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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

As Mandela Turns 93, He Releases a New Book of Quotations

Special Correspondent: Danny Schechter


Nelson Mandela, icon-hero of the world, just turned 93 this, and is hanging on despite family tragedies that claimed another great-grandchild in June. The child was born premature and died after just four days,

The man known by his clan name, Madiba, still evokes wonder and admiration and almost god-like reverence. He is the one South African, that most of South Africans take pride in, including the older generation that first knew him as an apartheid government designated activist.

So feared was he that his picture could not be shown in the media and his words could not be quoted for 27 years. Ironically, all these years later he has released a book of authorized quotations and words called By Himself that cull his thoughts from a life time of public and private utterances in letters, private papers, audio recordings as well from generations of empowering speeches.

Mandela doesn’t really get out much anymore although a select few can still get in to see him especially if their name is Michelle Obama, whose comment on being given an advanced copy of the quotations was a quotable, “Wow!”

This collection features more than 2,000 quotations over 60 years, organized into 300 categories including “character” “courage” and “reconciliation.” Many have never been published before and were archived by the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s Memory Project. The editors, Sello Hatang and Sahm Venter, 'say their aim is to offer an accurate and extensive resource.

Ahead of his time, Mandela's orientation led him to become a global leader in the fight against AIDS, a pandemic that also claimed one of his sons. Two quotes in the book offer insight to his approach and humility. This comes from a speech he gave in September 1953:

“Long speeches, the shaking of fists, the banging of tables and strongly worded resolutions out of touch with the objective conditions do not bring about mass action and can do a great deal of harm to the organization and the struggle we serve.”

Although he often looks stern he also values a good sense of humor, explaining in 2005: “You sharpen your ideas by reducing yourself to the level of the people you are with and a sense of humor and a complete relaxation, even when you are discussing serious things does help to mobilize friends around you. And I love that.”

Mandela always led from the front, taking principled stands and refusing any special treatment unless it was also given to his colleagues. Mandela embraces the notion of the role of people in the front. He puts it simply in this quotation: “Good Leaders Lead.” And leading he still is with several foundations, one for children, one focused on Aids, and the principal one encouraging community dialogues to fight xenophobia and violence,

A legal legend by the name of George Bizos who came to South Africa from Greece to represent Mandela in his famous treason trial. It was Bizos who convinced Mandela to add three small words to his most famous quotation, the one in which he told his Judges he was prepared to die for his ideals.

Bizos persuaded him not to be so categorical by, in effect, challenging the state to kill him. Before the phrase vowing he was ready to die, his lawyer interjected the words “If needs be” to the statement of defiance giving Mandela some political wriggle room. In the end, he was not sentenced to death and lived to outlast his warders and go from prison to the presidency.

Mandela is right: words and ideas matter, but he also insists they must lead to action. The movement he led was admired for its moral stance. Today, that movement is in power, known for the progress it brought but also for a pervasive corruption that threatens the legacy of his beloved African National Congress (ANC).

(Danny produced globally broadcast TV series South Africa Now and was a director of six documentary films about Nelson Mandela. Contributor to Global Research, dissector@mediachannel.org).

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