty remarkable in person.

I met Mandela in May 2000 when he was 82 years old. He had just completed his term as South Africa's first black president after spending 27 years of his life as a political prisoner of the brutal white apartheid government.

I was part of a small group of editorial writers and columnists touring parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Mandela and his third wife, Graca Machel, graciously invited us to their home in the outskirts of Johannesburg.

Mandela possessed a preternatural humility. That is what impressed me most. As opposed to hubristic leaders whose egos take over rooms, Mandela emanated authority through quiet reserve. His watery eyes had seen it all.

Those eyes had been damaged by blinding glare from working hard labor in a lime quarry at the isolated Robben Island prison in Cape Town where he had been imprisoned for 18 years. We were asked not to use flash photography. Some in my group flew to Robben Island to see his concrete cell measuring 8 feet by 7 feet, so small you could touch its length by lying down.

The former anti-apartheid revolutionary, whose African National Congress was once listed by the United States as a terrorist group, emerged as a transformational world figure for his willingness to reject revenge in favor of national reconciliation. Mandela thought it essential that whites and their business not flee and cripple the nation's economy as happened in other postcolonial African nations.

"It is futile to be bitter," Mandela said. There was no time for old grievances with so much nation-building to do. Then, surprising his guests, Mandela said, "It is tragic to spend the best years of your life in prison. But prison has certain advantages." He said it gave him time to be with himself and think through problems.

Earlier in the trip, the group and I had tromped through the Soweto-area black township home that Mandela had once shared with his second wife, Winnie, after leaving prison in 1990. It was a tiny block house set on a dusty postage-stamp-size lot, with bare electric lights hanging from a low ceiling. Ten years later, Mandela the ex-president and elder statesman had an elegant home in a walled compound with a verdant and leafy backyard.

Still, Mandela maintained his core commitment to economic justice for a subjugated people who had been kept poor through institutionalized racism. To our group, he expressed frustration over the lingering effects of three and a half centuries of white rule. But this was tempered by hope.

"Because of poverty, two, three, four or five children shared the same room, with no electricity, using paraffin lamps, candles and eating porridge in the morning, porridge at lunch and porridge at dinner. … It is people with that background who were suddenly given the task on the 27th of April 1994, to run a sophisticated country like South Africa, with advanced infrastructure, modern harbors, sophisticated banking and financial system.

"Having regard for that background and the fact that we have no experience in government, we have done very well."

Mandela inspired the world with his example, but he wanted our international group of opinion writers to understand that the work to put South Africa on a sustainable path was not his alone and that plenty of others would pick up the mantle after he was gone.

"It is a mistake to think that what has happened is the achievement of one man." What has been accomplished is a collective effort, Mandela said.

Humble to the end.

Comments
Editorial: Improve school security plans with gun controls

Editorial: Improve school security plans with gun controls

Gov. Rick Scott and key members of the Florida Legislature offered ambitious proposals Friday that would plug some holes in the stateís safety net, strengthen school security and spend up to a half-billion dollars in response to last weekís massacre ...
Published: 02/23/18
Editorial: Six proposals for reasonable gun control

Editorial: Six proposals for reasonable gun control

Enough is enough. The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has renewed conversations about gun control in Washington and Tallahassee. Young people are demanding action, and there are cracks in the National Rifle Associationís solid w...
Published: 02/23/18
Editorial: The time to act on guns is now

Editorial: The time to act on guns is now

The nationís conversation on guns took an encouraging step this week in three essential places ó South Florida, Tallahassee and Washington ó as survivors, victimsí families and elected leaders searched painfully and sincerely for common ground after ...
Published: 02/22/18

Editorial: FDLE probe of state fair fiasco falls short

It should go without saying that Florida law frowns upon public officials who take freebies from vendors and whose agency throws business to their family. But that wasnít enough to move the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to find that the ex-di...
Published: 02/21/18
Updated: 02/23/18
Editorial: They value guns, not kids

Editorial: They value guns, not kids

They value guns over kidsSix days after 17 were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High by a teen-ager firing an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, the Florida House refused to even debate a bill banning the sale of assault weapons. The vote, 71 to 36, wasn...
Published: 02/21/18

Editorial: Nursing home rule should be stronger

It shouldnít take months or another tragedy for Florida ó which is hot and full of seniors ó to protect its elderly population from heat stroke in the event of an emergency. Thatís why Gov. Rick Scott had the right idea last year in calling for nursi...
Published: 02/20/18
Updated: 02/23/18
Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are traveling to the state capital today and declaring "never again.íí A prominent Florida Republican fundraiser vows he wonít raise another nickel until his party approves new gun controls. Across F...
Published: 02/19/18

Editorial: No more doubt about Russian meddling in election

The latest indictment by the Justice Department special counsel, Robert Mueller, refutes President Donald Trumpís claims that Russian interference in the 2016 election was a Democratic hoax. The indictment details the lengths Russian conspirators too...
Published: 02/19/18

Another voice: Tips should belong to workers, not their bosses

The Trump administration is under fire for proposing a Labor Department regulation that could result in hotel and restaurant employers dipping into the tips customers leave for their employees, depriving the nationís 14 million hard-working restauran...
Published: 02/18/18
Updated: 02/20/18
Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Itís not popular in Washington or virtually anywhere else these days to express concern about the rising federal deficit. Congressional Republicans who used to be deficit hawks first voted to cut taxes by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, then rais...
Published: 02/17/18