Why Mandela was so special

Why Mandela was so special

So what, exactly, makes Mr Nelson Mandela, who died on Thursday night at the age of 95, so special?

Apart from some of the anti-apartheid icon's better known qualities, like emerging from 27 years in apartheid prisons bearing so little malice, there was more, much more, for journalists lucky enough to track his remarkable career.

This was no ordinary politician.

Covering the "Mandela story" was a life-enhancing experience, Mr Bryan Pearson, an AFP correspondent who worked in South Africa, said.

During a very tense political campaign rally in Alexandra township on the edge of Johannesburg - when anti-white sentiment was whipping through the crowd after yet another massacre of black people, reportedly by a white "third force" - Mr Mandela stopped mid-speech and fixed his attention on a white woman standing somewhere towards the back.


"That woman over there," he said with a broad smile, "saved my life. She nursed me back to health when I had TB."

He called her on stage and embraced her warmly, recounting how in 1988 he had contracted tuberculosis while in Cape Town's Pollsmoor prison and was admitted to hospital, where he had been under her professional nursing care.

The mood in the crowd changed. Large roars of approval drowned out the snarled demands for revenge.

On April 27, 1994, journalists had gathered at a school outside Durban, where Mr Mandela was to cast his ballot in the country's first all-race election. The feeling was: "Is this really happening? Is Mr Mandela really voting? Is apartheid really ending?"

Yes it was. Mr Mandela made a brief speech stressing the dawning of "a new South Africa where all South Africans are equal".

Then he dropped his ballot into the box and, literally glowing in the early morning sunlight, smiled long and happily.

It was the kind of smile that you know is not put on for the cameras. The kind that wells up from the very depths of the soul.

In Mr Mandela's case, a very rare soul indeed.

Mr Mandela's funeral will take place on Dec 15 in the Eastern Cape village of Qunu, where he grew up.

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