Zakaria: We haven't seen leadership like Mandela's for a long time
December 6th, 2013
12:50 AM ET

Zakaria: We haven't seen leadership like Mandela's for a long time

CNN speaks with Fareed about the death of Nelson Mandela, his legacy, and what set him apart from other leaders. This is an edited version of the interview.

Nelson Mandela was a world leader who made such a change, not only in South Africa, but he inspired so many people around the world.

Absolutely. You remember, this is a man born in 1918, born when the sun never set on the British Empire, and who lived a long life, and was part of a kind of tradition of nonviolent resistance to colonial power and colonial oppression that was part of the Indian independence movement. He was greatly inspired by Gandhi, by the nonviolent struggle.

And that was one of the most remarkable aspects of Mandela, when he came out after 27 years in jail. I remember being struck by even his speech pattern. It was like he came out of a different era. He came out of an age when giants walked the world – Gandhi, Nehru, Churchill, FDR. He was really part of that world, but had just been frozen in a jail for 27 years.

But when he came out, it turned out he retained not just the speech patterns and some of the mannerisms and some of the formality, he was the man who almost seemed to always wear a suit, no matter where he went, until he left the presidency.

He had this belief that it was very important to set certain standards. And he demonstrated it with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, with the fact that there was no vengeance taken of any kind, that he didn’t even dismiss most of the people who worked for the Afrikaner state. And, of course, eventually by being South Africa’s George Washington. He only served one term because he thought it was very important that he demonstrate that he was voluntarily relinquishing power.

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So that whole trajectory from 1918 to now has been one of leadership by example. And leadership of a kind that, frankly, we haven't seen for a long time in the world.

What did you think about what President Obama had to say about Mandela?

One of the things that President Obama reminded us was that this was one of the great moral causes and political causes of the 1980s and ’90s. You remember it well, and we have forgotten now, but it was one of the great rallying causes on college campuses around the Western world. It was even true in Asia.

It was a cause that really was global in a way that very few were because it was such a sore, a cancer, on global society, the idea that you had this white minority regime treating African blacks almost like slaves, and this extraordinary system of institutionalized serfdom that was apartheid.

And Obama reminds us that he, like many, many people, spent some time protesting against it, probably did so when he was in high school, and that that world has gone away. But one of the reasons it has gone away, and has gone away in such a kind of harmonious way, is because of Nelson Mandela, because when he came out of jail, he made a decision that he was going to reach out in a hundred small ways and some very, very important ways.

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I remember talking to a South African, somebody who was there at the time, who pointed out that the new ministers in Mandela’s government had been told they couldn’t fire anyone who represented the old apartheid African system because Mandela had said the whole old order stays intact.

Now think of that when we think about what's happened in Iraq, what's happened in all the post-Soviet states when the new guys come in, the new regime comes in, they wipe out the old. Mandela represented something very different, and so from the protests of the ’80s to the forgiveness of the ’90s, it’s a story.

Is it overly naive to hope and pray that maybe the death of Nelson Mandela will inspire some of those world leaders out there right now to do the right thing, to recognize that bloodshed and warfare will not achieve much, that peaceful relations perhaps can better be achieved through dialogue and discussion and hard work, as opposed to war? 

It is naive, and you probably know that as well. You know, they say that difficult times throw up great leaders. It’s true that if you think about World War II and the Depression, it produced these great, larger-than-life figures. Mandela came out of those times, the hardship of apartheid, the brutality of it.

But of course the thing we forget is that it doesn't always mean they will be great reconciliators, that they will be able to transform the countries. There are people like Gorbachev who were able to take the Soviet Union and do away with the bad, but couldn’t really build the good. Mandela had a kind of political genius, outside of just the moral courage.

I remember when he came out of prison, when he was elected in ’94, everyone wondered, what is this guy going to do? Because the countries that had supported the African National Congress, that had supported the anti-apartheid movement were Cuba, were Gadhafi, were Arafat, these revolutionaries.

Was he going to take South Africa to become a kind of rogue nation? What was interesting was he steered South Africa in the direction of being part of the world community, pro-Western, very much part of the democratic world. But at the same time, he stayed personally loyal to the people who had supported the struggle for 27 years while he was in prison and for decades beyond that. And so he had that way, that genius of figuring out how to steer the country in the right direction without completely forsaking your friends, without losing some of the things that gave you the fire. So that kind of genius I don’t think we have right now anywhere.

You expect that almost all of the world leaders will be moving forward, and so many of them will go to South Africa to pay their personal respects?

I think this will be on the order of the funeral of Winston Churchill, the funeral of John F. Kennedy, where you will see, I would guess, upward of 50 heads of state. I would imagine President Obama will make every effort to go, and the way this works is once people realize who is going, it has a snowball effect. I think this will be very big.

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Topics: Africa • South Africa

soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. matslats

    Mandela was a convicted terrorist.

    December 6, 2013 at 3:26 am |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      True, matslats. Yes, many of the best men of this and the last centuries were convicted of so-called "terrorism" or Communism. In fact, the same thing could be said about Abraham Lincoln although never convicted of any crime. He just got voted out of Congress in 1848 by his own party largely for opposing the Mexican-American War(1846-1848) because he was deemed too liberal. Many of the better leaders of the world in this century were Communists although it is quite politically incorrect to say so.

      December 6, 2013 at 9:41 am |
      • Felix Unger

        The above is one of the most intelligent posts that I've seen in a very long time here. Thank you, Joseph. Why can't others here be so enlightened? It appears that some people here are so ignorant that they don't even know who Abraham Lincoln was or what he did.

        December 6, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
      • banasy©

        Is this what "liking your own post" means?

        December 6, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
      • R. Wilson Reagan

        Good post, Joseph. Just ignore these uneducated lemmings here who don't like what you said above. These people can't think for themselves. I guess banasy is going to accuse me of being you too since he didn't like what I said below.

        December 6, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
      • banasy©

        Lol. No, the pattern avatars are the same. Relax. Do you need some ice for that stretch you just made?

        December 6, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
      • banasy©

        Matter of fact, I answered you, R. Take a look.

        December 6, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
  2. Phelix Unger

    The world has lost a great man. A man that truly touched the world, and the world is a better place for having him in it. Rest in Peace Mr.Mandela...

    December 6, 2013 at 3:47 am |
  3. Allan Kinsman

    Nelson Mandela was one rare person which comes along in a life time. He led by bringing people together against injustice. He expressed himself through compassion and humility which few leaders in the modern world use. He will act as an example for all human beings going forward. His life will be a becon for millions of people as what one man living with the use of principle and integrity can accomplish. These ideals are rare in a modern era but can be realized though his example. Integrity is a tool of great change and without it modern social structure is in peril.

    December 6, 2013 at 7:34 am |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Well said, Allan. Thank you. Ronald Reagan today would have said the same thing about Nelson Mandela without really meaning it as well as Jean Kirkpatrick, George Shultz, his wife Nancy, etc. On the other hand, Reagan never failed to show his hate and contempt for Wojcek Jaruzelski who did the identical thing in Poland during the 1980's.

      December 6, 2013 at 9:48 am |
      • Allan Kinsman

        Mandela reminds me of another American. Thomas Paine once replied to a friend in a letter. When he had hear his friend say, " wherever there is freedom that is my home". Paine replied, " wherever freedom is not, that is mine". I begin to understand his meanings.

        December 6, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
      • banasy©

        Posted to the wrong thread. Apologies.

        December 6, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
    • banasy©

      Lol. Who said I disagreed?
      They have the same pattern icons. Simmer down.

      If I wanted to comment on your post, I would.
      Apparently you haven't seen any of the comments I made supporting Mandela 100%.

      I think Joseph and Felix can speak for themselves, n'cest ce pas?

      December 6, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
      • banasy©

        Thus one is in the wrong place, sorry.

        December 6, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
  4. j. von hettlingen

    Fareed, it's not entirely true that "the countries that had supported the African National Congress, that had supported the anti-apartheid movement were Cuba, were Gadhafi, were Arafat, these revolutionaries."
    Many countries in the West condemned the apartheid. Apart from China, Taiwan also supported the ANC, despite diplomatic relations with South Africa. Mandela visited Beijing in 1992 as he admired Mao Zedong. Out of loyalty to Taiwan, he also visited Taipei in 1993. His "Two Chinas" policy put him at odds with Beijing. Then South Africa established diplomatic relationship with China in 1998.

    December 6, 2013 at 8:35 am |
    • j. von hettlingen

      It's true that Mandela was remarkable in a sense, that many African leaders who help their countries gain independence failed to share or relinquish the power, they had won. Instead of being remembered as national heroes they go down in history as despots and rogues.

      December 6, 2013 at 8:42 am |
  5. abmri60

    " Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people "

    ~ Nelson Mandela ~

    December 6, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
  6. oldkarl

    Nelson Mandela saw himself as more than just a fighter for Justice. He saw and understood that he had to model the manner of life which would make it possible for Peace to overcome all unrighteousness in the world. In that way, he followed the path of Jesus, Gandhi, and other Princes of Peace. May his memory live forever in the relationships between people.

    December 6, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
  7. Rick

    The man was a terrorist, he bombed even children. He attacked whites no differently than Mugabe is still today.
    Will we also venerate Mugabe this way when he dies ??

    December 6, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
    • Felix Unger

      We already venerated Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and we may well venerate Mugabe. Furthermore, we'll be venerating George H.W. Bush although he's responsible for over 58,000 civilian deaths in the first Gulf War when he dies. Need I say more, Rick?

      December 6, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
    • banasy©

      I wonder why whites feel they should get a pass for their own terrorism?

      December 6, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
  8. Matthew

    What difference does it make?

    December 6, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
  9. R. Wilson Reagan

    In spite of all the ignorant people here who try to denigrate him as a "terrorist", Nelson Mandela was a great man of our times. Pres, Lincoln was too, although he did believe in Communism and the abolition of slavery. Had he lived 100 years later, he would have been persecuted by the House on Un American Activities made up by fat headed politicians trying to get their name in the papers in order to make "heroes" of themselves.

    December 6, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
    • banasy©

      Yes. I agree.
      As a matter of fact, I have read that disturbing opinion more times than I’d like to admit.
      I read one guy, posting as PW Botha, say that Mandela was a whiner, and was well taken care of for the 27 years he was in prison. I hope it was a joke.
      I doubt it was.
      What do you think of that kind of abject ignorance, R?

      December 6, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
      • R. Wilson Reagan

        Actually banasy, I don't think much of it at all. However, ignorant people although a majority here, do have a right to their opinion too. This igorance is indicative of our failed education system. In fact, I don't think that most of these people here even know who Abraham Lincoln was in our history or what he did. Another person like both Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln was Nikolai Lenin of Russia. These are like three peas in a pod! Do you follow me?

        December 6, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
      • R. Wilson Reagan

        My apologies for the misprint above, banasy. I meant to print "ignorance", not "igorance".

        December 6, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
      • banasy©

        I agree that even the profoundly ill such as the guy who wrote that be allowed to voice their sick thoughts.
        If you are talking about the three being revolutionaries of their time, I would agree I think, however, that the three were very different men, and their methods were very different.

        December 6, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
  10. menisino

    Off course , we have to find an American that was equal to Mandela. Perhaps you should ask some natives or look into the real history of Washington. You simply cannot make that comparison.

    December 6, 2013 at 8:24 pm |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      No, menisino. There was Abraham Lincoln who was like minded with Nelson Mandela. Both were flaming liberals and stood for the identical things. Abraham Lincoln once said; The job of the government is to do for the people what the people cannot do for themselves. Like I said before, although Abraham Lincoln was never convicted of any crime, he was voted out of Congress in 1848 after serving but one term and was assassinated in 1865.

      December 7, 2013 at 11:08 am |
  11. Allan Kinsman

    I think there are those out there which represent an insightful, educated and an evolved paradigm which could help. However it is difficult to imagine real change taking place with Washington establishment so well tuned. Most people believe in those two parties which squabble over misinformation which is handed out daily through the media. There are few scholars who are so employed with objective skills. Those in power will do anything to keep it an old story through the evolution of civilization.

    December 7, 2013 at 8:34 am |
  12. Bribarian

    Terrorist is gone, good.

    December 7, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Thank you, Bribarian. Spoken like a true, simple minded, prejudiced Tea Partier.

      December 7, 2013 at 7:30 pm |
  13. JT

    What nonsense. Comparing Mandela to any American is disgusting considering how viciously AGAINST Mandela the U.S. was when he was in prison all those years. Likewise the U.K. Reagan and Thatcher hated him. They wanted him to rot in prison. Only countries like Canada and Australia had any meaningful sanctions against South Africa.

    December 7, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Comparing Nelson Mandela with Abraham Lincoln is like comparing Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Both were fine men like I said before. On the other hand, both Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were essentially evil people although both enjoyed great political popularity and as much alike as Lincoln and Lenin were. There is absolutely nothing "disgusting" in making such comparisons since they're true.

      December 7, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
  14. aurelius

    The criticisms addressed to Ted Cruz for his support of Mandela is a reminder of what kind of backers he has. FOX, the white supremacists, the self righteous evangelical and fundamentalists, the racists and the bigots. The cream of the crop.

    December 7, 2013 at 11:36 pm |
  15. John

    People of Mandela's stature rarely walk the earth. After his release, millions of angry Black South Africans were just waiting for a word from him to drive the last white person from South Africa. Instead he preached forgiveness and reconciliation, a belief rooted in his African values and Christianity, a Christianity totally different from the Christianity that justified slavery and apartheid. Today when billions of enlightened people the world over are celebrating the life of this rare gem of leadership, a few million ignorant people refuse to set their own hearts free. The Liberians say "you will stay inside"!

    December 8, 2013 at 6:44 am |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Well said, John. The day that Nelson Mandela was released from prison in South Africa must have been a heartache to both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher since both felt nothing but hatred and contempt for this man. I don't remember reading anyone's post here bashing either Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan when they died! Does anyone here?

      December 8, 2013 at 11:09 am |
  16. acenavigator

    Mandela relinquished office after a single term. To my knowledge he is the only leader to do so. Rest of the world, given a chance, political leaders cling like a leech till their death. This act puts him on a very high pedestal.

    December 8, 2013 at 11:00 am |
  17. Stephan

    Ah, Mr. Zakaria, the "World's Compass" on international affairs! "The George Washington of South America?" Fareed, you failed to mention that this piece of work was an admitted murderer and terrorist who is personally responsible for killing police and other government officials. And you have the audacity to compare him to our first president? This article, and others at times, are an insult to peoples intelligence. Now, if you want to write an impartial article about someone who believed in a non-violent approach for peace, write about Gandhi. He never murdered anyone and was assassinated for his success. Why don't you try reporting from your heart for once and telling the whole "story" instead of worrying about your next paycheck you might not see for telling the truth, the WHOLE story? Let go of your fear and ego! "Be that change that you would like to see in the world." (Gandhi)

    December 8, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
  18. Anon

    How to be a Good Communist is a great book by Nelson Mandela. You can get it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. No joke. Also, I really liked his early years, you know, where he targeted white children and women with bombs and death squads when he was an extremist terrorist.

    What an admirable man!

    December 8, 2013 at 6:39 pm |

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