And at that particular moment in South Africa, listening to his soft-spoken words, I was struck by his patience, his grace, and his ability to move past his 27-year imprisonment and focus completely on South Africa’s poor and disenfranchised who needed leadership, food, health care, education and housing that amounts to more than tin-roof shacks in Soweto.
For 27 years, Mandela had virtually no correspondence with the outside world as he was only allowed to receive and write a letter once every six months. The apartheid government spent years trying to bend Mandela to their will and break his spirit.
But it never happened.
At a time when Mandela could have unleashed his vengeance on South Africa’s governing body and gave in to calls for riots, Mandela was a selfless non-violent leader who transformed South Africa – and the world.
As I listened to Mandela talk about the critical needs of black South Africans, there was absolutely no bitterness in his voice, no anger, no talk of revenge, pay back or karma.
“Our struggle has reached a decisive moment,” Mandela said in a mass rally in Cape Town after his release from prison. “We call on our people to seize this moment so that the process towards democracy is rapid and uninterrupted. We have waited too long for our freedom. We can no longer wait. Now is the time to intensify the struggle on all fronts. To relax our efforts now would be a mistake which generations to come will not be able to forgive. The sight of freedom looming on the horizon should encourage us to redouble our efforts.”
I later wrote about Mandela becoming president of South Africa from 1990 to 1994. Like Dinkins, the first African American mayor of New York, Mandela was the first black president of South Africa. It was a moment in history that brought Mandela and Dinkins closer and Dinkins told me that his friendship with Mandela was one of the highlights of his life.
After my brief interview with Mandela, I wanted to savor the historic moment for years to come so I asked him for an autograph. He paused for a moment since I had nothing for him to sign. But then he was very accommodating and suggested that he sign the cover of the reporter pad on which I was documenting his words.
“To Michel Cottman. Compliments and best wishes. Mandela.”
Mandela’s autograph is framed and hangs on my wall – a constant reminder of a noble civil rights activist who was bent but never broken. His patience in prison is a true testament to how faith can overcome adversity.
I was honored to meet Mandela and walk in his world through Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Pretoria and Soweto, and ultimately feel the unassuming power of a simple handshake.
30 Best Nelson Mandela Quotes
1. "It always seems impossible until it is done. "-Nelson Mandela1 of 30
2. "A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination." -Nelson Mandela2 of 30
3. "Any man or institution that tries to rob me of my dignity will lose." -Nelson Mandela3 of 30
4. "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." -Nelson Mandela4 of 30
5. "After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb." -Nelson Mandela5 of 30
6. "Only free men can negotiate; prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Your freedom and mind cannot be separated." -Nelson Mandela6 of 30
7. "There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children." -Nelson Mandela7 of 30
8. "In my country we go to prison first and then become President." -Nelson Mandela8 of 30
9. "Let freedom reign. The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement." -Nelson Mandela9 of 30
10. "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart." -Nelson Mandela10 of 30
11. "I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances."-Nelson Mandela11 of 30
12. "If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness & Forgiveness."-Nelson Mandela12 of 30
13. "Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all."- Nelson Mandela13 of 30
14. "I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."-Nelson Mandela14 of 30
15. "I have retired, but if there's anything that would kill me is to wake up in the morning not knowing what to do. "-Nelson Mandela15 of 30
16. "I stand here before you not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you, the people."-Nelson Mandela16 of 30
17. "Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another."-Nelson Mandela17 of 30
18. "For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."-Nelson Mandela18 of 30
19. "Give a child love, laughter and peace, not AIDS."-Nelson Mandela19 of 30
20. "If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner."-Nelson Mandela20 of 30
21. "I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities."-Nelson Mandela21 of 30
22. "I dream of the realization of the unity of Africa, whereby its leaders combine in their efforts to solve the problems of this continent. I dream of our vast deserts, of our forests, of all our great wildernesses."-Nelson Mandela22 of 30
23. "I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself."-Nelson Mandela23 of 30
24. "We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right."-Nelson Mandela24 of 30
25. "I detest racialism, because I regard it as a barbaric thing, whether it comes from a black man or a white man."-Nelson Mandela25 of 30
26. "There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living."-Nelson Mandela26 of 30
27. "No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."- Nelson Mandela27 of 30
28. "There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered. "-Nelson Mandela28 of 30
29. "Our human compassion binds us the one to the other - not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future."-Nelson Mandela29 of 30
30. "Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace. "-Nelson Mandela30 of 30
Remembering Nelson Mandela On The Anniversary Of His Death
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COMMENTARY: Nelson Mandela: A Humble Statesman With a Quiet Power was originally published on blackamericaweb.com